The Magic made two trades on Saturday that will bring four new players to Orlando, and while the moves may pay off in the long run on the court, the temporary pain of losing teammates and friends was evident in the Magic locker room.
When the Magic take the court Monday in Atlanta, they’ll be without familiar faces Rashard Lewis, Vince Carter, Mickael Pietrus and Marcin Gortat — all of whom were involved in trades Saturday which brought Gilbert Arenas, Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson and Earl Clark to Orlando.
“It’s very emotional to wake up and you see guys that you call brothers are gone and they’re not on your team anymore,” Magic center Dwight Howard said. “We all understand it’s a business, but it hurts to see guys leave.”
By the end of Orlando’s 97-89 loss to the 76ers, the nameplates had been taken off of three of the four departed players’ empty lockers, a somber reminder of the relationships impacted by the business of basketball.
“You develop friendships and relationships when you play with these guys and you see them every day, and I consider all four of those guys friends of mine, not just teammates,” Orlando shooting guard J.J. Redick said. “I’ve developed a relationship with all of them off the court, so yeah it was kind of just a hazy day. It was a weird day.”
General Manager Otis Smith said all four players took the news “pretty tough” when the deals were announced Saturday afternoon.
“It’s a hard thing,” Smith said. “Change of address and change of jobs is tough. Those guys took it hard. It’s a good situation here. Good team, good guys. They like being here.”
The departure that seemed to hit many of the Magic players and coaches the hardest was that of Lewis.
“I’ve always felt badly when people have left, but with Rashard, this one is probably one of the hardest ones, if not the hardest one, I have been a part of,” Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy said.
Van Gundy said that he considers Lewis to be the player most responsible for turning the Magic around when he came to Orlando in 2007.
“He is a guy who changed positions when he came here,” Van Gundy said. “He never griped about anything, and is one of the best team players that I have ever been around. He cared about nothing but trying to win games, and would do everything we asked.
“It is really with all of those guys, but probably with him even more an absolute honor and privilege to have coached him.”
Smith shared Van Gundy’s sentiments with regard to Lewis.
“It was tough for me, quite frankly, to have a conversation with Rashard,” Smith said. “Rashard was probably my toughest to do. He was a guy that I thought if we didn’t have a few years ago, we don’t get to the Finals.”
Van Gundy also noted that while he’s upset to see Gortat leave, he’s glad to see Gortat get a chance for more significant minutes in Phoenix after being mostly pinned to the bench behind Howard in Orlando.
“To see his growth over the three and a half years has been tremendous,” Van Gundy said. “He’s a guy who really wanted more of an opportunity to play. Playing behind Dwight (Howard) was very difficult for him. He now gets an opportunity, and I am happy for him. I hope he makes the most of it.”
Carter never was able to gel well with the Magic after signing with the team in the summer of 2009, but Van Gundy lauded the 12-year veteran’s effort while in Orlando.
“Vince came in during a tough situation,” Van Gundy said. “Vince is a guy who would always have to carry the load, and then he had to try to fit in. I think he is a great pro. He is very, very smart and does everything you ask. He couldn’t have done a better job for us.”
It wasn’t all somber, though. While losing four friends to Phoenix and Washington isn’t easy, the Magic could take comfort in welcoming an old friend back to Orlando in Hedo Turkoglu.
“It’s great to see him back,” Howard said. “He’s been here since I started playing, so he’s someone who’s helped me grow into the person and player that I am. I know he’s always wanted to be here.
“Every guy that has left this team they always want to come back just to be a part of what we have here. We’re a special group. We all take up for each other and love each other.”
Despite the bittersweet nature of watching his players move on to other teams, Van Gundy still thinks the moves make his team better in the long run.
“I like what we have done in the deals, I really do, but still it is not easy to see those guys go,” Van Gundy said. “These are guys that come in here and work their butts off every single day, make sacrifices and everything else for the good of the group. I have great respect for all of them, and it will be strange not having them around.”