Savage: Magic A Team of Destiny?

By Dan Savage
March 15, 2012

Updated: 2:34 p.m. ET

It’s hard to imagine any team facing as much adversity as the Orlando Magic heading into the trade deadline.

At first Magic center Dwight Howard’s future was uncertain. Then he was staying. Then going. And now, staying again.

It’s been a tumultuous roller-coaster ride that’s made the greater Orlando area well versed in terms such as Early Termination Option and has everyone locally setting their alarms for 3 p.m. on Thursday, so they know when the madness of the NBA trade deadline has come to an end.

Yet, with all that as a backdrop, the Magic have managed to earn three straight wins over the Bulls, Pacers and Heat and somehow found a way to drop 111 points on the Spurs in a hard-fought road loss.

In this circle of fire, filled with rumors, speculation and misinformation, the Magic have risen to their highest level.

Magic point guard Jameer Nelson has played, as Orlando Head Coach Stan Van Gundy put it, “the best he’s played, maybe all year.”

He’s averaging 25 points and 5.5 assists over the past two contests and has somehow been able to ignore all the trade chatter.

“My job is to play basketball and my job is not to worry about what is going on in management,” he explained late last night. “I’m on the court to play basketball and that is all that I can control.”

Howard’s been equally magnificent in the face of all this drama, erupting for 26.3 points and 17 rebounds per game in the Magic’s last four meetings, all with high-level playoff contenders.

With the six-time All-Star now choosing to waive the ETO clause in his contract and committing to the Magic through the 2012-13 season, you have to wonder if this Orlando team is one of destiny?

They’ve been battle tested both on the court, with prime competition, and off it, with trade winds so strong that they would easily send hurricane-proof buildings crumbling down to the ground.

And during their most difficult stretch, with all that around them, the Magic have emerged from a wicked four-game stretch 3-1 with their lone loss coming on a back-to-back game in San Antonio.

Howard is more than aware of his contributions to the distractions he’s caused the city of Orlando and appears primed to make it up to them.

“I have gotten some bad advice," Howard told Jarrod Rudolph of "I apologize for this circus I have caused to the fans of our city. They didn't deserve none of this. I'm sorry from the bottom of my heart. I will do whatever I can to make this right and do what I was put in Orlando to do.”

And as Howard has always maintained, he was put here to bring a championship to Orlando.

It’s something that even Shaquille O’Neal, who abandoned the franchise in the summer of 1996, thinks he’s capable of and should do for the organization that drafted him.

“I don’t know why anyone would want to leave Orlando and go anywhere else,” O’Neal said on 740 the Game Thursday morning.

Shaq went on to praise the Magic ownership, the state-of-the-art arena and city that’s called Howard its own since he was selected by the Magic with the first pick in the 2004 NBA Draft.

But along with the great ownership, amazing arena and on-the-court success, Howard should be most excited that the Magic have remained a tight-knit group in the face of all the drama.

Even on the plane ride home from San Antonio early Thursday morning, the team was posing for photos together with Quentin Richardson tweeting, “we ride together, we die together … #wermagic.”

They’ve certainly ridden together through this crazy roller-coaster ride so far and with Howard now reportedly in the fold, it appears that nothing can separate this group now.

And with a proper mix of team chemistry, on-the-court success and battle-tested minds, the Magic may have the proper formula for a championship.

After all this, how could anything in the playoffs possibly surprise this team?

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