Denton: Intriguing Season Ahead

By John Denton
December 24, 2011

ORLANDO – Depending on how things go in the coming months, this shortened season could ultimately be a long one for the Orlando Magic.

First off, it could be long as in a successful regular season from the veteran-laden roster and a deep, meaningful run through the playoffs. The Magic feel like they can retain superstar center Dwight Howard, which seemingly qualifies them as serious contenders in the Eastern Conference. And by adding Glen Davis and re-signing Jason Richardson, the Magic feel that they have as deep and potent a team as there is in the NBA.

But if Howard follows through on his trade request and forces his way out of Orlando, this is where things could get messy for the Magic. A defection by the franchise center would likely shatter the Magic’s chemistry and vault them back into rebuilding mode.

A training camp and exhibition season packed with intrigue was likely just a precursor to all that lies ahead for the Magic as the regular season gets under way Christmas night in Oklahoma City. The Magic are eager to see where this winding, 66-game regular season will take them, especially since they don’t know how long Howard will be around.

``I would have to say that it is (unsettling) right now because of the whole Dwight situation with us,’’ Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. ``It does affect our team a little bit, but as far as what I’m doing as a coach with plans and practice and games, it has no effect.’’

Howard, Orlando’s five-time all-star and three-time Defensive Player of the Year, has quieted some of the trade talk of late by committing himself fully to the team. He said he’s told his team that he isn’t distracted by swirling rumors and that his focus is affixed on helping the Magic win big this season.

He’s had extended talks with Magic President of Basketball Operations/GM Otis Smith and Van Gundy of late, and those have given him great peace of mind. It’s no secret that Howard wants more say in personnel decisions, and he’s expressed those desires to an understanding Smith. And he and Van Gundy talked about their roles in being leaders on the team and have come to an understanding, Howard said.

Howard said he knows the persistent questions and whispers about his future will follow him all season. He thinks that he’ll be able to compartmentalize the issue and focus on helping their Magic continue their four-year run of great success. Orlando ranks third in the NBA in regular-season wins and playoff wins over the past four seasons.

``It can (have an effect), but I just have to stay strong and focused on what I’m trying to accomplish and what our team is trying to accomplish,’’ Howard said. ``It’s going to be tough all year and I can’t get away from it. I’ll just continue to pray and stay strong and make sure that the people around me every day are there for me, and they are. It’s tough and a lot of people never have to deal with anything like this and they will only see it from one side. But when you have a big heart and you’re a great person things can be tough on you. But I’m going to remain who I am, have fun on the court and keep smiling.’’

The Magic could be smiling in the spring if their veteran core of Jameer Nelson, Hedo Turkoglu, J.J. Redick, Ryan Anderson, Richardson and Davis can mesh quickly during what figures to be a frenetic regular season. The Magic, who host Houston on Monday in the first of 19-back-to-back sets of games, play six games in the first nine nights of the season. The schedule is compressed because of the five-month lockout, but the Magic are hoping that their familiarity will be a big advantage early in the season.

``Most of our guys are returning from last season and Glen (Davis) is an easy guy to play with,’’ Van Gundy said. ``Really, (Davis) is the only guy who will get extensive playing time who is new. I think our guys know how to play together, but it’s a matter of getting that rhythm back. We’ll find out when it comes, won’t we?’’

The lone pressing issue as it relates to the starting lineup is whether Van Gundy opts for Davis or Anderson at power forward. Davis left Boston and came to Orlando in order to get a bigger role on the team. He backed up Kevin Garnett the past four seasons, and is eager to start in Orlando alongside of Howard.

``It’s great for me to be in Orlando because I’m tired of pounding against the big guy (Howard) in the post all of the time,’’ Davis said. ``Now we’re on the same team together and I’m eager to see what kind of damage we can do together.’’

Just how much damage the Magic can do will likely depend on how quickly their chemistry comes together. Their firepower, especially with Howard manning the middle, is unquestioned, and Van Gundy teams will always be near the top of the league in all of the major defensive categories.

``I think our chemistry will be a work in progress because we’ve got a few new guys and rookies and we’re trying to incorporate them in such a short time,’’ Magic reserve point guard Chris Duhon said. ``We’ll have some moments where we don’t look good, but we’ll just have to fight through it. Guys here are doing everything they can to get up to speed. Right now I’d give us about a 6 (on a scale to 10), but I think we have the potential to be really good.’’

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

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