It all started out innocently enough, with Dwight Howard doing what he does best. Not dunking or blocking shots or searching far and wide for his killer instinct. Instead, Howard was holding court at the NBA Store Wednesday, bringing the house down with his smile and his personality.
But after he was done modeling the NBA’s new, lighter, sweat-proof, revolutionary adidas uniforms — available for only $350 at your local retailer — Howard spoke with the kind of edge and tenacity you long to see him play with on a nightly basis. After he was finished delighting the crowd with Frank Caliendo-like impressions of Stan Van Gundy and Charles Barkley, Howard turned his attention toward the two enormous challenges in his path with training camp about to open: Avenging the [Orlando] Magic‘s embarrassing loss to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, and proving that the Heat didn’t win the NBA title with a few free-agent signings in July. [...]
And so there you have it — but only part of it. Is Howard, trying to shake the label of being the guy who puts the gentle in giant, aggravated by all the attention being showered upon division rival Miami? Damn right he is. Is that all? Nope.
What has stung Howard all summer — from the weight room to the practice court, where he’s been known to shoot 1,000 jumpers a day — is the humiliation he experienced at the hands of the Celtics at the end of May. That, more than anything, had Howard vowing Wednesday that his days of playing Mr. Nice Guy are over. [...]
Listening to Howard Wednesday convinced me that’s about to change. Even if Miami signs free-agent center Erick Dampier, Howard is the one player in the league capable of exploiting the Heat inside and making their flashy free agents wish they’d never united. If he can play every game, every quarter, every minute with the memory of the Boston loss and all this premature celebration in Miami on his mind, no one will be able to stop him.
“They have good players,” Howard said of the Heat. “Every team has good players. I think what that did for a lot of guys on my team is, it kind of motivated our guys: ‘Hey, we’re going to show people what we’re made of.’ And it’s good. It’s good for guys who needed that extra motivation to get them where they want to get to.”
Such as, you know, Howard himself. He didn’t say it, but he understood that he was part of the problem. That’s why this summer, Howard sought out some of the greatest ever to play — Hakeem Olajuwon, Karl Malone, and a mystery mentor he refused to name — to get advice on how to get past this hurdle.
The hurdle of failure.
That’s what Dwight Howard is trying to overcome this season.
After the Orlando Magic lost to the Boston Celtics in the 2010 NBA Eastern Conference Finals and the Miami Heat signed LeBron James and Chris Bosh in free agency, there’s been a lot of chatter about the shift of hierarchy in the East.
The Heat, by virtue of signing James — the best player in the league — and teaming him up with Wade and Bosh, have emerged as the favorites to win the Eastern Conference. And even though not many people expect the Celtics to finish better than No. 3 in the conference, there’s no question that they can’t be counted out in the title mix after their renaissance in the playoffs last year.
Where does that leave the Magic?
Well, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see Orlando finish with one of the best records in the NBA and flirt with the top seed in the East. But in the end, it comes down to matchups in the postseason and there is some skepticism as to whether or not the Magic are capable of beating the Heat and the Celtics in a seven game series.
Yet there is one player for Orlando that has the power to dictate the outcome in either scenario.
That man is Howard.
If Howard is able to make a similar leap on offense as he did on defense a few years ago, then the Magic will be in good shape against the other elite teams in the league. It’s very clear that Howard understands that, given that he’s sought out the help of Hakeem Olajuwon in the off-season, and seems motivated to prove some of the critics that are not giving Orlando much of a chance against Miami and Boston. Ultimately, it’s up to Howard to make a difference for the Magic.
Photo by Dime Magazine
After ceasing to exist following the 1997-1998 NBA season, the black alternate jerseys make their triumphant return for the Orlando Magic and they are beautiful.
- John Denton of OrlandoMagic.com: “The Orlando Magic likely won’t win any national praise for the changes that they made to their roster this offseason what with division rival Miami Heat adding all-stars LeBron James and Chris Bosh. But Magic coach Stan Van Gundy feels that those changes will make the Magic significantly better this season – and that’s saying something considering that Orlando won 59 games last season and almost got back to the NBA Finals for a second consecutive spring. [...] In [Quentin] Richardson, Van Gundy feels the Magic made an upgrade at small forward, especially in the 3-point shooting department. And [Chris] Duhon gives the Magic a smart and steady player capable of being a reserve or a starter should [Jameer] Nelson suffer an injury. Those might seem like minor changes, but Van Gundy feels those two additions could have a huge impact.”
- Check out Dwight Howard in the new adidas NBA Revolution 30 uniform.
- George Diaz of the Orlando Sentinel: “Could Carmelo Anthony join the Orlando Magic to take on the Axis of Evil in Miami? Wow, that would be fantastic! Let’s make it happen! Please repeat after me: No, no and no. The Magic don’t have the assets to offer the Denver Nuggets to make the deal happen. It’s that simple. Some fans bless ‘em, think that the Nuggets would be dumb enough to take on the bloated contracts of Rashard Lewis, and the bloated expiring contract of Vince Carter as part of the deal. Not going to happen.”
- Could Ryan Anderson have a chance at being the most improved player on the Magic roster this season? Ben Q. Rock of Orlando Pinstriped Post investigates: “Ryan Anderson appears to be a solid candidate. The 22-year-old power forward shot 37 percent from three-point range and averaged eight rebounds per 36 minutes played last year, the third-best figure on the team. His iffy man-to-man defense, along with his itchy trigger finger (he used nearly one-quarter of the Magic’s possessions when on the court last season; only Carter ended more) conspired to keep him out of the rotation. Improvement in those areas would go a long way toward establishing him as the clear backup to Rashard Lewis and helping him earn more than the 14.4 minutes per game he averaged last season.”
- General manager Otis Smith drops some knowledge: “I don’t think we had to go out and make wholesale changes. Sometimes with continuity, improvement can take place.”
- If it were up to Howard, he’d take Kevin Durant over LeBron James.
- Zach McCann of the Orlando Sentinel: “I’ve received plenty of feedback on the Magic’s ticket prices this season — mostly negative — so I wanted to clear up a few things. Here are a few more notes on the Magic’s policy. [...] All ticket prices won’t be set in stone at the beginning of the year. A ticket price could rise or fall depending on trades and injuries. If, say, the New Jersey Nets traded for Carmelo Anthony, the price of that ticket could go up. Similarly, the price of the Nuggets ticket might go down in that situation. Tickets could only change prices before they’ve gone on sale, obviously.”
- John Perrotto of Basketball Prospectus recaps the Pat Riley-Stan Van Gundy feud.
Via the Orlando Magic:
On Saturday, Oct. 2, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Orlando Mayor Dyer Buddy Dyer invites Central Florida residents to a Community Open House at the Amway Center. Residents will get a first-hand look at all of the fan amenities and state-of-the-art technology available only in Downtown Orlando’s new events center.
This is a free, ticketed event featuring self-guided tours, entertainment and local performances, free popcorn and soda and commemorative items to celebrate this historic accomplishment. Representatives from the Orlando Magic and Orlando Predators will also be on-hand.
Residents can experience a “taste of the Amway Center” with a sampling of the newest food offerings available for purchase.
The self-guided tour of the Amway Center will take patrons through the most technologically-advanced events center in the country, showcasing two levels of spacious concourses that include an impressive array of concessions; a stop along the way so the kids can climb STUFF’S Magic Castle, then up to the contemporary, open-air setting of Gentleman Jack’s Terrace, then up 100 feet to the Sky Bar spotlighting some of Downtown Orlando’s best views; and then back down to the lower bowl where you can see the largest arena score board in the country.
On Thursday, ESPN.com gave fans the opportunity to determine the five ultimate players for every franchise in the NBA. Voting commenced for several days and for the Orlando Magic, the players chosen were Penny Hardaway at point guard, Tracy McGrady at shooting guard, Grant Hill at small forward, Rashard Lewis at power forward, and Shaquille O’Neal at center.
However, are these the correct choices?
We can find out.
Utilizing linear metrics like statistical plus/minus, PER, and Win Shares/48, it is easy to determine which players for the Magic should have been chosen based on their production. Hardaway and McGrady were no-brainers, so there’s no need to go over their statistics.
It’s a little difficult to quantify a player’s impact and influence on the team since there are a number of variables involved, but these are some things be taken into account on a smaller scale since those intangibles do matter.
So without further ado, let’s begin.
Grant Hill v. Hedo Turkoglu
|Grant Hill||GP||MP||PER||stat. +/-||Win Shares/48|
|Hedo Turkoglu||GP||MP||PER||stat. +/-||Win Shares/48|
Hill: NBA All-Star (2005) | Turkoglu: NBA Most Improved Player (2008)
If we’re comparing the totality of both players’ careers, there would be no debate about the choice since Hill — at his absolute best — was a top 10 player in his prime with the Detroit Pistons before injuries derailed his career. However, we’re strictly looking at Hill and Turkoglu during their tenures with the Magic and that’s where things get interesting.
- Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: “Seriously? Shaq wants us to believe he is rooting for the Magic and the City of Orlando to win a championship? That’s funny because two years ago when the [Orlando] Magic were playing the Lakers in the finals, Shaq tweeted that he was rooting for Kobe and the Lakers. Or was that a PR ploy, too, Shaq? And was it a PR ploy when you called Orlando a “dried-up little pond?” And was it a PR ploy when you ripped Dwight and called him an ”imposter?” And was it a PR ploy when you called Magic coach Stan Van Gundy a “bum” and a “nobody” and a “master of panic?” If that’s Shaq’s idea of selling tickets then I’m not buying. Even worse, it sounds now like O’Neal is trying to befriend Dwight [Howard], which is absolutely frightening news if you’re a Magic fan.”
- Breaking down the new suites at the Amway Center.
- Josh Cohen of OrlandoMagic.com talks about diet and nutrition. Pretty neat breakdown.
- Get to know more about Zach McCann of the Orlando Sentinel.
- Ben Q. Rock of Orlando Pinstriped Post: “About six weeks ago, I pointed out that a Dwight Howard action figure available for preorder on Amazon.com could offer a preview of the Orlando Magic’s as-yet-unrevealed black alternate uniform. This uniform appears in the current issue of SLAM Magazine, on newsstands now, which further fuels speculation that the team will unveil it soon. Twitter user @justinrcole posted an image on his account this morning. Independently–which is to say, “unofficially”–I’ve heard that the Magic indeed plan to introduce the uniform this season, though my source says there’s “no timetable” as to when. [...] If the latest issue of SLAM is any indication, though, the black uniforms will happen. It’s only a matter of time.”
- Dwight Howard is going to make a cameo appearance in New York. From a press release posted at SLAM ONLINE: “All 30 NBA teams will wear the new uniforms beginning this season. To commemorate this historic occasion, adidas and the NBA will produce limited edition, collectible authentic jerseys numbered and boxed with a seal of authenticity. Player jerseys were made in limited edition runs of 50, 100, 250 or 500 and are numbered sequentially and authenticated by Panini so that each boxed jersey is a unique collector’s item.”
- Check out the top blocks of the 2009-2010 season.
- According to Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don’t Lie, “I” is for isolation plays: “[...] there are several types of isolation plays to choose from. A dump down to Dwight Howard against (initial) single coverage is technically an isolation play, but as much as we respect Dwight on both ends, you rarely see this type of play called. You rarely see it even for the low-post scorers that can hit free throws. Usually, you know, it’s for the hot shot. And the hot shots, as you’ve known them since grade school, are the ones that can dribble the ball. They’re not passing unless the defender hacks a limb off.”
- Don’t expect Carmelo Anthony to be traded to the Orlando Magic. Why? Because, surprisingly enough, the Magic don’t have the requisite assets that the Denver Nuggets are looking for.
- Sebastian Pruiti of NBA Playbook examines some backdoor lob plays.
- Head coach Stan Van Gundy is one of the top defensive coaches in NBA history, though it certainly helps to have Howard as the anchor of his defenses.
Photo by Fernando Medina
Some of these pictures are intense.
In all seriousness though, the anticipation surrounding the start of a new NBA season is growing by the day. And for Dwight Howard, it will ultimately be up to him to lead the Orlando Magic to the promised land.
As the pictures vividly show, Howard is taking the task very seriously. Wherever Howard is, and in this case it’s back in Orlando, he’s putting in the time and energy to try to be the best player he can be. For Magic fans, that’s all they can ask for from their franchise center.
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images
“Does Orlando still have a window open to win an NBA championship?”
This question was asked last week and even though the answer may be obvious to some, it’s a topic that’s worth exploring as the Orlando Magic get ready to start training camp next week at the Amway Center. Yes, the Magic have a chance to win a title.
But it’s an opportunity that has been nearly vanquished after the Miami Heat pulled off — arguably — the greatest free-agent haul in league history by signing LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and a bevy of other players. Not only that but the Boston Celtics continued to add pieces to their core, bringing in Jermaine O’Neal and Shaquille O’Neal (no relation). And then there’s the Los Angeles Lakers, a team in the middle of building a dynasty after winning the last two championships.
These are the teams that are primary threats to Orlando by varying degrees.
Rather than talk about a number of external factors that may or may not allow the Magic to win a championship in the immediate future, let’s direct the attention elsewhere.
There are a multitude of reasons why Orlando is still an elite team and a title contender for the time being, but probably lower on the totem pole compared to teams like the Heat, Celtics, and Lakers.
- Shaquille O’Neal: “I know what I have to say and what I have to do to get the game popping. So if people don’t think I like [Dwight Howard], then come watch the game and it will be a sold out game and my marketing techniques works like it’s always been working, then I know what I’m doing. But in real life, he’s cool, a great young player, represents the big men very well and when I’m done, I don’t really see anybody in his way. Hopefully he can win a couple of championships for the city because it’s a beautiful city, I’ve been living here 20 years and I’ll be living here for the next 20 years so hopefully he’ll get them there and take them over the top. Because if he doesn’t get them over the top, he’s going to get the blame.”
- John Denton of OrlandoMagic.com: “It’s after 10 o’clock on a weekday night and while the rest of the NBA is likely home on the couch or partying in the nightclubs, Dwight Howard is hard at work and oozing sweat out of every pore in a tucked-away, nondescript gym. Rap lyrics fill the air, thumping bass rattles the walls and the Orlando Magic’s superstar center joins right in grunting as he pulls his chiseled, 275-pound body up for those 10th, 11th and 12th pull-ups. Howard’s nighttime workout sessions come as most are heading to bed and after he’s already drilled on the basketball court with his Magic teammates for two hours earlier in the day. And these drills – ones that leave Howard’s adidas tank top drenched in sweat and his body needing three Gatorades to replenish the fluids lost – certainly aren’t for the faint of heart. They are the kind of explosive, quick-rep drills that make casual observers sore by just watching. And at times even Howard, arguably the NBA’s strongest and best-conditioned athlete, is left physically exhausted by a workout that looks as though it belongs in a Marines boot camp. But there’s a method to this madness for Howard, a consensus All-NBA selection last season. The push is there for Howard to climb to even greater heights and launch his star into grander stratospheres. He knows deep down that it’s his leap as a low-post threat that will help the Magic vanquish the Miami Heat, Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers. Do that, Howard said, and the gold ball will be his someday and a championship banner will hang from the sparkling new Amway Center.”
- Click here to see video of Dwight Howard doin’ work.
- If LeBron James or Dwyane Wade play at the point guard position for the Miami Heat, who guards them for the Orlando Magic?
- The Magic’s starter at small forward is still yet to be determined. Zach McCann of the Orlando Sentinel chimes in: “While the starter will flip-flop throughout the season — both [Mickael] Pietrus and Barnes started last season before Barnes took hold of the position midway through the year — I’d bet on [Quentin] Richardson being the long-term starter. Pietrus said last year he likes to come off the bench, and the five-man unit numbers say the Magic are better off that way, as the Nelson-Carter-Pietrus-Lewis-Howard group performed far less efficiently than Nelson-Carter-Barnes-Lewis-Howard last season. Additionally, Richardson’s a better shooter than Pietrus and no slouch on defense.”
- Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel with a must-read article on Richardson.
- Ben Q. Rock of Orlando Pinstriped Post thinks Orlando can win more than 60 games this season, and maybe 65: “So does this Magic team have the talent to reach 60? Maybe the answer is obvious. It won 59 last year with its first- and third- most trigger-happy shooters–that’s the starting backcourt of Vince Carter and Jameer Nelson, respectively–placing 10th and 12th on the team, respectively, in True Shooting percentage. It won 59 the year before that with its All-Star point guard, Nelson, missing 40 games due to injury. Well, Nelson’s healthy now. Vanishing act in the Eastern Conference Finals aside, Carter adapted to the Magic’s offense as the year wore on. Quentin Richardson gives the Magic a true fourth three-point shooter around Howard, replacing Matt Barnes’ iffy outside stroke. Essentially, it’s hard to argue the team got worse, and it was on the cusp of 60 wins in each of the last two seasons. So yes, 60 wins ought to be in the cards for this Magic team, and if Nelson regains the off-the-dribble shooting touch that made him an All-Star in 2009, 65 isn’t out of the question, either.”
- It’s a myth that Howard has no post game.
- Allen Powell of SLAM ONLINE marvels back at Penny Hardaway’s point guard abilities: “Is it better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all? Is it better to have a career that rises like booming fireworks and ends with a disappointing fizzle, or to have a career that shines steadily like a dependable streetlight? When considering where to rank Penny a decision had to be made. Should tantalizing potential or tangible productivity be rewarded? Potential won. Penny Hardaway was The Man in the 1990s. His combination of size, strength, speed, court vision and hops was sickening. What he lacked in killer instinct, he made up for in pure, unadulterated talent.”
- Howard and Adonal Foyle did their part to help the country of Haiti. Howard writes on his blog: “I´ve got to say that this was an eye-opening trip for me. I´m so glad that I went there because what you see on TV just doesn´t do justice to how much devastation and poverty that there is in Haiti. These people still need our help and I´ve got a feeling it will be that way for a couple of years because the country is in such bad shape. I just hope that me going there will help remind people that they still need our help. I know some people have forgotten about the massive earthquake there in Haiti, but those people still need us to help them survive. If I could, I´d like to round up all the people interested in helping and fly them down to Haiti with me for another mission trip. That won´t be my last trip down there because I want to do everything in my power to assist the people there. God has blessed me with so much in my life, and I want to help as many people in need as I possibly can.”
- Mickael Pietrus has four words about the Magic: “Don’t sleep on us.”