Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
There’s not a good way to introduce this season for the Magic, because you already know all the things that one might say. The elephant in the room has been trumpeting his trunk for three seasons now, and the second we heard that a new CBA was forthcoming, Orlando became one of the four or so franchises most under the microscope for the coming season.
It feels like Orlando can’t win. For years, despite having a perennial MVP candidate, one of the best and most innovative coaches around, and now the NBA’s best arena, Magic fans have felt like the team has been overlooked. And now that the team has the spotlight, the scrutiny is mostly about the roster’s shortcomings and the increasing probability that Dwight Howard will be plying his wares elsewhere next season.
Now check it, y’all: I have nothing new to say about Dwight Howard, and I may not for a long time. But it’s looking like a season of worry and tooth-gnashing for Orlando, and while I don’t want to trivialize how much is at stake for the franchise, I am here to say that we just ought not sweat it.
Post-lockout, I feel like a dude on the rebound after a bad breakup. I been burned. I learned a few things about love I hadn’t thought about before. (Disclosure: I am coming to you live and direct drinking a Manhattan and blaring Sam Cooke right now.) I just spent months watching the owners — men whose businesses I devote an outsize proportion of my time and resources to following — behave as if they simply did not care whether basketball happened. It’s not news that money makes the world and the league go ‘round, but what I’m saying is I’m having a hard time reinvesting in the league in the exact same way. Me and the NBA are going to go out a couple times, I’ll focus on the positives, and we’ll see during the playoffs if it will be love again.
I don’t mean to be saying I won’t follow or be invested in the league this year, I’m just determined to understand its goings-on within the proper frame of reference: as parts of a pure entertainment system, with little of the seriousness that would inspire real angst about where Dwight is going. I would like him on the Magic for his career, sure. I’d like it even better if he was kept on the Magic by means of a daring trade that brought another top-tier player to the Magic. And those things might happen.
But whereas last season I might’ve gotten annoyed with the trade speculation or the fact that countless observers who’ve been ignoring the Magic’s good features for years will now be talking about their shortcomings, this year I’m the prettiest girl at the prom. Every fun scenario for the future of the league involves the team we’ve been following for years, and while in the short term the Magic may get less competitive, it’s harder to imagine a scenario with so many rich possibilities.
One of the things that has driven me the craziest about the Magic the past few seasons — ever since the trade for Vince Carter, really — was the high-quality limbo in which the team has been floating. I believe pretty firmly that whatever the result of this season is, rooting for the Magic is going to be more fun that it was last year. Perhaps we’ll get to watch an extremely young team of high draft picks, perhaps we’ll see Dwight paired with a similarly talented player. What we almost certainly won’t be seeing, God willing, is a team of high-priced veterans whose skills we are already sure of and don’t fit any sort of team identity.
So instead of sweating the devil I know — that extremely frustrating, ill-conceived devil whose limitations I’m acutely aware of — I’m going spend the season embracing the devil I don’t.