Minus Howard, it’ll take more than Magic to win
by Jon Saraceno, USA TODAY Sports
ORLANDO – The Big Two – the diva All-Star center and his relentlessly grumpy and competent coach –
are gone. So, where does the enchantment come from this season for the Orlando Magic?
“You’re going to enjoy watching us. We’re going to be the hardest-playing team in the league,” said Magic forward Glen “Big Baby” Davis. “Everybody appreciates a hard worker. You start pulling for that guy. Everybody loves the underdog. That’s our approach.”
Translation: Victories might be few and far between for a franchise that has advanced to the playoffs six consecutive seasons, longest streak in the Eastern Conference (but no NBA titles).
Dwight Howard, the elite pivot-man and three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, now lives closer to Disneyland than Disney World. Recovering from back surgery, he plays for the Los Angeles Lakers, former hoops home of Shaquille O’Neal, another Magic ex-patriot.
Stan Van Gundy? Well, the cerebral coach who always told it like it was and who bitterly clashed with Howard in their final season, was fired in May after five seasons. Van Gundy will collect nearly $5 million this season from the Magic.
Under Van Gundy, the Magic twice advanced to the Eastern Conference finals, reaching the Finals in 2009 before losing in five games to the Lakers.
So, what is to become of the Magic in the post-Howard era, at least in the short term under first-year NBA head coach Jacque Vaughn?
A new culture, for one thing. Howard was front and center in a toxic locker room last season.
“You know what? It’s not about one player,” said team chief executive officer Alex Martins. “If you don’t have a superstar and you’re a winning organization, that’s all fans care about.”
Howard, 26, departed in August after months of waffling about whether he wanted to re-sign. The Magic shipped him to the Lakers in a four-team deal that returned five draft picks to the Magic – including four No. 1s — and six players.
The Magic’s roster continues to evolve with a major transformation under Rob Hennigan, at 30 the league’s youngest general manager who replaces Otis Smith.
The Magic’s major roster makeover includes … [For more on With no Howard, it'll take more than Magic to win, click here.]