Denton: First Glance at Refurbished Magic

By John Denton
December 20, 2010

ATLANTA – On Monday night in Atlanta, the Orlando Magic will almost be starting anew, or in the case of returning small forward Hedo Turkoglu, starting over again.

When the Magic made two daring and bold moves Saturday to replace almost one-third of their team with Gilbert Arenas, Jason Richardson, Earl Clark and Turkoglu, the franchise made a statement stronger than ever that it is all in in its championship-or-bust pursuit.

But with so much change and newness, it could take the rest of the regular season to reformulate the team’s chemistry. But the hope is that the roster will be whole and firing together by playoff time when the championship chase really starts.

As for Monday night’s game in Atlanta, no one – not GM Otis Smith, head coach Stan Van Gundy, captains Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson or even Arenas – know what to expect from a team that will try to mesh on the fly.

``It’s going to be a little bit of a challenge right now, obviously, being right in the middle of things where we’re not in a break where we get a lot of practice time. Those guys will probably play two games before they even practice with us,’’ Van Gundy said. ``As far as working them in, it’s going to be on the fly.’’

Smith worked hard the past few years to get the Magic out of the mindset of settling simply playoff success or ``low-hanging fruit,’’ as he referred to it. The one and only goal, Smith stressed repeatedly, is still to win a championship. The willingness to make such dramatic changes to the team – something Smith has been opposed to doing in the past – shows the sense of urgency to try and win now, Smith said.

``I think it’s an indication of the (DeVos) family’s commitment to win and win at a high level. They have given us the ability to find the talent it takes to win a championship,’’ Smith said. ``That’s the goal and it doesn’t change because we’re sitting here at (16-10). You make changes that are going to give us an opportunity to (win a championship).’’

Smith, who looked on in frustration as the Magic limped to a 1-3 record on a recent West Coast roadtrip, felt his team needed a jolt of energy, athleticism and playmaking abilities. He came to the conclusion that the Magic needed much more scoring punch even if it meant adding three players – Arenas, Turkoglu and Richardson – who generally function only if they have the ball in their hands.

Smith feels that the Magic are in much better position today to win a championship than they were prior to Saturday – even if the transition period from Rashard Lewis, Vince Carter, Marcin Gortat and Mickael Pietrus to Arenas, Turkoglu, Richardson and Clark is a rocky one for a few weeks.

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``I thought we needed more scoring, needed more of a punch. All of those guys (traded for) have the ability to come in, move the ball and score,’’ Smith said. ``Looking at our team, we were pretty much through 25 games and we were missing a little something and I thought change was needed.’’

Maybe the player most in need of a change was Arenas, who comes to Orlando after seeing his star power fade in Washington because of a knee injury, a NBA-mandated suspension and the arrival of hot-shot rookie point guard John Wall. He comes the Magic, in large part, because of his close relationship with Smith, whom he considers ``a father figure.’’ Arenas, who has eight 20-point games and two 30-point games (one against the Magic) this season, is eager to show everyone that he is still an elite player.

``Yeah, this is a new beginning for me. This is a true new beginning,’’ said Arenas, who will wear No. 1 in Orlando in honor of his all-time favorite player, former Magic great Penny Hardaway. ``Changing my number was a new beginning, but this is a real new beginning with a new city, new people and new team and I get to start fresh.’’

Turkoglu will be starting over with a team that he is mostly already familiar with. Turkolgu played with the Magic from five years, growing into a standout player alongside of J.J. Redick, Howard and Nelson. He helped the Magic get to the 2009 NBA Finals with his dazzling playmaking skills in a Game 7 against Boston and in the Eastern Conference Finals against the heavily favored Cleveland Cavaliers.

Turkoglu left the Magic for more money following the run to the NBA Finals, and both have been worse for the parting ever since. Turkoglu struggled in both Toronto and Phoenix – teams with strong point guards who dominated the ball – because he was mostly miscast. But in Orlando, he’ll likely be given the ball again in pick-and-roll plays and asked to make plays for the likes of Howard, Nelson and Richardson.

``What Turk brings to us is an opportunity to flourish because of the way that we play,’’ said Smith, who pushed for the Turkoglu’s first signing with the Magic in 2004. ``We allow him to play with the ball and at the same time to move the ball. He’s probably as excited as anyone to be back here. I expect a little uptick from him as far as his performance goes.’’

As for how it all meshes in Van Gundy’s rotation, Nelson and Howard – Orlando’s co-captains – said the Magic will figure it out eventually because of the talent added to the roster. Good players find a way to play together, Nelson said, and he added that he thinks that he and Arenas can coexist just fine while splitting the minutes and ball-handling duties at point guard.

``We are two basketball players who are aggressive with the ball,’’ Nelson said. ``So we just have to play off one another and stay aggressive. No matter who has the ball, just make the right play. I know that I’ll do my best to just make the right play when I have it in my hands. And Gilbert is a guy who knows how to play and he’ll make the right play for us.’’

Howard stressed that the Magic’s focus is more on late April, May and June, meaning that he hopes the team is shooting for total cohesion by the start of the playoff push. Howard said that while the Magic might struggle through their initial transition from the old players to the new ones, he thinks the Magic made an upgrade in talent that will be beneficial come playoff time.

``You can lose a game in December and it doesn’t mean anything when the playoffs come,’’ Howard said. ``So we all understand that we have to get better, and we will. It’s going to be a tough stretch for us, but we’re going to find a way out of this. It’s just going to have to be through hard work.’’

John Denton writes for E-mail John at Submit a question to John for his mailbag segment at