Magic remain optimistic as post-Howard era begins

In the building Dwight Howard’s exploits helped build it’s hard

to find even the smallest remnant of the former Orlando center

these days.

The photographs, murals and other likenesses that once adorned

virtually every other crevice inside the Magic’s Amway Center have

been scraped away, now just painful reminders of championship

aspirations never realized.

After taking the Magic through one of the most tumultuous years

in their history, the six-time all-star who called himself Superman

is now a villain – departed from the city he once pledged to take

to its first NBA title.

Change is everywhere for the new-look Magic.

Orlando enters the season with a new general manager, coach and

roster full of new faces – and a promise to recover is the rallying

cry of those that are left.

The marketing slogan for the first year of the post-Howard era:

”We will.”

”It’s a new, exciting beginning, a new era for Magic

basketball,” CEO Alex Martins said. ”It’s great to see a bunch of

guys in camp that really want to be here and really want to wear

that Orlando Magic on front of their uniform.”

Whatever the mood following the divorce from Howard, change is

not a new word here. After all, the franchise is helped by similar

wholesale upheaval following the departure of Shaquille O’Neal in

1996 to the same Los Angeles Lakers team that Howard now finds

himself.

Since taking over for fired coach Stan Van Gundy, first-year

coach Jacque Vaughn has not shied away from the new slate he’s been

handed by first-time general manager Rob Hennigan. He’s also

selling a fresh start approach to a roster that returns just four

players that have been with the organization more than one

season.

One of those players, point guard Jameer Nelson, isn’t fearing

the newness, even though he acknowledges it will be a vastly

different team now.

”I think we can be better than people think because they don’t

know, nobody knows what’s gonna happen,” Nelson said. ”So for

people to count us out automatically, that’s just people writing

things. It’s up to us to go out there and work hard, make ourselves

better and establish an identity.”

Health will be an extra impediment for the Magic, at least

during the early part of the season.

Vaughn was one of the last coaches to begin the cut down process

for his regular-season roster because so many members of his

projected rotation spent most of the preseason on the mend.

With shooting guard Jason Richardson, forward Ryan Anderson and

Howard all gone from last year’s starting lineup, Nelson and

forward Hedo Turkoglu entered training camp as the only

holdovers.

But Vaughn has been curtailed in seeing what will likely be his

opening night lineup of Nelson, shooting guard Arron Afflalo,

forwards Turkoglu and Glen Davis and center Nik Vucevic, mostly

because Afflalo has been restricted by a nagging sore left

hamstring.

Other expected rotation contributors also have also spent their

preseasons rehabbing injuries, including rookie forward Maurice

Harkless (sports hernia surgery), forward Al Harrington (knee

surgery), backup point guard Ish Smith (shoulder surgery) and

swingman Christian Eyenga (hamstring).

It’s all going to demand a coach with a lot of patience to

manage a group that likely won’t be in the best position to produce

the Magic’s fifth 50-win season in the last six seasons or seventh

consecutive playoff appearance.

The 37-year-old Vaughn fashions himself as a no frills person

who has a calm demeanor that he says won’t change. Even as he

becomes the league’s youngest head coach.

”That’s the most important thing, for me not to pretend to be

anyone else but myself,” Vaughn said. ”That’s how I’ve been and

that’ great advice for me going forward…I will be me.”

His mentor as a player and assistant the past two seasons in San

Antonio, Spurs’ coach Gregg Popovich, said that he doesn’t think

Vaughn will have trouble finding his coaching legs.

”We’re all different,” Popovich said. ”He’ll do it with a lot

more class than I do it. If I get angry, it shows up on a

sleeve…But he in that sense is a lot classier and lot more

mature. And I think over time that will serve him really well.

”I have to be who I am and he has to be who he is. But he’s a

much more calm individual. Now, he will get miffed from time to

time and they will test his patience from time to time, like any

time would and he’ll be as direct as he needs to be.”

The good news for Vaughn is that he seems to have a group that

is primed to embrace the remaking of the Magic.

Vaughn has promised an up-tempo, free-willing approach to his

offense and merit-based system for playing time that has piqued

everyone’s interests.

That is particularly true for an upward trajectory player like

Afflalo, who will have a role with the Magic that could allow him

to raise his profile like he never really had the opportunity to do

in Detroit or Denver.

His outputs, most notably his scoring, have improved each of his

five seasons in the league. Though he shuns any talk of being able

to be a first-time all-star, he says he’s ready to be counted

on.

”I want to be a versatile player for this team,” Afflalo said.

”To be able to score, to defend, to mentor. Whatever the coach

needs, if I can enable this team to be successful, I want to be

able to do it.”

Davis said no one in the locker room is thinking about who isn’t

in it anymore.

”The only all-star in here is Jameer. So, for us to be

successful we’re gonna have to use each other,” he said. ”We’re

gonna have to play basketball. And that is making sure we execute

whatever coach wants us to do…The mentality that (Vaughn) has us

playing, he’s telling us to play free, with the right mindset and

great spirit…That’s what it’s about and what we have to do to be

successful.”

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