Denton: Magic Prepare for Training Camp

By John Denton
December 5, 2011

ORLANDO – Facing the prospects of a rushed training camp, a truncated preseason and a frantic 66-game schedule, some NBA teams are already concerned about the hectic pace of the season ahead.

To some extent, the Orlando Magic are not one of those teams.

Because the Magic already have 10 players under contract – six of which have played multiple seasons together – they feel that they have a chance to get off to a fast start because of their roster familiarity.

In Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson, Brandon Bass and Hedo Turkoglu, the Magic have four-fifths of their starting lineup from last season already intact well before the start of training camp. And top reserves such as Gilbert Arenas, J.J. Redick, Ryan Anderson, Chris Duhon and Quentin Richardson have started working out together again to make sure that the Magic hit the ground running when training camp opens on Friday.

``If the schedule holds up there are going to be some teams that have just six or seven guys on Day 1 of training camp. The fact that we have some experience and guys who have played together and in the playoffs, that should help us out right away,’’ Redick said. ``I don’t know how it’s all going to work out, but we’ll be able to talk about it after the season and see what each team did and how it worked out.’’

Jason Richardson and Earl Clark are free agents, and Magic GM Otis Smith has stated how much he wants to bring back both players for continuity sake. The Magic dramatically restructured their team last December, trading for Arenas, Richardson, Turkoglu and Clark. Now, Smith wants to keep that team together to give it more time to blossom this season.

Following a five-month lockout, NBA players and owners reached a tentative agreement two weeks ago that is expected to be fully ratified this week. Players were allowed back into team facilities last Thursday, allowing players to prepare for the start of training camp on Friday.

The Magic will play two preseason games against the Miami Heat – Dec. 18 in Miami and Dec. 21 in Orlando. The regular season will then open on Christmas Day with the Magic playing in Oklahoma City. The rest of the regular season schedule is set to be released by the NBA on Tuesday night.

Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy and his staff started preparing for the season back in September, not knowing when the lockout would end. They have since had to make major adjustments to their training camp schedule with the preseason timeframe being shrunk from a month to roughly 15 days.

Van Gundy likes that the Magic already have many of their core pieces in place and feels it could give the team an initial jump on the competition with a shortened training camp.

``It’ll be an advantage right off the bat because we’ll be able to get up and running quicker than some teams with a lot of new players. But it won’t have any more advantages long term,’’ Van Gundy said. ``I always think there are advantages when you have continuity. Initially and in training camp it will be nice having guys knowing what’s going on.’’

Nelson, the Magic’s starting point guard and captain along with Howard, said the team’s familiarity also paid major dividends during the long lockout that stretched from July through the middle of November. As he’s done each of the past four offseasons, Nelson organized several team functions to promote bonding among the teammates.

Some of the events were basketball related, while others just centered around building camaraderie.

``We did some things together whether it was working out or just seeing one another. Outside of working out you need that camaraderie on and off the court. It was good being around the guys,’’ Nelson said. ``Some guys are still out of town and some guys have some things to button up where they are living. We just have to get in (to the Magic practice facility) and get ourselves acclimated and focused as a team.’’

Redick and Anderson, two of the Magic’s players back at the team facility last week on the first day that doors were re-opened, wonder about how the hectic nature of the schedule will affect the team. Orlando’s walk-through sessions and practices are among the longest in the league because of Van Gundy’s meticulous ways as a coach.

Redick said the Magic might have to sacrifice some of that time on the court in order to get more rest because of a schedule that will feature as many as three sets of back-to—back-to-backs with games on three consecutive nights.

``I’ve thought about it a lot and it’s going to be difficult and very challenging with how compressed everything is going to be,’’ Redick said. ``The prospect of one-to-three back-to-back-to-backs, it’s going to be hard finding a balance between practicing and getting better and doing what we’re used to doing in practice and shootarounds to paying attention to where we are physically and mentally. The whole season is really going to be a challenge.’’

Added Anderson: ``It’s going to be a lot of games in a shorter amount of time. I don’t know what the schedule is going to look like. It will be tough with a lot of back-to-backs. It’ll be tough and different, but we’ll be prepared. Luckily, we have a ton of veteran guys that are used to playing together.’’

Van Gundy was happy that the league was able to work a schedule that will feature 66 games. Usually the 82-game season is crammed into 22 weeks, but now there will be 66 games in 17 weeks. Van Gundy was an assistant coach in Miami in 1999 when the league played a 50-game season, and he likes the prospect of playing 66 games much more.

``Obviously 50 games would have been a drastic reduction, but 66 isn’t too bad. It’ll go a little faster and there will be some challenges with a shortened training camp. We’ll have to do some things differently there,’’ Van Gundy said. ``There’s an accelerated season. You’ll have guys who aren’t as prepared physically for the rigors of the season having to play a season that’s more rigorous. We’ll have to watch our team a little more. We won’t change drastically, but we’ll make some prudent decisions. Practice time will be a little more limited so guys will have to grasp things in other ways through walkthroughs and film sessions.’’

  John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. John has covered the Magic since 1997 and recently authored ``All You Can Be’’ with Magic center Dwight Howard. E-mail John at jd41898@aol.com.