Denton: Magic Want to Prove Critics Wrong


By John Denton
November 1, 2012

ORLANDO – With apologies to the snarky and highly quirky debuting sitcom on NBC, this is ``The New Normal’’ for the Orlando Magic. Being doubted by prognosticators and outsiders to the point that one national media outlet projected the Magic to be a 16-win team this season.

Being overlooked because of the lack of a singular superstar player and instead trying to win on the strength of an unselfish group.

Being relegated to a Friday tip-off, along with the likes of Charlotte, Milwaukee, Minnesota and Atlanta, some four days after the regular-season officially began in Miami on Tuesday.

Whereas some might look at these factors as sleights, the Magic are using them to fuel their fire as they head into Friday night’s first game against the Denver Nuggets at the Amway Center.

It’s clearly a new era of Magic basketball, what with Dwight Howard, Otis Smith, Stan Van Gundy and others long gone and replaced by new GM Rob Hennigan, new head coach Jacque Vaughn and a slew of new players. That group sees no reason why the Magic – a team now built more around trust, unselfishness, a depth of talented parts and players who want to be in Orlando – can’t be successful this season and defy what the experts believe to be true about the season ahead.

Not once has Vaughn spoken about win projections for the season and captain Jameer Nelson said there is little talk in the Magic locker room about the low expectations from the prognosticators. But to a man, the Magic know they are being given very little chance to compete for a playoff spot and the group is particularly fired up about it.

``Doubters fuel the energy of believers,’’ Magic power forward Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis said emphatically. ``People who believe see it first and then go achieve it. At the same time, doubters spark the ignition to give us fuel to prove them wrong.’’

With a veteran core of J.J. Redick, Arron Afflalo, Hedo Turkoglu, Nelson, Davis and eventually Al Harrington (recovering from knee surgery), the Magic truly believe that they will blow past the low bar of expectations set for them. The team proved during the preseason that it will be an unselfish and efficient team that relies on player movement, sharing the ball and playing with great energy. Defense and rebounding could become trouble spots, but the Magic feel they have enough talent, desire and players pulling in the same direction that they can cover whatever holes there are on the roster.

``We’re going to be challenged at times, and any time you lose a player of Dwight’s caliber and you are transitioning with new players and new coaches there are going to be changes, but I think we’re ready to go,’’ said Redick, Orlando’s most dynamic and consistent player in the preseason. ``I think there are enough guys here who are motivated and we can surprise some people.

``I feel strongly that we can be better than people expect,’’ Redick continued. ``The reason being is that we have guys on our team who care and guys who are willing to play together. That, to me, is the most important part. We’re going to have some difficult times, but if we stay together and guys continue to care we’ll be OK. Half the battle in this league is like wanting to win, how much you want to win and how much of an emphasis you place on the importance of winning. For us, I think it will be of importance all season and I expect us to win some games.’’

Afflalo, who figures to eventually become the Magic’s leading scorer and go-to player in clutch situations, will be facing his former team in Friday’s opener. Afflalo said he couldn’t be happier about the move from Denver to Orlando because of the direction of the Magic franchise. He too is a believer that the Magic are about to shock the basketball world and make a push at a playoff slot.

``The difference is we have control over what happens and (the prognosticators) don’t. It’s easy to predict and it’s up to us as players to change it,’’ he said. ``The truth is we’re the only ones who can get on the court and win 16 games, win less than 16 games or win more. So with that in mind, it can be motivational, but we have to get out there and play. It starts Friday for us and we have no time to waste. This is not a team that can afford to dig ourselves in a hole from a win-loss perspective or even in games. We have to compete from the jump and I hope that’s the mindset of everyone.’’

Nelson and Davis relate well to being in the underdog role. Nelson fell to the middle of the first round on draft night eight years ago after being told he was a too-short, shoot-first point guard. Now, he’s in his ninth NBA season and is the longest-tenured player on the Magic.

``I’m definitely a chip-on-the-shoulder guy, but our fuel has to come from self-motivation. You have to be trying to be the best you can be and not the best that somebody else wants you to be,’’ Nelson said. ``I don’t care what people say. I’m carrying (the message) into the locker room that it doesn’t matter what people say. What matters is what’s going on in our locker room and our organization. We have to believe that we’re good enough to win games and get better every day.’’

Davis too was thought to never make it in the NBA because of his 6-foot-8 height and defensive lineman physique in a world of sleek 7-footers. But he’s won a ring in Boston and finally won a starting spot in Orlando. Now, he’s being looked to as a team leader and one who can carry the team with his energy and production.

``I’ve always been doubted. Since I’ve come into this league I’ve always been doubted,’’ Davis said. ``My whole career I’ve been doubted with people saying, `You should be a football player.’ I’m tired of hearing that. Now, it’s my turn to let people know I’m in the NBA and I’m here to play.’’

As for Vaughn, he’ll be making his debut as a head coach following a 12-year career as a player and two seasons as an assistant with the San Antonio Spurs. He reiterated on Thursday that his experience has him properly prepared to be the Magic’s head coach and there will be no jitters for him. And while he sometimes used doubters as fuel during his playing days, he said he’ll shy away from that as a coach. His players, and not the prognosticators, will ultimately decide how many games the Magic win this season.

``Guys have different temperaments and different things motivate individuals. For me, I haven’t stressed or said one word about projections, newspaper clippings or anything of that nature,’’ Vaughn said. ``For me, I’m just concerned about us as a team every single day and that’s it.’’

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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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