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
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:
”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
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
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
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
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
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
”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
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