Denton: First Day Will Be Intriguing

By John Denton
December 9, 2011

ORLANDO – A training camp unlike any in the 23-year history of the Orlando Magic opens Friday afternoon. And the shortened, makeshift camp ultimately could shed some light on the Magic’s future both in the short term and the long term.

First and foremost, of course, is the pressing issue of Dwight Howard’s looming free agency that hangs over every aspect of the team. Howard, who can opt out of his contract at season’s end and become the most prized player in free agency next July, will work out today with the full Magic squad for the first time. Also, he’s expected to be bombarded with questions about his intentions beyond this season, and assuredly every Magic fan is hoping to get some clarity as it relates to the team’s franchise cornerstone player.

Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said last week that he plans to speak to his team at the start of the camp about not letting the Howard issue be a distraction for the team this season. Van Gundy said that while he knows that there will be persistent questions and Howard-related rumors throughout the season, he has no concerns about the focus of his three-time Defensive Player of the Year center.

``It certainly can be a distraction to guys, and it’s something that we will have to deal with,’’ Van Gundy said. ``I’ll maybe address it more at media day. But I know this: It’s not something that I plan on talking about more than once. That’s going to be it.

``Look, I expect that Dwight will be the same. He’s a great player. He's the guy we build our team around,’’ Van Gundy continued. ``We expect him to be great. I would expect that he’ll be even better than he was a year ago, and that he’ll go out and play basketball and play it hard every day. And then, when the time comes, he’ll make whatever decision is best for him, and that’s exactly the way it should go.’’

And then there’s the issue of how the Magic will respond to a 66-game season and a hurried training camp compressed by a five-month lockout. The preseason will be cut in half and the team will play just two exhibition games against the rival Miami Heat. And once the regular season rolls around on Christmas Day with the Magic starting in Oklahoma City, the team will play more games in a shorter period of time.

``I guess we’ll find out when it’s over and done with how it was,’’ Magic point guard Jameer Nelson said. ``Of course, there will be some ugly basketball early on. I can only imagine what the first couple of weeks look like. We just have to work through things.’’

The Magic are hoping that the familiarity on their roster will help them get off to a fast start when other teams are still learning their personnel. Orlando has 10 players under contract, with six of those players being together for multiple seasons. Also, many of the Magic players worked out together in Orlando during the lockout, potentially giving Orlando a leg up in the chemistry department in training camp.

``I’m in pretty good shape. Guys stayed in shape,’’ said Nelson, the team captain who organized many of the offseason workouts and bonding functions. ``We have a great group that is focused on what they need to do for the team to get better.’’

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.