ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Stan Van Gundy glanced around at the dozens of reporters milling around the Orlando Magic’s new arena Monday, jokingly wondering why everybody wasn’t in Miami waiting for LeBron James to speak.
“They’re the story,” the Magic coach said, chuckling. “I’m surprised there were enough media left for you guys to get here.”
Whether the Magic like it or not, the NBA spotlight in the Sunshine State has shifted.
Even on a day they gathered for the first time together in their sparkling new facilities, James and the Heat still managed to upstage the Magic simply by speaking for the first time this season. The Magic had most of the summer to get used to all the attention for Florida’s other NBA franchise, and they’re sick of all the talk.
“I think I got tired of it as soon as LeBron said he was going to Miami,” said Orlando’s Dwight Howard, the NBA’s two-time reigning defensive player of the year.
The Heat’s All-Star trio of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are providing plenty of motivation for the Magic, who have dominated the Southeast Division the last three years only to be brushed aside by their intrastate rivals.
A gargantuan new arena — some 2 times the square footage of the old one with every amenity imaginable — wasn’t enough to sway the hoard of cameras away from South Florida for media day. Most were down south for James and Co., and don’t think the Magic didn’t notice.
“It should be fuel for us,” point guard Jameer Nelson said. “It should be a motivation type of thing and not discouraging because we’re not getting publicity and the notoriety those guys are getting. Because that’s not what makes the story.”
A championship does.
The Magic held a more than 3-hour meeting on the eve of training camp — so long they had to take a lunch break — that stressed accountability, unselfishness and, yes, proving they’re better than the Heat and everybody else. Players did most of the talking, a preseason discussion that was longer than anybody could ever remember.
“The most powerful team meeting I’ve ever been a part of,” Magic guard Vince Carter said.
It’s no surprise the Magic view the Heat as extra incentive toward a title.
The Magic are only two seasons removed from an NBA finals appearance and were booted by Boston in the Eastern Conference finals a year ago. They’re still anchored by Howard, loaded with outside shooters and as deep a bench as anyone.
While it’s hard to imagine a significant drop off after two straight 59-win regular seasons, that talent wasn’t enough to win it all last season. And Orlando essentially returns the same roster.
The only difference from this year’s lineup is that starting small forward Matt Barnes and reserve point guard Anthony Johnson are gone, replaced by Quentin Richardson and Chris Duhon. So instead of some splashy free-agent signings, the Magic are banking on improvement through continuity.
“I think the biggest misconception in the NBA is that so many teams think you need to make a bunch of changes every year,” Carter said. “The biggest improvement I think any team can make is keeping guys together and improving team chemistry.”
Orlando’s management hasn’t minded stirring up the intrastate rivalry, either.
Magic president Otis Smith and Van Gundy were among those that took shots at James and Heat president Pat Riley. Neither backed down from their previous comments — Smith questioned James’ competitiveness, and Van Gundy took verbal jabs at Riley’s remarks critical of Smith– on Monday.
If anything, the Magic seem more motivated than ever to steal back the spotlight.
“Teams are making adjustments to us, it’s not the other way around,” Smith said. “Right after (the Heat) signed LeBron and Bosh, they went out and signed eight centers. So I’m not overly concerned.”