Denton: Magic Not Fan of Term "Rebuilding"

By John Denton
October 1, 2012

ORLANDO – As the Orlando Magic embarked on a fresh, new era Monday with media day and later a team dinner, shooting guard Arron Afflalo wanted to make one thing clear even though he is still one of the newcomers on the squad.

Though the Magic are without one defined superstar player following the blockbuster trading of Dwight Howard back on Aug. 10, they are in no way surrendering the ambition that this can still be a very successful season. No veteran player wants to hear the word ``rebuilding,’’ and Afflalo was intent on stressing on Monday that the Magic will be a team willing to fight instead of one simply resigned to rebuilding.

``When you say the term `rebuilding’ it implies almost that you’re willing to lose. I don’t think there’s a guy in the locker room, on the coaching staff or in management who’s willing to lose,’’ said Afflalo, the standout shooting guard acquired by the Magic in August. ``It’s a transition year for us more than a rebuilding year I would say.’’

The Magic will open training camp on Tuesday with the belief that a collection of veterans, a host of promising young players and the calm, analytical approach provided by new GM Rob Hennigan and new head coach Jacque Vaugh will allow them to be successful. The Magic have been in the playoffs each of the past six years – the longest such streak in the Eastern Conference – and captain Jameer Nelson sees no reason why that streak can’t continue this season.

``I think we can be better than most people think, and really nobody knows right now how good we can be,’’ said Nelson, the longest tenured Magic player in his ninth season in Orlando. ``For people to count us out already, that’s just people writing things. It’s up to us to go out there and work hard, make us better and establish our identity. But I really think we can be pretty good.’’

That is a thought also shared by Vaughn, who will be a 180-degree difference from former coach Stan Van Gundy in how he maintains his composure and relates to players with his personable demeanor. Vaughn is a first-time head coach, but he learned the game under some of the game’s all-time great coaches in Jerry Sloan, Gregg Popovich and Doc Rivers.

Vaughn vowed he is looking at the Magic’s roster as if it’s a clean slate and has no preconceived notions about players’ personalities or habits. He wants to develop a style that focuses on unselfish team basketball instead of one that revolves around one dominant star. For now, Vaughn wants nothing to do predicting a win total or a playoff berth for the Magic and said his focus is instead trained on gradual and steady growth.

Also, Vaughn has told anyone who will listen that there’s shouldn’t be a ``woe-is-us attitude’’ around the team because he fully expects it to compete on a nightly basis and get better as the season progresses.

``First, the fact that the guys in the locker room want to be here, that’s huge for me,’’ Vaughn said. ``My approach won’t change with those guys, the slate is clean and I’m not concerned with what they have done in the past or what teams they were on. … The guys will know that that I care about them and I’ll form relationships with every single guy.

``I’m not concerned about what’s written, what’s on the news and what other’s people opinions are about this team,’’ Vaughn continued. ``I’m not sure who is going to be our leading scorer and that will be my approach. I’m not sure how many games we’re going to win and that will be my approach. But we’ll compete hard every night and we’ll let the chips fall where they may.’’

With a veteran core of J.J. Redick, Hedo Turkoglu, Glen Davis, Al Harrington, Afflalo and Nelson, the Magic believe that there is still plenty of talent and savvy on the roster to compete with the best teams in the NBA. While several national projections have the Magic finishing with less than 30 wins and winding up in the lottery, Redick feels that the Magic are about to shock the basketball world. Free from many of the distractions that haunted the team last year, Redick sees the Magic as a young and hungry team out to prove something this season.

``It’s a transition year for a lot of people and there are probably a lot of new goals for a lot of people, but it’s still important for us to play hard every night and compete,’’ Redick said. ``I’d love for us to be a team that other teams don’t like to play because we grind it out and play extremely hard. I really think this group has a chance to be a fun group to watch and a fun group to play with. It’s fresh and it’s new and there’s some nervous energy. It will be different and new, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be bad. I think we can be better than people think.’’

Another major priority for the season will be developing the Magic’s blend of promising young talent. Vaughn put together a coaching staff that specialized in player development, so bringing along the young talent as the season goes along will be a top priority.

Seven-footer Nikola Vucevic, who was acquired from Philadelphia in the Howard deal, will likely be the starter at center. Orlando’s first-round pick Andrew Nicholson showed flashes of promise in summer league action and has a chance of being a rotation player at power forward. Maurice Harkless, the 16th overall pick of the June NBA Draft, is out until mid-November with a sports hernia, but projects as a dynamic wing player for the Magic in the future. And center/power forward Kyle O’Quinn has already turned heads with his toughness and willing to do the dirty work in the post for the Magic.

Mix in the veterans wanting to prove themselves, a young coaching staff eager to prove their chops along the sideline with a group of young players wanting to make a good first impression and the Magic feel they have a good mix that make this transition year a smooth one. And if there’s a shot at making the playoffs at the end of this season, the Magic will push hard to make this season a memorable and productive one. Again, the term ``rebuilding’’ doesn’t seem to apply to a Magic team that has already formed a distinct edge and is out to prove something to the basketball world.

``What we can guarantee to our fans is that this team is going to play hard and will work on improving every day,’’ Magic CEO Alex Martins said. ``Obviously this is a new era and a transition period for us, but I don’t necessarily look at this as a rebuild.

I think we have a great collection of talent. We’re going to be competitive, we’ve got a good talent base and we’re going to continue to improve. And over the course of time we’re going to be competing for a conference championship and a NBA championship again. But this is not a rebuild like we’ve been through in the past where it’s going to take us five years. We have a good collection of talent that we will continue to supplement that will allow us to continue to be the winning organization that we’ve been over some time.’’

John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. John has covered the Magic since 1997. E-mail John at jdenton@orlandomagic.com or follow him on Twitter at @JohnDenton555.



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