Denton's Notebook: March 16, 2012

By John Denton
March 16, 2012

ORLANDO – When Thursday’s NBA trade deadline came and went without the Orlando Magic making a major transaction – well, other than superstar center Dwight Howard waiving the opt-out clause in his contract – there was sense of jubilation and relief in the team’s locker room.

Not only did management not break up a team that entered Friday with the fifth most wins, but it was also able to convince Howard, the franchise fixture, to remain in Orlando through next season.

A cloud of uncertainty had hung over the team all season after Howard issued a trade demand in training camp. That request had a ripple effect throughout the locker room as players wondered if they would be included if a deal came about. Knowing full well that it could have been their final time together, Magic players posed for team pictures on the plane home from San Antonio Wednesday night.

With the trade deadline passing on Thursday, there was relief that the core of the squad was still intact and able to attempt a run together in the playoffs.

``All of this stuff that’s been around, it’s definitely a positive to be past it and know everybody is buying in and here,’’ Magic power forward Ryan Anderson said. ``It’s hard all of your focus into (Howard’s re-signing) because anything could have happened. It was a relief, but you understand this is a business and sometimes decisions made are tough ones. I’m glad that we have this team the rest of the year. This is a time for us to focus in on what we need to get done. I’m excited to have this same group back.’’

Point guard Chris Duhon said the flight from San Antonio was a sentimental one because the team didn’t know yet of Howard’s intentions and some fully expected it to be their last night with the Magic.

``Nobody knew anything about his decision. At first, it was just a normal plane ride with guys talking and playing cards and it got into more of a hugging situation because guys didn’t know if they were going to be here tomorrow,’’ Duhon said. ``Nobody knew his decision coming off the plane. The decision was in his head, but we loved it because this is a great team and everybody loves one another. We’re happy that we’re going to get the opportunity to see this thing through.’’

BETTER DEFENSE: Magic coach Stan Van Gundy is hoping that with the distraction of the Howard drama solved at least until the offseason that the Magic can now go to work on being a more consistent, better defensive team over the final 22 regular-season games.

Van Gundy said that while the Magic have the third best record in the Eastern Conference and the fifth best record in the NBA, those numbers can sometimes be deceptive.

Van Gundy said more telling numbers are these: The Magic rank 11th in the league in points allowed per defensive possession and 10th in the NBA in defensive field goal percentage. In Van Gundy’s five years in Orlando, the Magic have never finished outside the top five in either of those categories.

``We’ve done enough to get by in a lot of games, but the real numbers don’t lie,’’ Van Gundy said. ``Yes, we have the fifth best record, but we’re 11th in the league in points per (defensive) possession and that’s just not good enough. The numbers say we’re mediocre. The numbers that I trust, I know what teams (11th in that defensive category) do in the playoffs.’’

Van Gundy said he expects the Magic be in the top seven or eight of most all defensive categories. While he’s happy about how the Magic limit other teams’ field goal percentage and don’t give up many points in the paint, Van Gundy said the Magic must make major strides in close outs on 3-point shots and not giving up so many ``rhythm’’ jumpers.

ETC: The sellout crowd inside the Amway Center gave Howard a roaring, standing ovation when he was announced in pregame introductions. Then, with the crowd continuing to throw with emotion, Howard danced in the Magic huddle and let out several primal screams. … Former magic guard DeShawn Stevenson, now a member of the New Jersey Nets, said that teammate Deron Williams was disappointed by the Nets not landing Howard in a Thursday trade. Noit exactly the effusive type, Williams didn’t have much to say about Howard, but not that there would be no ``monkey see, monkey do,’’ as in he wouldn’t be waiving his opt-out clause as Howard did. Williams fully intends to become an unrestricted free agent in July and is expected to choose between returning to New Jersey or playing for his hometown Dallas Mavericks. … Van Gundy did not attend Thursday’s news conference to announce Howard’s return and said he found out the news just before 1 p.m. as he was breaking down game film of Friday’s opponent, the New Jersey Nets. Said Van Gundy: ``I don’t really remember (where he was). I was doing my New Jersey film. I don’t really remember exactly. It was a big moment for our organization, but it wasn’t like the JFK moment where everybody remembers what they were doing, you know? It wasn’t quite that big.’’ … Veteran shooting guard Jason Richardson returned to the starting lineup Friday night after missing the past three games with a sprained ankle. … Just a week after beating both Chicago and the Miami Heat, the Magic get those two Eastern Conference powers again in the next two games. The Magic play in Miami on Sunday and at home against the Bulls on Monday.

John Denton writes for John has covered the Magic since 1997 and recently authored ``All You Can Be’’ with Magic center Dwight Howard. E-mail John at

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