Tag Archives: Dwight Howard

City Game: Orlando (Central Florida)

Sunshine, theme parks, beaches and great shopping aren’t the only thing Orlando has to offer. There’s a thriving hoop scene here as well. Photo Credit: Kavis Peak

When you mention Orlando Florida, most people’s first thoughts go to Disney World, Universal Studios, orange groves, tropical weather with hurricanes and pop-up showers, nearby sandy beaches, great restaurants and shopping.

Sports wise, you think mostly football or spring training baseball. But in the past two and half decades, roundball has also become synonymous with central Florida. Mickey Mouse and Harry Potter are no longer the biggest attractions from the area.

NBA LIVE: 

The Association has been apart of the “City Beautiful” community since 1989. As mentioned in the ESPN 30 for 30 “This Magic Moment,” it was thought to be a terrible idea to place an expansion franchise in Orlando, and Miami as well, because football was king in the “Sunshine State.” Boy were they wrong. The NBA has flourished in central Florida, even through the lean years the Magic franchise had in the beginning and in recent seasons.

It only took three seasons for Magic basketball to receive the National and World spotlights. In February of 1992, former commissioner David Stern smartly brought the All-Star weekend to Orlando, as he did with the other expansion franchises (Miami Heat in 1990, Charlotte Hornets in 1991) in previous years. That weekend would ironically become a celebration of Magic, as in Earvin “Magic” Johnson, who was playing in the game despite having retired before the season began due to finding out he had contracted the HIV virus.

In the spring of that same year the Magic won possibly the biggest draft lottery in league history, giving them the right to select the highly coveted Shaquille O’Neal with the first overall pick. The franchise and central Florida community would never be the same.

Shaq put the world spotlight on Orlando basketball. Photo Credit: NBA

Shaq put the world spotlight on Orlando basketball. Photo Credit: NBA

Shaq “Diesel” turned the small market city into more than a tourist destination. Die hard and casual sports fans all over world wanted to witness the 7 foot 1 dominating center with the millionwatt smile, exuberant charm and boyish personality. Orlando Magic jersey’s with the number 32 were worn from central Florida to the Far East of the globe.

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Penny with Shaq was the new Magic & Kareem. Photo Credit: Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Shaq would lead the Magic to a .500 record (41-41), but they missed the playoffs by one game. It was a blessing in disguise as they won the 1993 draft lottery, a move that allowed them to draft the top prospect in that class, Michigan’s Chris Webber, who they immediately traded for the rights to Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway creating a dynamic duo with O’Neal that would only bring more wins and eye balls to the 407. To use Shaq’s words, they were “Shaq and Kobe before Shaq and Kobe.”

With Shaq and Penny at the forefront, the Magic became the NBA’s hot ticket and were showcased on national television a plenty. From 1993-1996, the Magic won 67.8% (167-79) of their games, two division titles, and the Eastern Conference title in 1995.

The Magic would fade away for a while when Shaq headed West to the Los Angeles Lakers as a free agent, and Penny was traded to the Phoenix Suns after growing frustrated with injuries, coaches and losing. The rest of that dynamic team was broken up via trades and retirement.

There was a revival of sorts in the early 2000’s when Tracy McGrady, a native of nearby by Auburndale in Polk County, joined perennial All-Star Grant Hill as free agent’s in the Magic’s Kingdom. While the franchise made it to the playoffs in three consecutive seasons (2001-2003), they would never be able to duplicate the success of the original Orlando dynamic duo due to Hill’s chronic and nearly fatal injuries.

Dwight Howard revived the Magic in Orlando. Photo Credit: AP Photo/Winslow Townson

Dwight Howard revived the Magic in Orlando. Photo Credit: AP Photo/Winslow Townson

In 2004, Orlando would once again win the draft lottery and select Dwight Howard, the number one high school prospect in the country, first overall, but they also traded away McGrady to the Houston Rockets in an attempt to remake the squad around Dwight.

Howard would grow into being the big man Magic fans lost when Shaq bolted for the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. Howard reignited the national and global spotlight that had been dimmed in the days post Shaq and Penny. D-12 became an All-NBA performer, a leading vote getter in the All-Star game, while also winning the 2008 Slam Dunk contest and earning three Defensive POY awards. His individual success also led to major team success as he, Hedo Turkoglu, Jameer Nelson, and Rashard Lewis under Stan Van Gundy’s leadership won three Southeast division titles from 2007-2011, and the Eastern Conference title in 2009.

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The six-year old Amway Center is the centerpiece of Orlando. Photo Credit: Kavis Peak

The success even led to the building of the Amway Center (est. 2010), a state-of-the-art facility that is second to none in any league.

But history repeated itself as Howard, like Shaq, ended up with the Lakers after forcing his way out of the 407 via trade after a couple of disgruntled seasons.

So here the franchise is five years later, still in rebuilding mode like they were when Shaq left in ’96. But this time is different. The Magic are in the midst of the worse five-year period in team history.

BMOC (Big men on Campus):

Central Florida University, better known as UCF, is the main institution of higher learning in the area. In the last decade and a half they have produced several productive NFL players like wide receiver Brandon Marshall, cornerback Asante Samuel and quarterback Daunte Culpepper who were all All-Pro’s at some point in their careers. The UCF Knights hoops squad can’t say the same. It doesn’t have an extensive tradition as a team, but they’ve had a few notables come through the program.

The CFE Arena on the campus of UCF is only 10 years old and has a raucous atmosphere. Photo Credit: UCFKnights.com

The CFE Arena on the campus of UCF is only ten years old and has a raucous atmosphere. Photo Credit: UCFKnights.com

Marcus Jordan, the son of Michael Jordan, is the most recent big name that signed to play for the Knights (2009-2012), his older brother Jeffrey transferred from Illinois to play with him. Marcus made the Conference USA All-Freshman team in 2009 and Second-Team All-Conference in 2011. If it weren’t for Marcus and the controversy surrounding him wearing Air Jordan’s instead of Adidas, who had a sponsorship deal with the school, they’d probably wouldn’t have the lucrative deal they now have with Nike after Adidas decided to drop the athletic program.

Four players from the university have played in the NBA.  Joey and Stephen Graham, Jermaine Taylor in the 2000s, Mark Jones and Stan Kimbrough in the early 1990s.

The biggest name in the program right now is new head coach Johnny Dawkins. Dawkins learned at the feet of Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski as an assistant and associate head coach for ten seasons after his 9-seasons playing in the Association.

Even though the University of Florida is one hour and forty-one minutes (110.7 miles) away in Gainesville, the Gators are the favored program in central Florida as it is home to a huge group of Gator Alumns. It’s also a major pipeline for top talent. Several local high school prep stars have made their way north on the Florida Turnpike to I-75 to play at the O’Connell Center for legendary coach Billy Donovan, like Chandler Parsons and Nick Calathes.

Donovan successfully turned a dominant football school into a basketball powerhouse as well. From 1996-2015 he led them to two National Championships (2006,2007), four Final Four appearances (2000, 2006, 2007, 2014), eight Elite 8 appearances, eight Sweet 16 births, four SEC Tournament Championships (2005, 2006, 2007, 2014) and six SEC regular season Championships (2000, 2001, 2007, 2011, 2013, 2014).

Currently nine players are on NBA rosters that played for Donovan, including Al Horford, Corey Brewer and Joakim Noah who in the 2007 draft became the first trio from one school to be drafted in the first ten picks.

PREP GAME:

Nestled 23 miles west of Orlando in the shadows of downtown is the most prominent prep school program in America. Montverde Academy won three consecutive National Championships (2012-2015) and has produced three top two NBA draft picks in three of the last four NBA Drafts (Ben Simmons, D’Angelo Russell & Joel Embiid). Head Coach Kevin Boyle also coached St. Patrick’s High in New Jersey where he coached Kyrie Irving and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to name a few.

Equally as dominant, but on the state level in recent years, is Winter Park High School. The Wildcats have won three State titles since 2010. L.A. Clippers guard Austin Rivers led the school to back to back titles in 2010 & 2011 while winning Naismith Prep Player of the Year (2011). His younger brother Spencer was a key member of the team that won the title in 2014.

Dr. Phillips High Lady Panthers have won three FHSAA Championships in this decade (2011, 2012, 2013). The Boys’ team has produced several standouts. Most notably former NBA forward Damien Wilkins and guard Shane Larkin.

A couple of other schools in the area have had success producing top talent as well. Amare Stoudermire graduated from Cyprus Creek High in 2002 and jumped from there to the NBA where he won Rookie of the Year and was selected to six All-Star games in his 15-year career.

2004 McDonald’s All-American Darius Washington Junior graduated from Edgewater High and made the San Antonio Spurs in 2007 before having a successful career overseas. Another former Edgewater Eagle, Marquis Daniels played 10 seasons in the NBA, most notably with the Dallas Mavericks where he was selected to the 2004 All-NBA Rookie 2nd team.

Evans High School produced Darryl Dawkins and Chucky Atkins. Atkins played eleven seasons in the NBA for nine teams. Dawkins is one of the first players to go from high school to the NBA back in 1975. “Chocolate Thunder” was known for his colorful, playful attitude and ferocious dunks. He played in three NBA Finals.

Current Memphis Grizzles Vince Carter (Daytona Mainland High) and Chandler Parsons (Lake Howell) also call the Orlando area home.

On the AAU level, Orlando’s “Each 1 Teach 1″ squad has become one of the premier program’s in the country in recent years. Some of their well known alumns are Amare Stoudemire, Ben Simmons, D’Angelo Russell, Austin Rivers, Brandon Knight, NCAA Champion Allan Grayson (Duke), Daniel Giddens (Ohio State, 2015-2016), Antonio Blakeney (LSU), and 7’5” Tacko Fall (UCF)

RUNS:

Orlando isn’t a big city, but it’s the sum of its parts in the neighboring towns and cities that provide top quality runs. it’s too hot to hoop on concrete, and with the tropical storm season’s pop-up showers, it’s hard to get a full game in without an interruption from Mother Nature. So most runs will likely be indoors.

Despite this amazing scene which exemplifies why Orlando is called the “City Beautiful”, it’s hard to play ball outside with the hot, humid temperatures and pop-up showers. Photo Credit: Kavis Peak

The hot spot within the city limits of Orlando is the Downtown Rec Center which was the practice facility for the Magic from 1989-1998. The court still host the Orlando Pro-Am in the summer complete with Magic logos and official NBA three point line. This is where many of you have seen the YouTube highlights of 41-year old Jason “White Chocolate” Williams still busting ankles and serving up dimes. Also centrally located in the city is Barnett Park/Gym. It fits your needs whether you want to go inside or outside.

The Oviedo Rec Center in East Orlando about 8 miles from the UCF’s campus also boast one of the most competitive men’s leagues in the area with rosters that have overseas pros and current college players, most of whom also get it in at open gyms.

North of Orlando in Sanford at the Boys and Girls club you’ll run into more current and former college players working on their games.

But if you must get some run outside and who could blame you, if you come to Florida looking to spend more time in the sun, you can stick around Sanford and hoop on one of the two courts at Fort Mellon Park. The lights stay on fairly late, so you can also cool off and gets some run when the sun goes down. In nearby Casselberry/Winter Park, where Chandler Parsons is from, you can head to Red Bug Lake Park. Here you’ll find several of the top high school players from the area. Also in the Baldwin Park Neighborhood in Winter Park, you can hit up Blue Jacket Park.

HOW WE DO:

Inside the six-year old Amway Center’s Orlando Basketball Hall of Fame. Photo Credit: Kavis Peak

Speed, speed, speed. Most of the ballers in the area are dual sport athletes, and that other sport is most likely football. So these cats like to push the tempo at every opportunity. You have former defensive backs playing the guard spots using their ball hawking instincts from their secondary days to lock you up on D and their top line speed to beat you to the cup when they’re on O. The wings are built like linebackers and tall wide receivers running the lane, and center spots are manned by lineman-sized cats who want to bang in the post like it’s fourth and one even if they’re not your traditional 6’7″-6’10” bigs.

Bring your water, Gatorade or whatever your drink of choice is to replenish, because hoop games turn into track meets in the blink of an eye.

The Orlando Magic are still the main attraction in town despite a lack of success on the court. Photo Credit: Kavis Peak

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Dwight Wants to Return to Orlando. Okay, I Guess…

 

Dwight Howard dunks on Kobe Bryant in 2009 NBA Finals. Photo Credit: NBA

 
As expected, Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard opted out of the final year of his contract ($23.2M) to become a free agent this summer, and rumor has it, he and the Orlando Magic are warming up to the idea of a reunion according to Ric Bucher of Bleacher Report.

So the 8-time NBA All-Star, 6-time All-NBA and 3-time Defensive Player of the Year wants to return to the franchise that drafted him number one overall first pick in the 2004 NBA Draft, that he led to the 2009 NBA Finals while becoming its all-time leading scoring and rebounder among other statistical categories, four years after his “indecision” sent them into their current rebuilding spiral.

Sure. Okay. I guess that could make them a better team.

Let’s not get it twisted. This isn’t LeBron James returning to Cleveland after successfully chasing championships on South Beach, or Michael Jordan returning to the Chicago Bulls after a stint chasing his childhood dream—and his late father’s—of being a professional baseball player. James and Jordan both delivered a World Championship in their heroic returns. 

But Howard’s story is the equivalent of an unhappy spouse who wanted out of his marriage to go be with his sidechick, because he thought she was prettier and would make him happier, only to comeback after realizing he walked away from the best he already had or ever will have.

Sure the Magic need a veteran with playoff experience, and desperately need one that could provide a defensive presence in the paint next to the offensive minded Nik Vucevic. But before central Florida gets its hopes up that their prodigal son can return to right the wrongs of his past, there are some questions that must be asked of and answered by the 30 year old (he’ll turn 31 during the season) with a body in steady decline after serious back, shoulder and knee injuries.

Is he willing to accept a role where he is not the first, second and maybe even third option? Is this for the long-term? Will he be a leader or the locker room cancer he’s been labeled? And like any jilted partner, can Magic fans trust him again?

This move makes plenty of CENTS for Dwight financially long-term and in terms of public relations. He spent the beginning of his offseason after the Rockets lost to the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the playoffs on an image damage control tour. 

But does it really make SENSE for him at this stage of his career, or for an Orlando team that has shown improvement over the last season, and is trending upwards after the blessing in disguise that was Scott Skiles resigning opening up the coaching seat for Frank Vogel?

I’m not trying to bash Dwight, but he’s no longer the self-proclaimed “Superman”, he’s more Clark Kent. 

On a playoff team like the Boston Celtics, Charlotte Hornets and even the most disappointing team of the 2015-2016 season the Washington Wizards, Howard could be the difference between a 4 or 5 seed in the East or a top 2 seed. On one of those teams that is hoping to challenge for the Eastern Conference crown in the next three seasons, he could be their DeAndre Jordan or fellow former defensive players of the year Tyson Chandler and Ben Wallace. Both of whom were key spokes on the wheel of championship teams.

The Magic are 3 to 4 years from being in the position of the teams I previously mentioned. Thus my point, neither really helps the other accomplish their overall goal. That is why at the end of it all, this reunion would be just… Ehh, and Magic fans should feel the same way.

’15-’16 Magic: Promising Start, Ugly Middle, Hopeful Finish

How does the saying go?  Take one step forward, then two steps backwards? Yeah, that’s the story of the 2015-2016 Orlando Magic.

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The Magic took a big step forward in 2015-2016, but are still a long way from where they should be. Photo Credit: Magic.com

Year four of the Magic rebuilding plan looked headed toward a date in the postseason, early on. They reached as high as the 5th seed in the standings in late December, and were the 6th seed in the eastern conference with a 19-14 record on New Year’s Day. But that was short lived.

A horrific 2-12 month of January started a dismal second half of the season that had them looking like a team headed back to the top three of the draft lottery. The team finished with a second half record of 15-26.

Orlando was supposed to be this season’s version of the 2014-2015 Milwaukee Bucks. Get in the playoffs, then either win a series or push a team to 6 or 7 games. Instead they went down quicker than the Titanic or the Hindenburg.

Sure there have been some positives. This team won 35 games, 10 more than last season, and the most since the abbreviated 2011-2012 season when they won 37 of 66 games in Dwight Howard’s last season in central Florida. They also finished strong, going 6-4 in their last 10, with three of the teams they beat in that stretch playoff bound.

Aaron “Air” Gordon’s aerial assault in the Slam Dunk Contest at All-Star weekend in Toronto and in the games to follow finally brought some positive attention to the franchise on the court. He’s enjoying a Vince Carter-like boost into the National spotlight without having even winning the contest.

Gordon is by far the most improved player on the Magic this season as he constantly improved each game with more and more playing time. Something I started begging for in the first month of the season.

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Gordon is a corner stone piece for the Magic’s return to the postseason. Photo Courtesy: Getty Images

With this being his de facto rookie campaign since an injury limited him to 36 games in his true first season in the Association, Gordon looks to have the makings of being a franchise cornerstone piece along with Nik Vucevic and Victor Oladipo. Outside of those three, the rest of the roster is expendable. Which is why Orlando should be a major player in free agency.

Last summer the Magic tried to address their obvious needs for an All-Star veteran with significant playoff experience. There was a strong flirtation with Atlanta’s Paul Millsap when they offered him a 4 year/$80 million contract that he seriously considered. This summer they’ll have some very good options, and cap room to spend.

Lake Howell Grad and former Florida Gator Chandler Parsons will be a free agent, as well as Atlanta Hawk power forward and 2-time National Champion Florida Gator Al Horford. Both would provide the veteran leadership this team DESPERATELY needs. Parson has only played in 13 playoff games in three of his first four seasons in the NBA, but averaged 18.1 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists per game.

Horford has played in 64 playoff games averaging 12.9 points and 8.7 rebounds a game while shooting 49%. The 4-time All-Star in 9 seasons, has led the Hawks to the playoffs 8 times. Something that was unfathomable for that franchise when the Hawks drafted him 3rd overall in 2007. He’s a high character guy, that provides steady leadership and toughness.

Another Florida connection that should be on the Magic’s radar is Horford’s 2006-2007 National Champion teammate Joakim Noah. Noah is coming off a season where he missed 53 games with a shoulder injury, but from a defensive and leadership standpoint, the former 2014 Defensive Player of the Year has EXACTLY what Orlando’s young nucleus needs. Neither he or Horford are long-term options, but this team needs to get to the playoffs and for a 3-year plan, adding one or two of the three would go a loooong way in achieving that goal.

As far as the rumors of a Dwight Howard remarriage, I’m not onboard, and true Magic fans shouldn’t be either. That cut is too deep. Dwight’s indecision was worse than LeBron’s Decision.

But if D12 wants to reclaim his throne in the Magic Kingdom and Magic Management are seriously interested in signing him, he needs to realize he won’t be the number one post option on offense. That’s Vucevic. Sure Dwight should get more than the 4-8 shots a game he seems to average with Houston, but he’s not the same player that bolted for L.A. in 2012. At this point in his career, Dwight’s best bet is to mold his career into that of one time Magic player, and Detroit Piston defensive great Ben Wallace.

However, Howard’s defense and rebounding are a fit for Orlando. At 30 years old Dwight can still protect the rim at a high level. The Magic were 11th worse in the NBA in opponents field goal percentage at 46%, 13th in opponents points per game at 103.7, 15th in points in blocks (5.1 ppg), 13th in points allowed in the paint (43.5 per game). Dwight’s presence in the paint could be enough to steer those numbers in the favor of Orlando.

Maybe one of the guys I named could do for this unit what Horace Grant did for the Shaq-Penny teams of the 90’s. This Magic team has potential, and with the right veteran or two, this team should be in the 2016-2017 playoffs. They must. They have to make the playoffs next season. The rebuilding can’t continue any longer or everyone must go.

Magic Need to Start Hanging Banners

Look into the rafters of the beautiful almost 5-year-old Amway Center and you’ll see beautiful steel beams and only handful of banners celebrating a couple of Eastern Conference championships (1995, 2009) a five Division Championships, a few Orlando Predators Arena Football Championships and a jersey number six retired for the Magic fans. 

It’s time for them to hang more and I’m not just insinuating the kind celebrating team achievements, but the individuals who’ve made this franchise relevant. Central Florida has a decent hoops history and as the Hall of Fame in the concourse of the Amway Center displays, it is one to be proud of, but that can only be seen when you visit the arena. 

Large retired numbers on banners hanging from the rafters can be seen on camera when a videographer shooting the game for broadcast gets a shot of them when returning to the game from a commercial break or during other stoppages of play. Wouldn’t the Magic organization want the rest of the NBA fans base catching a game on League Pass to see such a display? I’ll answer for them, yes.

While there is only one player in the Magic’s history that is a sure-fire Hall of Famer—more on him later—there are some others who are very significant to Orlando basketball and they should be honored.

Anderson finished his career as the Magic’s top scoring leader. Photo Courtesy: Orlando Sentinel

The team could start with honoring the first draft pick in the organization’s history and current community ambassador Nick Anderson. Number 25 was drafted with the 11th pick in 1989 and spent 10 years on the court in the blue and white and helped Orlando to the 1995 NBA Finals. When he finished his career he was the Magic’s franchise scoring leader with 10,650 points—he’s since been passed by Dwight Howard—and he’s still the leader in a few other categories including games played (692), steals (1,004) and field goals made (4,075). 

Anderson is the epitome of what the standard should be for Magic players on and off the court, this would be a great way to make that statement strong.

Shaq put Magic basketball on the national map. Photo Courtesy: Getty Images

Number 32 deserves to be in the rafters for Shaquille O’Neal. The “Diesel” only spent 4 seasons in central Florida wearing the blue and white with pinstripes, and his time ended tumultuous, but he is the guy who made Orlando Magic basketball relevant.

He is the organizations first ever NBA All-Star (1993-1996), he led them to their first ever playoff appearance (1994) and NBA Finals (1995). Shaq’s name is still prominent in the Magic record books. If it weren’t for him, who knows if there would still be a team in central Florida. Shaq became a global superstar in Orlando staring in movies and putting out platinum rap albums. O’Neal proved that you could become a Superstar in a “small market.”

Even though he never won a World Championship with the Magic, that hasn’t kept most fans from associating him with the Magic.
 
The team is inducting him into its Hall of Fame on March 27th, but a jersey retirement would be better. Most NBA fans still associate that number in those colors with him. It’s not like, say number one which had a few greats wear it in Magic colors.
 

Penny kept Orlando relevant after Shaq left. Photo Courtesy: Getty Images

Speaking of #1, it should be retired for Penny Hardaway. Tracy McGrady had a good run in that jersey, but in most fans mind, that jersey conjures up images of Mister 1Cent. In his prime, before the mountain of injuries, Penny was a perennial All-Star (94-98) and without Shaq kept the Magic in the playoffs.

Hardaway played six seasons with the Magic and in those years he averaged 19 points, 6.3 assist, 4.7 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game. When he retired he was third on the Magic career list in (2,343)—now fourth, third in steals (718), and fourth in points (7,018)—now seventh.

Penny’s impact on the Magic’s history is very similar to his running mate Shaq. Together they led the Magic to their first playoff appearance (1994) and NBA Finals (1995). He also drew his share of the national spotlight with his Nike commercials starring Chris Rock as “Lil’ Penny”, Hardaway’s alter ego to promote his signature shoes which are still widely popular and sought after decades years after he retired.  

D12 is the most accomplished player in Magic history. Photo Courtesy: Sun Sentinel

This one is obviously a ways off in terms of years, but in the future the team should honor Dwight Howard by raising his number 12 to the roof at Amway. 

His tenure ended muddier then Shaq’s, but he holds several of the most meaningful franchise records including points (11,435), rebounds (8,073) and blocks (1,344).

D12 led the Magic to their second NBA Finals appearance as well as winning three Defensive Player of the Year awards (2008-2011). He’s probably a borderline Hall of Famer in the minds of most voters, but if he does get selected, he will be remembered most for the part of his resume built wearing blue and white. That would make him Orlando’s first and only Hall of Famer. But what about Shaq? He will be known more for his time in Los Angeles and maybe even Miami.

Even though Shaq, Penny and Dwight left on bad terms, in the case of the first two the 25th Anniversary celebration proved time has healed old wounds. Hopefully by the time Dwight is finished his relationship with central Florida will be better.
The organization did a great job of honoring its past during last season 25th anniversary season and has a great Hall of Fame exhibit on display in the Amway concourse, this would be just another great way to show off the Magic’s great history.

UN-Magical Moments

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Wednesday night, the Orlando Magic wrap up their twenty fifth season as an NBA franchise. One where they trotted out the best players and significant members in the teams history, but I can’t help but to think about what could’ve been.

While they are far from the worst franchise in league history, you could argue they have been the worst managed. Being located in central Florida where it’s sun drenched ninety percent of the time, surrounded by family friendly fun with a mix of young adult exuberance—nightlife—and a tax free state. Let me say that again, a TAX FREE STATE. You would think they would’ve attracted top tier free agents that would’ve brought more than two NBA Finals appearance and won at least one World title.

So without further or do, here is my list of Magic mistakes.

1.) Shaq.

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Shaq put Orlando on the basketball map on and off the court in 1992.

Without a doubt they should’ve done everything possible to keep him in uniform. I know he left the Magic Kingdom as Free Agent, but he should’ve been offered outrageous extension the moment it was possible. He is the kind of player you give the keys to the franchise to—not a Dwight Howard. All O’Neal did was win three titles with the Los Angeles Lakers and the most hurtful one for magic fans, one with in state rivals the Miami Heat.

2.) Not keeping Doc Rivers. This one could easily be number one on my list.

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Rivers has won an NBA Title and been to another Finals since being fired by Orlando.

His teams overachieved in his first tenure as a NBA coach. During his time, the Magic front office were “maneuvering” to draw in a trio of free agents. This left Coach Rivers and his teams very handicapped to do any winning in what was a very loaded Eastern Conference in the early 2000’s. The rest is history, Rivers was fired and eventually moved on to Boston where he won one title, made the NBA Finals twice and the Eastern Conference Finals two other times. Now he’s considered one of the top two coaches in the league along with the San Antonio Spurs Gregg Popovich.

3.) Trading away Ben Wallace.

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Wallace was a 4 time DPOY and his Pistons knocked out the magic in the playoffs 3 seasons.

Wallace was an after thought in the 2000 sign and trade with Detroit to bring Grant Hill to Orlando. Even without the injuries to Hill this would’ve stung. Wallace was a four time defensive player of the year winner and two time rebounding champ with the Detroit Pistons. He was the anchor behind a team that won an NBA Title and played for another. To make matters worse, his Pistons teams eliminated the Magic three times (2003,2007,2008) in the playoffs during his time in the Motor City.

4.) Trading away Tracy Mcgrady to the Rockets for Steve Francis.

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T-Mac was a two time Scoring Champ and 1st Team All NBA as a member of the Magic.

Could you imagine T-Mac playing with a young Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson? Those two were drafted the summer he was traded. I firmly believe Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley stunted Dwight and Jameer’s growth in their first couple of seasons. T-Mac went on to flourish alongside an often injured Yao Ming in Houston. McGrady alongside a raw, athletic Howard would’ve been the exceptional one-two punch management was going for when it courted Tim Duncan to play with McGrady in 2000.

5.) Courtney Lee misses an alley oop to win game two of the 2009 NBA Finals.

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The Magic have one victory in two trips to the NBA Finals (2009 & 1995). That’s 1-9. Oh how different the 2009 Finals would’ve been had that Magic stolen game two and home court advantage from the L.A. Lakers, just three days after being blown out by 25 points in game one. Orlando would’ve returned to central Florida tied 1-1 with three games to play and a psychological advantage for a young team. The Magic went on to win game three behind a record setting shooting performance before losing in overtime in game four and succumbing to the pressure of elimination in game five. Just imagine playing game five tied at two games and the pressure it would’ve put on the more experienced Lakers or even the Lakers having to hold off a confident, underdog Magic team up 3-2 with two games in L.A. In my opinion, the Magic would’ve finished off the Purple & Gold and completed their improbable run of knocking off three consecutive favorites—2008 defending champion Boston Celtics, MVP LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavs and Kobe’s Lakers—and Dwight Howard, and Stan Van Gundy would still be in Black & Blue.

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6.) Firing Stan Van Gundy.

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SVG has the best win percentage in Magic history at .657.

SVG was and still is the best overall coach in team history. He has the best win percentage in team history at .657. Letting former General Manager Otis Smith cut SVG lose to appease Dwight Howard may not sting right now, but his coaching style is perfect for young players who are still learning the game. No knock on Jacque Vaughn, but SVG has a college temperament that young players need to maximize their potential. He’s not afraid to get into the face of his players. That’s what guys in their rookie to third year need. I think SVG also needs them to, the Magic were in a youth movement when they brought him in before the 2007-2008 seasons. His style is the reason they went from being swept in the first round (2007 playoffs) to NBA Finals in two seasons. This move will sting again when he resurfaces with another franchise and excels like Doc Rivers.

7.) Not resigning Hedo Turkoglu and trying to replacing him with Vince Carter.

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“Turk” won Most Improved Player of the NBA in 2008 as a member of the Orlando Magic.

“Turk” was a matchup nightmare throughout the 2009 Playoffs. His size, playmaking and scoring ability was what led that team to the Finals. Dwight was great in key games—especially against the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals—but remember he missed the first round clincher against the scrappy Philadelphia 76ers and it was the shooting of the Magic that propelled them to a blowout victory of the Celtics in game seven at the “New Garden” also without All Star point guard Jameer Nelson. Who facilitated all that? Turk. Former GM Otis Smith should’ve worked out a favorable two year deal to keep Hedo around while he was in the peak of his prime. Vince Carter was a shell of himself long before he made his “homecoming” to central Florida, that’s why he was shipped off to Phoenix after a season and a half. To make matters worse, Otis Smith brought Turk back, well after his prime, which hurt on the court and financially due to the large contract he received after his spectacular playoff performance.

So there you have it. My most Un-Magical moments in Orlando pro basketball history. I want to hear from you, are there any I missed?

Time to Hoop: 2013-2014 NBA Story lines & Predictions

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Opening night of the new NBA Season is 20 Days away (as a struggling Pittsburgh Steeler fan, it can’t come soon enough) and there are immense story-lines to follow. The league is more drama filled than an episode of ABC’s “Mistresses”or “Scandal.” As Shaquille O’neal once said, NBA stands for Nothing But Actors. Here’s a glimpse of the ones you should follow.

The biggest dramatic star in this season will be Dwight Howard, somehow he has managed in 2 years to incite more rage then LeBron did when he left Cleveland. The good thing for D12, he will be healthy and this team is very similar to his 2009 Orlando Magic that went to the NBA Finals, except now he has a superstar in James Harden to alleviate the pressure on him.

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The Rockets have shooters surrounding D12, that will cause opposing teams to abandon double teaming him. D12s ability in the pick & roll will free up Jeremy Lin, to be “Linsanity” from his days in NY.

If Omer Asik can swallow his pride of being the second fiddle on the post, head coach Kevin Mchale will be able to play Asik and D12 together, creating a twin tower scenario similar to that of Pau Gasol & Andrew Bynum when they helped the LA Lakers win back to back titles in 09 & 10.

• Kobe Brant will play game one. Period.

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Courtesy: @kobebryant

No need for analysis, other then to say Kobe takes challenges where he is expected to fail, to prove his greatness. The average recovery for an Achilles injury is 8-10 months, it’s only been 7 since Kobe tore his. He’s a freak athlete out to prove he can defy the odds once again. Not to mention you throw in the fact that a certain sports publication ranked him as the league’s 12th best player. Mamba’s about to strike!

• Derrick Rose will prove he made the right decision to sit out all of last season and COMPLETELY heal.

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Many pointed to Iman Shumpert—he injured his knee the same day as Rose and returned to play—as to why Rose should’ve played. But for those who don’t remember, Shumpert had issues with his knee in the playoffs against Indiana. Rose did the right thing, long term and short term. The Bulls were so banged up, there was no way they were beating the Heat last season. So sitting out to avoid any wear and tear was the safe, but smart move. Long term; just think how fresh his legs are. At his age, he may find another gear because he didn’t take the pounding for full season.

• Memphis will regret letting Coach Lionel Hollins go. Chemistry is hard enough to obtain between players, but it’s even harder to find the right mix between players and a coach. The trade of Rudy Gay to Toronto actually helped Memphis, that won’t be the same with the loss of Hollins. This team was threatening to win a conference title, without a beloved coach, management has risked this team falling to the back of the Western Conference pack. All over analytics. This isn’t baseball.

• The Brooklyn Celtics….. I mean Nets will push the Miami Heat and drain them in a way similar to an “Ali vs. Frazier” fight. The Nets went all in by adding the aging Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to their young stars in an attempt to win now. Truth and KG are at the end of their Hall Of Fame careers and you can believe they’ll give all they have left, to knock off their bitter rivals. Even if that takes so much away from them they can’t win the title. Knocking off the Heat and old friend Ray Allen would be enough to make these prideful vets fade away.

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• This will be the last season of the big three in Miami. I’m not saying Lebron will leave, but Chris Bosh will be gone. If he doesn’t elect to use his player option, I believe Pat Riley will use him as trade bait to revamp the roster and keep their championship window open. That’s what it will take to keep LeBron around, although I don’t think he’s going anywhere. As far as the back to Cleveland hopes; if he ever goes back it will be at the end of his career, not the middle of his prime. But I’ve been wrong about him before, I never thought he’d leave home in the first place.

PREDICTIONS:
Eastern Conference Championship:
Miami Heat vs. Indiana Pacers

• I could very easily change this to Chicago Bulls vs. New York Knicks/Brooklyn Nets. Point is the East is going to be a beast this season and I don’t see how the Heat could run another 20 plus game win streak or waltz through this gauntlet to the Finals. Indiana brings back an All Star in Danny Granger to a team that won ? Games last season and made the conference finals. With Granger back, their bench gets a boost from Lance Stephenson who emerged in place of Granger. Then you add veterans Luis Scola, C.J. Watson and sharp shooter Chris Copeland. The more I think about it I may want to change my picks.

Western Conference Championship:
LA Clippers vs. Houston Rockets

NBA Finals:
LA Clippers vs. Indiana Pacers

Champions:
LA Clippers
Chris Paul has the coach he wanted, and the stage is set for him to perform. He’s been called this generations Isaiah Thomas and now he needs to channel his inner Zeke.

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Many say the clips have underachieved the last two seasons, if they don’t exceed expectations this season, it falls on CP3. He has two three point specialist in J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley to open up driving lanes to do what he does best. We all know, that right now in their careers, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan can only help him carry the load so much. But they still can do what’s needed to truly take over the title as L.A.s team.

MVP:
Kevin Durant
Steph Curry (2nd)
KD35 said he’s tired of being second. He can only do so much about changing that for the OKC Thunder, but he can change that for his individual career. This is the year he REALLY challenges LBJ as the best in the L. Steph Curry was the darling of the NBA Playoffs, that will carry over this season as he pushes the Golden State Warriors into the top 3 team in the west. The hysteria over his blazing shooting had his coach Mark Jackson saying “most of you all are showing after the baby’s already been burped.” Basically y’all late, and Steph will use his playoff run to propel him into superstar status this season. He won’t be snubbed for the all star team again.It just won’t be enough to overtake KD for MVP. His time will come soon though.

Defensive Player of the Year:
Dwight Howard
D12 is finally 100%. When he’s right, he’s the best center in the league. Now that the free agent drama is finally behind him – after two years – he will reclaim his spot as the number one big.

Rookie of the Year:
Trey Burke
This is a point guard driver league, like the NFL is with quarterbacks. I didn’t understand why so many teams passed on a guy who proved in the most pressure filled moments, on the best level not called the NBA. Burke will shock many as he has his entire career, going back to his prep days at Northland High School in Columbus Ohio. He’s been overshadowed before—he played with Boston Celtics second year forward Jared Sullinger in high school—and still shined bright. His rookie campaign will be no different. He reminds me of a more versatile Allen Iverson.

• Lastly, I have a bone to pick with the NBA on scheduling. In a league that spans so many months, whose great idea was it to have several key teams play in the preseason?! The Heat played the Nets and will play again on 10/25. This is a big rivalry that carries over from when Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry were in Boston. Why would the NBA allow this matchup to happen outside of the season and dilute the significance and hype of their 1st regular season meeting. Same thing goes for the first matchup between the New Nets vs Boston on 10/23. Truth and KGs first game back in Beantown SHOULDN’T be a preseason game. I’m disappointed and there are already few watchable regular season games to begin with, now those that I were looking forward to are now not must see TV.