Denton's Notebook: January 17, 2011

By John Denton
January 17, 2011


BOSTON – Orlando Magic fans might want to brace themselves something thought by many to be absolutely unthinkable: Shaquille O’Neal wanted to rejoin the Magic this past summer.

Before he signed a two-year deal with the Boston Celtics in early August, O’Neal reached out to Magic franchise center Dwight Howard to talk about possibly coming to Orlando to be the backup center. O’Neal had Howard talk to the Magic management about the idea, but there was little interest at the time because the Magic had both Howard and Marcin Gortat on the roster. Gortat has since been traded to the Phoenix Suns, leaving the Magic without true backup center behind Howard.

O’Neal, who played in Orlando from 1992-96, has sparred verbally with Magic coach Stan Van Gundy and even Howard in the past, but those weren’t thought to be deterrents to bringing him back to Orlando. Instead, the Magic were quietly concerned about how O’Neal would truly handle playing out of a reserve role off the bench.

``Yeah, Shaq wanted to play here,’’ said Howard, who has since made up with O’Neal and appeared on his reality show ``Shaq Vs.’’ back in the summer. ``We talked about it. He wanted to play in Orlando again, but it didn’t happen.’’

O’Neal, who turns 39 in two months, instead signed a two-year deal with the Celtics for $2.8 million. The future Hall of Famer helped the Celtics weather the loss of Kendrick Perkins by averaging 10 points and five rebounds in 30 starts.

ENERGY BOOST: Maybe Howard was angling for his next multi-million dollar sponsorship gig or maybe he was just grasping for something, anything that could help the Magic shake their recent trend of starting slowly in games and having to play their way out of a deficit.

``We’ve got some older guys on the team, so we usually start slow,’’ Howard said. ``It just takes them a while to get their bodies going. I’ve told them right before the game, we’re all going to take a Five Hour Energy shot and we’ll see if that helps us out. We do that, we should be ready to go.’’

Clearly, the slow starts of late for the Magic have gotten the team’s attention. Since the Magic’s Christmas Day game against the Boston Celtics, the Magic have trailed after the first quarter in eight of their 10 games. They have been outscored 26.3 to 23.9 in the first quarter on average, and many of those games have featured double-digit deficits early in the game.

The good news is that the Magic were 8-2 in that stretch, but Magic coach Stan Van Gundy has been hounding his team to stop relying so much on its ability to play its way out of early holes and to start games with more energy.

``I don’t think we’re coming out with very much energy or playing very hard at the beginning of games,’’ said Van Gundy, who has contemplated tinkering with his rotations to better jump-start the Magic. ``We really haven’t started great since the Boston game since Christmas Day, so it’s something that we’ve got to get fixed.’’

TURKISH PRIDE: Back in his native Turkey, Hedo Turkoglu is considered the best basketball player ever to come out of the country. But what is an even bigger source of pride for Turkoglu is the fact that more Turkish players have found success in the NBA.

Turkoglu, the first player ever from Turkey to play in the NBA, is now joined in the NBA by four other players from his homeland. One of those players, 7-footer Semih Erden, has made surprising contributions this season for the Boston Celtics and was on the floor across from Turkoglu Monday night.

``A few years back, the basketball there was down, but it picked up after the European Championships and the Turkish Leagues have put out a couple of good players coming out,’’ Turkoglu said. ``(Allen Iverson) is the biggest player from the NBA to go to Turkey to play. We’re starting to have a lot of success with five players now in the NBA. It helps me out and makes me feel good knowing we have a Turkish players in the NBA.’’

ETC: As Brandon Bass strapped on his black and gold Nike shoes designed as a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, the Magic forward talked about what it meant to him to play on the holiday. Bass said he likes the way the NBA plays game every year on Dr. King’s birthday as a way to honor the holiday. Five of the Magic’s players wore the black and gold Nikes for Monday’s game against the Celtics as a way to honor the MLK holiday. Magic point guard Gilbert Arenas didn’t wear that specific model of Nikes, but has a tattoo of King’s face on his leg and said recently his dream of playing professional basketball was made possible by the Civil Rights leader. Said Bass: ``The NBA gives us a great opportunity to celebrate the life of Dr. King. He’s a person who stood for so much, things like unity and equality, and was just such a good person in the history of this country.’’ … Clearly the $35,000 that the NBA fined Van Gundy back on Jan. 6 for comments he made about Howard’s propensity for picking up technical fouls is still an issue with him. ``We spend a lot time talking to the media by a league decree. I did media after the walk-through, I’m talking now and then our radio thing and then I have to talk after the game and all they talk to us about is being accessible and open,’’ Van Gundy said. ``Plus, I’m mic’ed up during the game and I have cameras on me before the game and at halftime, but don’t say anything wrong. Be open and accessible, but make sure you say exactly what they want you to say. There are no warnings and it’s just $35,000 (fines) and that’s tough.’’ … The Magic practiced Sunday afternoon and Monday morning at tiny Emerson College, a school of 3,000 that specializes in film production. Van Gundy, a former small college coach, gave the team a quick history lesson on the school, and Howard joked that he took a recruiting visit to Emerson when he was the high school player of the year. … Magic players are still abuzz about the windmill dunk that J.J. Redick pulled off at the end of Sunday’s practice to win a bet. Said Redick: ``It’s the stuff of legend.’’

John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. E-mail John at jd41898@aol.com. Submit a question to John for his mailbag segment at AskJD@orlandomagic.com.