Denton's Notebook: Tuesday, March 12

By John Denton
March 12, 2013

ORLANDO -- Undoubtedly, the biggest impact of Dwight Howard defecting to the Los Angeles Lakers last summer is the effect that it has had on the Orlando Magic’s personnel and its championship chase for this season.

Only one player on the Magic’s active roster – veteran point guard Jameer Nelson – played with Howard before his trade to the Lakers on Aug. 10. Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis is out with a fractured foot, while Hedo Turkoglu is serving a NBA suspension for testing positive for a banned substance.

Being forced to trade Howard prompted the Magic to jump-start a massive makeover – one that will most likely end the franchise’s Eastern Conference-best run of six consecutive playoff berths.

The Magic smartly acquired center Nikola Vucevic, shooting guard Arron Afflalo and rookie forward Maurice Harkless in the four-team, 12-player transaction that centered around Howard going to the Lakers and Andrew Bynum ending up in Philadelphia. Vucevic entered Tuesday ranked fifth in the NBA in rebounding (11.4 rpg.), Afflalo is Orlando’s leading scorer (16.8 ppg.) and Harkless is one of the league’s brightest rookie prospects.

The trading of Howard, Ryan Anderson and J.J. Redick left the Magic in full-blown rebuilding mode. At 18-46 heading into Tuesday’s game against the Lakers, the Magic will be in the NBA’s Draft Lottery for the first time since 2006.

Being on a team with eight first- or second-year players and struggling for long periods of time has been a transition for Nelson, who has spent all nine of his NBA seasons in Orlando and he’s the longest-tenured Magic player.

``For me it’s a lot different because over the last how many ever years it’s been I’ve been competing for a championship. Change is always tough,’’ Nelson said.

``Hopefully we can build on some things that we are doing this year and create a winning atmosphere around here.’’

MIXED MESSAGE: Howard took a mostly conciliatory tone when he was asked about his emotions of returning to Orlando as he was surrounded by approximately 100 reporters after the Lakers’ morning shootaround.

Howard repeatedly praised Magic fans for supporting him during his eight seasons in Orlando, saying they helped him become the player that he is today.

But the all-star center refused to go into specifics over his messy divorce from the Magic last season. Howard started last season by issuing a trade demand. Later, then-head coach Stan Van Gundy went public with claims that Howard attempted to get him fired. Then, after announcing that he would have season-ending back surgery, Howard never returned to Orlando to explain why he was turning his back on the franchise he played for during the first eight seasons of his star-studded NBA career.

``All of that stuff is over with now,’’ Howard said, refusing to address prior comments that he would done plenty of stuff differently if given another chance.

``Today is a new day. Whatever happened in the past I’m going to leave it behind me. Like I said, I have nothing but love for the fans here.’’

Then, Howard ended his Tuesday morning media session with a line that will likely upset Magic fans scorned because Howard sought a bigger media market and a more tradition-rich franchise to play for.

``They treated me well (in Orlando), but it didn’t end right and didn’t end the way we wanted it to end,’’ Howard said. ``But I’m in a better place and everyone has to move on.’’

ETC: Tuesday’s game also featured the well-below-the-radar returns of Earl Clark and Chris Duhon to Orlando. Duhon, who signed a free-agent deal with the Magic in 2010, played 114 games and made 14 starts in two seasons with the Magic. Clark played in 78 games over the previous two seasons and he’s finally gotten a steady diet of playing time in L.A. with the Lakers. ``They finally let me out and get on the court. It’s been nice,’’ said Clark, who is averaging 8.1 points and 6.2 rebounds in 23.8 minutes a game. … With a sellout crowd on hand and more than 100 media members attending the game because of the Howard saga, Tuesday night’s game clearly had a different feel to it. But with so many young players on his roster, Magic coach Jacque Vaughn did his best to bring some normalcy to the day. Said Vaughn: ``I wouldn’t do anything different. No different shootaround, no different practice (on Monday) and no different pregame speech. The only thing important about today is today’s game.’’ … Nelson and Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant grew up in suburban Philadelphia, but that has little to do with the Magic point guard’s affection for Bryant, owner of five NBA championship rings. Gushed Nelson: ``Obviously, they have Kobe, who is the best player I’ve ever seen play the game. He’s a tough cover for anybody.’’ … Howard stayed at his suburban Orlando home on Monday night, saying it was the first time that he’s been back since he left Orlando in mid-April to have back surgery in Los Angeles. He also dined at his favorite Waffle House, saying he encountered a couple of Magic fans who were cordial to him. … The Magic will be off Wednesday and Thursday before heading to Oklahoma City to face the Thunder on Friday. It will be the start of a four-game, eight-day road trip for Orlando. The Magic will face the Thunder (Friday), Bucks (Sunday afternoon), Pacers (Tuesday) and Knicks (Wednesday) on the trip.

MORE STORIES: Afflalo Embracing Renovation | Harris Finds Inspiration From Father; Thriving in Orlando | Udrih Relieved to be Out of Milwaukee

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