All in the Family

Matt Guokas Returns to the Magic as TV Color Analyst

Matt Guokas knows the hard work and perseverance it takes to be a top collegiate and professional athlete. He knows the perils and struggles one faces on a daily basis as a coach in the NBA. And he also knows the stress level associated with being a college and pro basketball analyst – or make that, the lower stress level.

“You sleep a lot better as an analyst,” Guokas laughed when comparing the positions. “And you eat a lot better too.”

Local diners take note, because Guokas, the first head coach of the Orlando Magic, was named the color television analyst for the squad Tuesday, joining David Steele on each of the Magic’s game broadcasts on the Magic Television Network and Sunshine Network. It’s a role Guokas has become highly acquainted with since leaving the playing and coaching ranks, as well as one he treasures compared to that of his former duties.

“You don’t have the highs and the lows that you have when you are coaching,” Guokas explained. “As an analyst, you actually get to breathe and laugh a little. When you are a coach, you have a lot more preparation to go through as well – you have to prepare the players as much as possible, without having them so prepared that they don’t go out and have fun and relax. With announcing, you want to be as prepared as possible, and quite frankly it’s a little bit easier dealing with the same team all the time, because you know your team like the back of your hand.”

If there is any team in the league Guokas would know like the back of his hand, it’s safe to assume it would be Orlando. Guokas coached the Magic for their first three seasons in the league, leading them to their first-ever .500 season in 1992-93. He has kept a watchful eye on them ever since, from the days of Shaq to the acquiring of Grant Hill in 2000.

“Other than the last three years, I have basically lived here,” Guokas said, “And even though I have been doing Cleveland (Cavaliers) games for the last seven years, I got to see the Magic more than anybody. There have been so many changes, from where Shaq came along with Penny and their championship-caliber years. And even though there was a drop-off after Shaq left, there was still competitive basketball going on, with the outstanding ‘heart and hustle’ team. Then, they cleared cap space and wound up with Grant (Hill) and Tracy McGrady. It was a daring move, but it was certainly a gamble just about any team would want to take.”

Guokas knows a thing or two about gambles and building teams from the ground up, as the Magic did in the off-season. As one of the first people in the Magic organization, he has seen the franchise blossom and change dramatically throughout the years. And just like he faced the challenge of starting from scratch back in 1988 when he was first hired, he can relate to the task of transforming last season’s squad into an all-new team of the upcoming 2004-05 season.

“They are parallel and similar in a lot of ways, but then again they are very different,” Guokas said of the two tasks. “That was 16 years ago, when there were 12-15 people in the front office and no players yet. We were a very intimate group, but it was a fun challenge trying to put something together. The Magic’s identity has been very similar in the last five years, and now John Weisbrod is making some bold moves, and Johnny Davis has put together an all-new coaching staff. They’re starting to get the feeling of hope to us and to the fans – there is only one way to go now, and that’s up.”

Guokas, just like Magic fans all across the country, is looking for one source of that hope to come from Dwight Howard. Guokas will once again be joined with the No. 1 draft pick out of high school, as he was last season with the Cavaliers, when they chose LeBron James. Now, he can only hope to see the same turnaround James brought to Cleveland happen again in Orlando.

“A LeBron comes along only once in 25 years,” Guokas said. “That caliber of a player like a Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson – that kind of guy that comes in as the first pick and his expectations are through the roof. And the amazing thing was that LeBron more than lived up to those expectations. Everybody had a lot of fun hyping him and making predictions on what he was going to be, but I don’t think anyone thought he was going to be as good as he was from an individual standpoint.

“Now, with Dwight Howard coming in, you have another high school guy with the first pick, but he is a totally different type player than LeBron. It’s probably going to take Dwight a little bit longer to develop as a player than it does for most big men, but still, in this day and age, and we’re talking about the NBA here, people ask – ‘Why haven’t you become an all-star yet?’ Everybody’s expectations will be high for Dwight Howard, not as high as LeBron James,’ but that’s where Johnny Davis’ job becomes difficult. You’ve got to get Dwight out there and battle through the disappointments and learn how to accept the successes. But you also don’t want him to be losing confidence on a regular basis when things don’t always go the way he’d like them to.”

Even though Guokas will no doubt be keeping close tabs on Howard’s progress, the young phenom will not be the only rookie Guokas pays attention to. Before he went on to star in the NBA with the Philadelphia 76ers, eventually leading them to a world championship in 1967, Guokas was a highly-touted All-American at St. Joseph’s University, the same school that produced Magic rookie and college Player of the Year Jameer Nelson.

“Jameer led his team to kind of a storybook season,” Guokas pointed out. “And you have the rarity of basketball these days in that he spent four years in college, so he comes in with a physical and emotional maturity you don’t normally get with your draft picks. Even though he is going to be playing the same position as Steve Francis, I think it is a good challenge for Jameer. Not to accept the back-up role, as he will be coming in off the bench, but I still think there will be a lot of opportunities, especially late in the game, where Jameer and Steve Francis can be on the floor together. If a player can’t start and play 35 minutes, then the next best thing is being out there at crucial times of the game, especially crunch time.”

But, as Guokas adds, the two rookies aren’t the only things he is excited about. While the Magic organization has always had a ‘family’ feel to it, that statement takes on a whole new meaning this year, as Goukas will not only be working with old friends, but also with his daughter, who recently started as an Orlando Magic Youth Foundation intern.

“I’ll be working for her,” Guokas joked. “She is absolutely having a ball. This is an opportunity for her to work with a lot of good people and a terrific organization and get valuable experience.

“But I’m also excited about the whole situation, being back with the organization and working with David Steele, hanging out with Dennis Nuemann and Jeff Turner, which we did a couple years ago when I did the Magic playoff games in the first round versus Detroit. But I think the real interesting thing about this particular group of players on paper, is that there is a good blend here. There are some veterans who are of high character and expected to bring some stability to the locker room. There are guys like Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobleyand Kelvin Cato, where we are very fortunate to have three starters from a team who had a lot of success last year, and these are guys who are just approaching their prime. And let’s face it, Steve Francis is a legitimate all-star caliber player and is adept at finishing games off.”

Matt Guokas may know what it takes to be a success this season covering the Magic, but there’s only one thing he wants the fans, coaches, and players alike to know.

“Most of all, I just want to say it’s great to be back.”

Melanie Curtsinger is an intern in the Magic's Communications department.