COACH: Brian Hill | 2005-06: 36-46
Orlando Magic

The future of the Magic lies on Howard's broad shoulders.
Fernando Medina/NBAE/Getty Images
Though they play in the backyard of the Happiest Place on Earth, the Orlando Magic haven't had a lot to smile about since blowing a 3-1 series lead over Detroit in the 2003 NBA Playoffs.

Three coaching changes, the trade of Tracy McGrady, the ill-fated John Weisbrod era, the wasted Fran Vazquez pick, Grant Hill continuing to limp through his contract. Faster than Pat Williams can write a book, the Magic had undone 11 consecutive .500 or better seasons with three straight trips to the lottery.

Only last February was the Magic kingdom finally infused with a little pixie dust, when Orlando made two deadline deals, one of which jettisoned Steve Francis to New York and put the franchise squarely on the broad shoulders of 20-year-old Dwight Howard.

Suddenly, Magic fans were turning their frowns upside down. Orlando was 17-13 after the trades, benefiting from addition by the subtraction of Francis as well as the arrival of Trevor Ariza, Carlos Arroyo and even the enigmatic Darko Milicic.

With Jameer Nelson handling starting point guard duties and Howard dominating inside, Orlando won 16 of its final 22 games to salvage a 36-46 season. An offense that averaged only 92.8 points and shot 45.7 percent with Francis, exploded for 98.5 ppg and .498 shooting on Nelson's watch.

"It feels now a little like it did when I took over the first time [in 1993-94]," Coach Brian Hill told the Orlando Sentinel in September. "Shaq was going into his second season. We had just drafted Penny [Hardaway], and people knew we were on the verge of something."

Howard is on the verge of being one of the NBA's best players. He was the NBA's second leading rebounder (12.5 rpg) and a member of the FIBA World Championship team. The league's most proficient dunker (214), Howard was also among the NBA leaders in field goal percentage (.531), blocks (1.4) and double-doubles (60).

Orlando has a good mix of young and old. They have 11 players 27 or younger, but benefit from the veteran presence of Hill, Bo Outlaw, Tony Battie and Pat Garrity. The only significant hit to their roster this summer was the loss of starting shooting guard DeShawn Stevenson, who signed with Washington.

Stevenson's defense will be missed. Certainly, the Magic don't expect first-rounder J.J. Redick to fill that void, but he does quench Orlando's need for perimeter shooting. A prolific scorer at Duke (26.8 ppg last season), Redick's job will be to keep defenses from collapsing on Howard.

If he can do that and if Milicic can continue to develop, the Magic become dangerous enough to contend for a playoff spot.
-- Bill Evans

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Pressure of the Class

Milicic
Darko Milicic played the best basketball of his young career after being traded to the Magic by Detroit in February, but the ceiling is much higher for the 7-0 Serbian best known for being selected ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade in the 2003 Draft.

The 21-year-old center never cracked the Pistons lineup, in large part because of the dominance of Ben Wallace. Back-to-back trips to the Finals kept the pressure off of Milicic and Pistons General Manager Joe Dumars, the man who selected him.

In Orlando, Milicic won't have to live up to the numbers of his fellow draft class, but the Magic did give up a first-round pick to get him, so he'll be expected to perform as well or better than Tony Battie, last year's starter at center for the Magic.

Battie and Milicic put up comparable numbers in a late-season platoon last season, with one exception. Milicic blocked 2.1 shots per game to give the Magic defense a new dimension. If he can continue to progress, Milicic will team with Howard to form one of the league's most formidable inside tandems.
-- Bill Evans

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THE STAT
The Magic won just 10 of their 41 road games in 2005-06, dropping 16 straight away from the TD Waterhouse Centre from Jan. 27 - Mar. 21. That set a franchise record for consecutive road losses.
X&O STRENGTH

Hill
He’s got the young little giant in the middle. They played pretty well the second half of the season as a team. Once people understand their roles, they’ll be okay.

X&O WEAKNESS
I can forsee them pressing a little bit more this year… Full-court press, 3/4 press… and try to figure out how to get easy baskets out of their defense.

HEAD COACH PHILOSOPHY
They have the brightest young big man in the NBA right now. He is only going to get better. Coach Hill will build his ball club around him.
-- Butch Beard (courtesy of the National Basketball Coaches Association)

Dwight Howard is the real deal. I don't think his summer will cause him much fatigue if any. He's a young, strong kid.
He'll lead the league in rebounding this year.
Howard still needs to work on his D. He should be a dominating defender, and he's not ... yet.
I thought Orlando should have taken Okafor with the first pick in 2004. Shows what I know.
Jameer Nelson is starting to flourish, and Carlos Arroyo had another great showing on the international stage. It'll be interesting to see how long Hill sticks with Nelson as the starter.
Darko came on strong at the end of the season, but I still need to see more than 20 good games. He'll be OK, though, I've seen one publication who thinks he'll be the league's most improve.
J.J. Redick won't be able to contribute much, if any, this season.
-- Eastern Conference Scout
Jameer Nelson: Nelson won’t be as highly touted as Speedy Claxton or Raymond Felton but has the potential to outperform either or both this season.
Grant Hill: So much potential and it shines when he plays, but the injury history and age makes him extremely risky.
This team is going to be exciting to watch. They’re young, they’re talented and yet – for the most part – they’ve gained good experience in their few years together. Led by Jameer Nelson in the backcourt and Dwight Howard in the frontcourt, this is a team that can pound it inside or kill you from the perimeter (J.J. Redick), but the level of success they achieve as a unit will likely come down to how Darko Milicic plays. The Orlando Magic will be one of the better all-around fantasy units in the league, and the overall results should be a fairly large improvement from last season.
-- Chris Cates
Magic Fantasy Preview
PLAYER/2005-06 STATS
PPG
RPG
APG
PG
8.7
2.4
3.0
SG
--
--
--
SF
15.1
3.8
2.3
PF
15.8
12.5
1.5
C
4.8
2.7
0.7
G
5.8
1.7
3.0
F-C
7.9
5.6
0.6
G-F
8.6
3.5
1.8
G
9.4
1.6
2.2
F
4.9
1.9
0.7
G-F
14.9
4.3
2.8
G
Puerto Rico
F-C
Serbia & Montenegro
G-F
Turkey
F
Draft
G-F
Free agent
G
Draft
G
Free agent
PPG
15.8
RPG
12.5
APG
4.9
SPG
1.14
BPG
2.07
Points Scored
94.9
(22nd)
Points Allowed
96.0
(13th)
Field-Goal Percentage
.472
(3rd)
Opponents' FG%
.454
(15th)
Rebounding Differential
+1.75
(8th)
2001-02: 44-38, Third, Atlantic Div.
1996-97: 45-37, Third, Atlantic Div.
Best Season: 1995-96, 60-22
Season/Home Opener:
Nov. 1 vs. CHI (7 p.m. ET, WRBW)
Longest Road Trip(s):
6 games in 10 days: Nov. 27 - Dec. 6
@ UTA, @ SEA, @ POR, @ LAC, @ SAC, @ IND
Longest home stand(s):
4 games in 6 days: Dec. 8-13
DET, PHI, PHX, TORD
4 games in 9 days: Mar. 30 - Apr. 7
IND, MIN, TOR, MEM
Buy tickets | Full Magic schedule
TV: WRBW, Sun Sports
Radio: AM 580 WDBO, WONQ Salsa 1030 AM
Web: Official site
Local Coverage: Florida Today | Orlando Sentinel