Fan Voice: Foundations

Everyone gets a voice on, including the fans. The Fan Voice is's official fan blog - written by a member of the Magic's Message Board community. This fan blogger's alias is "Live or Die Magic" and his frequent blogs have instantly become a hit!

Also, make sure to check out more of "Live or Die Magic's" blogs on the Magic Message Boards. Click here to read some of his past blogs.

By Live or Die Magic, Friday, March 8, 2 PM


Beginning with the decision to fire head coach Stan Van Gundy and general manager Otis Smith, the Magic organization chose a vector that led them away from Dwight Howard and the idea of relying on one superstar player. Hiring general manager Rob Hennigan, who in turn hired head coach Jacque Vaughn, meant the Magic were embracing youth, patience, and a collaborative approach to not only building a team piece-by-piece, but also to how that team would play the game on the court.

Early on in the season, when the Magic reached double digit wins faster than anyone expected, I thought the Magic had found a way to be competitive on the fly while also shedding salary and collecting young players and draft picks. An injury or two later and our true reality revealed itself in the form of 30 losses in quick succession. Although I’d have preferred a few more wins this season, I still have greatly enjoyed most, if not all of the games this season because of the style of play.

Every player that has put on Magic pinstripes this season has played with great effort and with an earnestness that has been a joy to watch. Any given night, a different Magic player has stepped up. I’m not suggesting that past Magic teams have not displayed effort and earnestness, but this season just seems different and I think we all know why. I surmise that every player on our roster is there because Rob Hennigan wants him there. Therefore, each of these players fits his vision for this team this season.

This thought process is what made the trading of JJ Redick so difficult for me to bear. Redick is a player that so perfectly emphasizes effort and earnestness on the court. As much as any Magic player in recent memory, he grew into a consummate NBA player before our eyes. His game improved year-to-year and he went from being a screen shooter with defensive deficiencies to a solid defender who could score (and make plays) in a plethora of ways. He had established himself in our community and likely would have made Orlando his long-term home. Considering his demeanor, his history with our team, and his ties to the city, I thought he was one holdover from the contending Magic teams that Rob Hennigan might choose to keep around.

I think it is possible for a fan to understand the reasons and logic behind a trade and still be upset by it. The trade of Redick actually upset me more than the Howard trade. I realize that going forward; we cannot continue to pay two shooting guards (Redick and Arron Afflalo) salaries in the 7 million range. I also realize that there was a reasonable expectation that Redick, as an unrestricted free agent, would have chosen to sign a lucrative contract with a contender this off season. Still, it hurts to see such a beloved player leave the team. It seems it is becoming more and more difficult for NBA teams to keep players for their entire career. We’ve had players that have retired as a member of the Magic after having arrived here early in their careers (Jeff Turner and Pat Garrity are the two most obvious examples), but we have yet to see a player stay here his entire career (draft busts do not count…I’m looking at you Jerryl Sasser!). Our last hope for this to happen is Jameer Nelson. Frankly, I cannot think of a more fitting player to retire in Magic pinstripes. Even though I fully support Hennigan’s plan for our new foundation, I do hope it includes a spot for Nelson.

As sad as I was to see Redick depart, I’ve been equally excited to see the emergence of the players we acquired for him. Once again, it would seem that Hennigan has reinforced the notion that we should trust him because he knows exactly what he is doing! While Doron Lamb is clearly still a project and Beno Udrih will likely sign elsewhere in the offseason, Tobias Harris will be keeping Magic fans thrilled for years to come. It is rare for an unheralded player to arrive on a new team an almost immediately become the most dynamic player on the roster.

Complimenting Tobias Harris to such a degree should not detract from the strides that our other new players have made this season. If someone told me at the beginning of the season that a Magic player would be routinely racking up double-doubles, having 20-20 games, and in the top 5 in rebounds, I’d have assumed that we received Andrew Bynum in the Howard trade. I actually feel bad for Philadelphia that they had to give up Nikola Vucevic for Bynum, let alone Moe Harkless as well! To varying degrees, each of the rookie or 2nd-year players on our roster has displayed talent that has reinforced Hennigan’s decision to acquire them. Looking toward next season and beyond, it is easy to imagine a lineup that includes Vucevic, Harkless, and Harris as starters and Andrew Nicholson and E’Twaun Moore getting heavy minutes off the bench. Kyle O’Quinn and DeQuan Jones have also displayed enough potential to remain on the roster beyond this season.

Having so many young players on rookie contracts means the Magic have enough salary cap space to sign free agents in the years to come. Considering that we will also have high draft picks, I can foresee us quickly getting to the point where we, as fans, start to wonder which of our young players become casualties of the numbers game. After all, we still have to keep room for the veterans signed beyond this season. While it isn’t a stretch to say that Hedo Turkoglu, Glen Davis, and Al Harrington are not in the Magic’s long-term plans, it might be a stretch to say that Hennigan can trade all of them in the next year. If he does trade some of them, it will likely be for even more dynamic young players! So, part of our growing pains might include saying goodbye to some of the young players we’ve only just met.

Having veteran leadership on a young, rebuilding team can certainly be a positive thing. Especially if those veteran players buy in to what Hennigan and Vaughn are trying to accomplish. A veteran that chaffs at losing or playing behind a younger player can become a cancer on a team. A veteran willing to pass on his knowledge to younger players while playing for a positive, energetic coach and for a franchise committed to building a winning foundation justifies his high salary.

This season has been full of preview clips of what the Magic’s future holds. We have a solid core of young players who will only get better. The fact that this foundation does not include a franchise player who separates himself – both literally and figuratively – from the rest of his teammates is simply another endearing trait to go along with all of that effort and earnestness.

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Monday, November 26, 2012, 4 PM

Win Total

It is hard to know what to expect from this season’s Magic squad. What can we surmise from those two early home victories and a couple of wins over a sad sack Detroit Pistons squad? We are either the team that took a veteran Boston Celtics team to overtime or the team that only managed 68 points against a Nets team still figuring itself out. One thing that is evident is that this team is getting to know itself on the fly, with nearly every contributor in an unfamiliar position. The veterans are finding themselves with heavier workloads than at any point in their careers, while the young players are testing their NBA legs for the first time.

Still, we know the victories will come as the team begins to come together. With so many people in the Magic organization (front office, coaching staff, players) in new positions, it is reasonable to think that who the Magic will be at the midpoint of the season differs from who the Magic are now. So far, we have faced teams on a similar level as us and we have also faced teams that are clearly below us. Outside of the Knicks, we have yet to face a truly elite team. So, we do not yet know if the Magic are capable of stealing an upset or three from championship contending teams this season. It was my curiosity about how the Magic would perform against elite squads that made me decide to breakdown the remaining schedule in terms of the quality of opponent.

The categories and how the teams were placed into them are completely my own doing, based simply on my opinion at this early point in the season. The three categories are “elite teams,” “teams comparable to the Magic,” and “teams worse than the Magic.” Teams in the elite category include but are not limited to the OK City Thunder, Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs, etc. Teams comparable to the Magic include those teams that should be better than us (Golden State, Philadelphia, Utah, etc.), but also those teams that we should be better than (Charlotte, Phoenix, Portland, etc.). It is this category from which the majority of our remaining opponents come. Teams worse than the Magic include the Washington Wizards, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Detroit Pistons.

It is an admittedly simple theory, but I figure if the Magic can beat some of the teams they shouldn’t beat, half of the teams they could beat, and most of the teams they should beat, they can reach 30 wins or more.

Let’s take a look at the numbers. We have a total of 25 remaining games against the elite teams in the league. If we can go roughly .250 against those teams, we can get 6 wins. Yes, this might mean upsets of teams like the Clippers, the Knicks, or the Spurs, but it also could include less far-fetched wins over the Nets, the Bulls, or the Hawks.

We have 28 remaining games against teams comparable to us. If we can go .500 against those teams, that’s another 14 wins. It is these matchups that will be the most competitive for our squad. These will be the most hard-fought victories. It is against these teams that we will see what kind of team this year’s Magic squad is. It will mean tough wins (or losses) against teams like the Boston Celtics, Utah Jazz, and Houston Rockets, but also less surprising wins over teams like Portland, Charlotte, and Indiana.

Finally, we have 16 games remaining against teams that currently own the six worst records in the league (Toronto, Detroit, Cleveland, Washington, Sacramento, and New Orleans). If we can go .750 in those games, that is another 12 wins right there. The Magic should be able to win all of these games, but like we saw already against Toronto, there will be slip-ups, even against awful teams. And let’s be honest, we can’t expect the Magic to be giant killers several times this season and not expect them to give back those wins against lesser opponents themselves!

So, if you take the 5 wins the Magic already own and add up my projected wins in the three categories (6, 14, and 12, respectively) that brings us to 37 wins. Now, even I must admit that 37 wins seems entirely unrealistic based on what we have seen so far from this team. So, in the interest of keeping things more palatable for you guys, let’s knock 7 wins off the top right now. That means a few less upsets, a few more losses to teams we should beat, and a few more close calls to teams right there with us. Considering we have yet to see how Al Harrington can help our front court rotation, how many positive contributions we can expect from a healthy Hedo Turkoglu, and how much progress our young players make this season, I don’t think 30 wins is a stretch.

I know many Magic fans would be content to watch the young players develop, watch Big Baby Davis launch 25 shots a night, and watch the ping pong balls bounce. All of these things may still come to pass. Personally, I like the notion of rebuilding while also giving the fans plenty to cheer about. All that development and growth the Magic will experience as the year progresses will most certainly translate into victories. The question is, how many? So to be fair to those of you who may disagree with me, let’s revisit my theory at the All-Star break and see where the Magic stand.

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Tuesday, October 30, 2012, 4 PM

Fresh Start

The members of the 2012-2013 Orlando Magic roster need those “Hello, My Name Is” name tags, at least for the first few months of the year. I’m not sure I could name every member of the team if I was put on the spot at this moment. I still find it incredible that only four members of the current roster were on the team last season (five if you want to count Ish Smith). Yet it is this unfamiliarity and uncertainty that actually intrigues me most about this upcoming season. We no longer have expectations to make the playoffs or make a run at a championship while we can. Dwight Howard’s messy departure definitively changed the direction of the franchise, and yet, that direction is one that will likely include many vectors as the season progresses.

We will learn something new about this team, and likely on a game-by-game basis. We know that Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo, Glen Davis, Hedo Turkoglu, and JJ Redick will likely take most of the shots, but we do not know who will step up and be the go-to scorer from amongst that group. We do not know how quickly young prospects like Andrew Nicholson, Maurice Harkless, and Nikola Vucevic will begin providing solid contributions. We do not know if veterans like Al Harrington, Josh McRoberts, Ish Smith, and Gustavo Ayon are simply transient players on this season’s team or if they have a future in Orlando. We do not know if head coach Jacque Vaughn and his impressively constructed coaching staff will be able to transform potential into productivity. All of this uncertainty is what makes me as excited about this season as any season since 2009.

I’ve seen and heard the comparisons between the current team and the 1999-2000 “Heart and Hustle” team. Yes, we have an unproven, dynamic head coach like we did back then, and we have plenty of fresh faces. But in my opinion, the similarities end there. In 2000, Magic GM John Gabriel was trying to free up salary space for the coming offseason. Although he knew some of his current players would remain on the team, his focus was on Tim Duncan and Grant Hill. Current GM Rob Hennigan does not have the luxury of a bumper crop of franchise-caliber free agents next offseason, nor does he yet possess the salary cap flexibility to sign any. This year is about establishing a new mind set for the franchise, and a fresh start for nearly every aspect of the basketball operations side of the organization. It is about maintaining a tether to past glory in the form of undisputed team leader Jameer Nelson, while also laying a blueprint for future success in the form of rookies Andrew Nicholson and Maurice Harkless. It is about rectifying poor business decisions made in previous seasons by making hard choices now. But make no mistake, the future for this franchise begins THIS season, not next season. The Magic will move forward by continuing to add pieces at a steady pace, not by quickly bringing in two all-stars in a roster clearing move.

A sense of uncertainty will also hang over the players, who certainly realize that Hennigan may have more roster moves to make. If the Magic are still holding that very large trade exception as we approach the deadline, then we may once again see the NBA focused on Orlando, just like last year.

During the season, it will be difficult to look around the NBA – especially out West – and see the other teams that always manage to replenish their rosters at the expense of less fortunate teams. But it appears that the Magic are following a small-market blueprint for success. Operating within that framework, but while also having top-notch facilities to draw upon, as well as an owner willing to do what is necessary to win, should allow the Orlando Magic to avoid needing yet another fresh start anytime soon.

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Thursday, July 26, 2012, 4:09 PM

Jameer = Career

When Jameer Nelson’s official contract numbers came out last week, reported to be 3 years, 25 million, with the last year partially guaranteed, most Magic fans were surprised Magic GM Rob Hennigan paid Nelson that much. Media and fans from around the NBA were also incredulous, and claimed Nelson was being overpaid when compared to the new contracts of other point guards considered to be better than him.

Part of the problem is that none of these deals – the signing of contracts and extensions – can be viewed in a vacuum. NBA fans always compare the money to what other players have made and try to create a value system of sorts. This is especially true of Magic fans. We tend to be quite sensitive to players making more than their perceived merit since we’ve been burned by it in the past. But in Nelson’s case, it is truly a situation where Nelson is worth more to us than he would be to another NBA team. Nelson has been here long enough to have experienced our highs and our lows. He’s been through multiple coaches and GMs. He knows this team, this city, and this fan base and he accepts it, with or without his long running teammate. None of those other points guards are being asked to be the undisputed leader of their team and the focal point of the offense. Nelson is willing and able to accept leadership of this team in every aspect.

Hennigan is having to approach any moves he makes this off season from two perspectives: a roster that includes Dwight Howard, and one that doesn’t. In the absence of Howard, Nelson will clearly be the player most relied upon to put the ball in the basket. More will be asked of him than at any point in his career. He will become the face of the franchise and be expected to carry the team until a time when any promising players on the roster are ready to take over. He will be a valuable confidante to whichever young, inexperienced head coach the Magic hire. It will be imperative for Nelson and the new coach to be in sync from the beginning. Nelson will be instrumental in setting an example for both young and veteran teammates alike.

Signing a three-year contract with the Magic, combined with the 8 seasons he’s already played here, affords Nelson some unique career milestone opportunities in the near future. If Nelson completes the third and final year of his contract with the Orlando Magic, and remains healthy and plays significant minutes during that timeframe, he will become the Magic career leader in several important statistical categories. The first category Nelson is likely to own is career assists. Scott Skiles is still the leader with a total of 2776, but Nelson is close behind with 2612. Nelson could surpass Skiles somewhere around a third of the way through the upcoming season.

Being on the Magic roster in the third year of the deal will allow Nelson to pass two more significant Magic milestones: number of seasons with the Magic, and career games played with the Magic. Both of those records are currently owned by Nick Anderson, with totals of 10 and 692 respectively.

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Tuesday, July 17, 2012, 2 PM

Hennigan – A New Beginning

My initial impressions of Rob Hennigan are all positive. It is hard to have anything but positive impressions about someone who clearly is enjoying his job as much as Hennigan is enjoying his first month or so as the general manager of the Orlando Magic.  

Few GMs, regardless of their age or experience, get the opportunity to conduct a draft, conduct a coaching search, and field offers for a generational player, all within their first few weeks on the job. In fact, I imagine that after this season is through, the remainder of his tenure as the Magic GM will seem rather mundane in comparison.  

Like most Magic fans, I had not heard of Rob Hennigan until his name started to appear in connection with the GM search. In hind sight, it seems obvious why Hennigan appealed to Magic CEO Alex Martins. Hennigan’s front office experience is with two organizations that share a specific trait with Orlando: they are based in small-market cities. The NBA landscape is favoring major markets more and more. Small-market teams need to be optimally run in order to compete. San Antonio and Oklahoma City are two franchises that are at the top of the NBA pyramid, despite being small markets. Sure, they also are fortunate enough to employ NBA All-Star players, but how they acquired those players is key. This is where another singular trait that both San Antonio and Oklahoma City share comes into play: the ability to develop roster talent through the draft. So, the hope is that Hennigan is small-market groomed and draft-centric and that he puts these talents to use for a franchise in need of a new beginning.  

So far, Hennigan’s moves have been against the general expectations of the fan base. He has not felt the need to rush his decision on a new head coach. The most prominent names in the search – Mike Malone and Brian Shaw – have been removed from consideration. Candidates currently still under consideration, such as San Antonio assistant Jacque Vaughn, have seemingly come out of nowhere, much like Hennigan himself. I get the feeling that once a coaching hire is made, it is because Hennigan has assured himself that the new coach has a philosophy that can mesh with his own.  

It is possible to be just as impressed by decisions not made as by those that are. Two of Hennigan’s biggest moves so far were decisions to not perform a transaction just because it seemed the thing to do. Many fans were dismayed by Hennigan’s choice to not match the contract offer the New Orleans Hornets gave Ryan Anderson. On the surface, it seemed the team was losing a key asset they didn’t have to lose. But Hennigan explained his decision, and how it fit into his overall process. The Magic needed maximum roster flexibility, and signing Anderson to that deal would have taken away most, if not all of it.  

The other “non-decision,” and the way in which Hennigan has impressed me the most is his handling of the Dwight Howard trade talks, and specifically, his interactions with the New Jersey Nets. Most Magic fans were having nightmares about the prospect of having Brook Lopez on our roster with a $60 million contract. Hennigan could not have been cooler in the manner in which he stared down Billy King and the Nets (and who knows who else!) and basically decided that if he has to trade Howard, it will be in a deal that benefits the Orlando Magic. The Nets deal did not fit that criteria. It was during this time that Hennigan gave one of the best responses I’ve ever heard from a front office executive. In the late-afternoon of July 11th, the last day Brook Lopez could be traded, Hennigan was asked if a trade was imminent. His response: “Dinner is imminent.”  

This response sums up the grace and good nature with which he is handling the job so far. I can only imagine the stress that comes with this job on a typical day. But he has so many crucial decisions in front of him, and yet on the surface, he is calm and in control. I was able to observe Hennigan during Summer League last week. At all times he was friendly to those around him, yet business like in his approach. He sat with his front office team – all handpicked by him – and watched the games unless a phone call or other matter took him from his seat. In the press conference with the media, he was eloquent in his responses. Sure, he had to utilize “GM speak,” like all front office executives do; but he was respectful when explaining why he couldn’t reveal certain business matters. Basically, it wasn’t hard to tell that he seems ready for his new role and that he is having the time of his life performing it.  

Of course, he still has to show results. Like any GM or coach in the NBA, he will ultimately be judged on how well his team performs on the court. With the prospect of a rebuilding effort in front of him, Hennigan is likely to have more leeway in this regard than most GMs enjoy. I have to assume that Hennigan will extend this same leeway to his new head coach, considering he may be coaching a team of younger, unproven players. It is up to us as Magic fans to also grant Hennigan some leeway and be patient as he tries to put this franchise on good footing. Remember, we root for the name on the front of the jersey, and I get the impression that Hennigan does too.

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Thursday, May 10, 2012, 4 PM

Interesting Summer Ahead

The Orlando Magic did a remarkable thing two Saturdays ago when they surprised nearly everyone but themselves and stole Game 1 of their first round playoff series against the Indiana Pacers. The result was that every Magic fan who had previously only briefly considered the possibility of winning this playoff series was suddenly filled with that persistent and perilous thing called hope. We carried that hope into the next three games, all losses. For me, the hope pretty much disappeared after Big Baby Davis’s shot bounced away in overtime of Game 4.

I watched Game 5 with the realization that it could be the final game of the current Magic regime. With so much uncertainty surrounding the players, coaching staff, and front office, it seemed like I was getting one last look at the Orlando Magic, at least as we’ve come to know them. And so I chose to relish this game just a bit more. Each push the Magic made, each answer for a Pacers run, had more meaning for me. I made liberal use of my DVR to go back and watch certain plays over again. I even went back and watched Stan Van Gundy’s reaction to calls, or non-calls. Jameer Nelson’s 3rd quarter was a thing of beauty. If for some reason free agency takes him away from us this offseason, I’ll choose to use that 3rd quarter as my memory of him and his ability to lift this team up.

The cloud of uncertainty surrounding this franchise will not necessarily be lifted anytime soon. The specter of Dwight Howard’s potential departure may hang over us until next Summer. Add to that the pending free agency of Jameer Nelson and Ryan Anderson, and we have to at least ponder the possibility of a completely different looking starting lineup next season.

More than in previous seasons, the upcoming draft takes on more importance for us. We may be drafting players that have prominent roles on a roster that may look quite different than it does today. Watching a team like the Pacers, who have four rotation guys (3 of them starters), drafted between picks 10 and 17, shows you that the middle of the first round can be fruitful. I’m sure the Pacers would rather have Dwight Howard, but astutely acquiring talent like Danny Granger (17th, 2005), Roy Hibbert (17th, 2008), Tyler Hansbrough (13th, 2009), and Paul George (10th, 2010) through the draft and allowing them to grow together is certainly the second-best option. Even when they didn’t keep a pick, they used it wisely. Last year, the Pacers sent the rights to the 15th pick to San Antonio for George Hill, a player who had a huge impact for them this season and even in this series against the Magic. It must be pointed out that the Magic will be picking at 19, but this is a deeper draft than in years past.

The Magic coaching staff has gained a reputation for not playing rookies or developing younger talent. I think this reputation is unfounded and unwarranted. Stan Van Gundy started a rookie shooting guard in the NBA Finals. As for developing talent, you only have to look at the strides that Dwight Howard, Ryan Anderson, and JJ Redick have made during their time under Stan’s watch. I’d also argue that, in general, NBA teams who are winning 50+ games and making deep playoff runs are giving the majority of their minutes to their best players. In most cases, and certainly in our case, our best players are veterans. Add to that the fact that these same 50+ win teams are picking later in the draft, where the talent is hit or miss, and you have a better idea for why our veteran players see more floor time than our rookies. Truly, the Pacers are one of the few playoff teams made up of players not taken high in the draft. I’m also a firm believer that what happens on the practice court translates to the games. If the younger players were continuously outplaying the veterans, we’d know about it, because they’d be playing more.

Still, it is quite possible that the 2012-2013 Magic coaching staff will be forced to play younger players, based on how the roster may look come the start of training camp in October. October will arrive soon enough and in the interim we may see more changes than this franchise has experienced before. All we can do as Magic fans is sit back and wait, and speculate, of course! I mean, you aren’t a true Magic fan if you aren’t speculating the hell out of this offseason! We may have little idea what the next few months hold, but we do know that there is an expiration date on all of this uncertainty, and that is July 2013. By then, we will know the identity of our coach, GM, and star players for the next few years. At least the name on the front of the jerseys will be the same!

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Wednesday, April 25, 2012, 4 PM

Strangest Season Ever?

Regardless of how the upcoming playoffs turn out, this season has to go down as the strangest season in Orlando Magic history, a distinction accomplished with Gilbert Arenas waived before the season started! Just when you thought the season couldn’t handle any more drama or sharp left turns, something else happens to make Magic fans shake their heads.

Magic fans are not strangers to strange events happening during a season, or even the off season. Without naming names, I’m sure you can remember times when accusers have held bizarre press conferences, players have visited the wrong places at the wrong times, players have performed impromptu raps, and of course, there was the Chris Gent experiment. What Magic fan can forget the acquisition of Doug Christie, or the drafting of Brian Williams (yes, he was strange even before he became Bison Dele)? The Orlando Magic franchise has definitely enjoyed its fair share of interesting times, but surely no franchise has enjoyed quite so unique a season as the 2011-2012 Magic season.

Even though the Magic played a shorter season, we saw several seasons worth of drama. There was the reason for the shorter season to begin with, then there was the “will he stay, will he go” drama of Dwight Howard. There was the addition of “Big Baby” Davis, a much more interesting cat than most players the Magic have had on their roster. There was the waiving of Gilbert Arenas, possibly the most interesting cat the Magic have had on their roster. There was the ramping up for, and eventual hosting of, the 2012 NBA All-Star Game. This was made all the more dramatic by the fact that Howard was the host star in a host city that he seemed eager to leave.

With the emotional letdown of the post-All Star resumption of games, the focus once again centered on whether Dwight would stay or go. I remember standing two feet from Howard when he made his “roll the dice” comment just before the deadline. I was shocked, as were most other members of the media present. It was only days later that I enjoyed one of my favorite Magic-related moments ever: watching Dwight, Alex Martins, and Otis Smith announce that Dwight had decided to forgo free agency this year and stick with the Magic.

Since the trade deadline, we’ve experienced some roller coaster highs and lows. And really, it has been like this the entire season. We’ve been consistently inconsistent. One game we will score 100 points in a victory; the next game we will score only 70 in a loss. But we have been consistently interesting, as this month’s press conferences (you know the one I mean!) have shown.

Another example of this inexplicable strangeness is the fact that we need to win tonight’s game against the Charlotte Bobcats to ensure a matchup in the first round against the Indiana Pacers (vs. a matchup with the Miami Heat). The Bobcats need to win this game in order to avoid the distinction of having the worst winning percentage in NBA history. Now sure, both teams could win their games on Thursday night and still accomplish their goals (in fact, if Charlotte beats the Knicks tomorrow night, they help us with our goal), but there is no time like the present! So, this is no normal matchup between a hurting playoff-bound team and a hurting lottery bound team.

Even if we do win one of the next two games and secure a date with the Pacers, it does not mean an extended playoff run. Sure, the Pacers have less playoff experience, but we go into a series with them with pretty much zero expectations. Such is life without Dwight Howard. It is humorous (but maybe not “ha ha” funny?) to me that Magic fans went into this season wondering if we’d have Dwight Howard at the end of it, and now we don’t have Dwight Howard at the end of it! It is new territory for Dwight and new territory for Magic fans. Dwight Howard uses the Superman moniker, but really until now, he should have considered Iron Man, because he only missed two games due to injury in 7 seasons.

I must admit that even though I’d prefer Dwight Howard on the floor for the Magic, I have enjoyed the newness and uncertainty of this “we all we got” lineup. I cannot help but think back to the “heart and hustle” season. It hasn’t produced much in the way of wins, but it has been highly entertaining. It is a novel thing – after many years of Dwight Howard dominance – to not know which player will step up and lead this team. To not know which player will take the next shot. I’ll be glad when Howard is healthy next season and back to his dominant self. But in the meantime, there is something singularly anticipatory about not knowing what to expect. Still, I cannot help but expect a win tonight against the Charlotte Bobcats.

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Thursday, February 23, 2012, 4 PM

Latest Thoughts

Milwaukee’s Best
I’m not sure if an entire team can stat pad, but that’s almost what it has felt like lately with the Orlando Magic’s three consecutive close wins over the Milwaukee Bucks. One of the more unique aspects of this shortened, yet compressed season has been the frequency that certain opponents appear on the schedule within a short period of time. When we face the Bucks on March 3rd, it will be for the fourth time in a three week span. The three wins over them so far have been part of an overall stretch of 5 wins in 6 games.  

Some might look at the Bucks’ record and say that those wins were not “quality” wins, but after watching all three games, I can say with certainty that we had to earn all three victories. It is worth mentioning that two of those wins were on the road. It makes me think that getting the sweep over the Bucks on March 3rd won’t be easy. In a season where each victory has even more importance than in a normal season, being able to get 4 wins over one team is a luxury.  

Boo Baby Davis
After listening to Magic fans repeatedly boo Big Baby Glen Davis during last week’s victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves, Magic coach Stan Van Gundy defended his player, saying that fans should not have booed him.  

I am of the opinion that the home fans should never boo a player wearing a Magic uniform. A player would have to do something quite awful to ever deserve to be booed by the home fans. So, I was very surprised and a bit dismayed when I heard the fans booing Davis.  

It was only after the fact that I learned, along with everyone else, that Davis had lost his father only a few days before. In retrospect, it made the booing seem even more hurtful. It could be argued that the fans were booing Davis in a show of support for Stan Van Gundy. After all, Van Gundy is much beloved by the more discerning Magic fans who realize just how brilliant a coach he is. The fans were likely reacting negatively to Davis because of the practice altercation between he and Van Gundy that resulted in Davis’s two game suspension. In a popularity contest between Van Gundy and Davis, Van Gundy wins going away (and he would win against most Magic players for that matter!).  

Of course, it could also be argued that the fans were booing Davis's 1 for 10 performance from the field that night. I doubt this is the case because, in general, Magic fans do not boo poor performance in the moment like that. Regardless of the reason, it was inopportune, and I’d like to think that the fans that did boo regretted it once they heard what Davis has been going through lately.  

I for one hope his outlook, both on and off the court, takes a turn for the better from here on out.  

New York Media
I had to chuckle a bit to myself last week when the New York Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony was reeling from the media’s questions about his ability to fit into his team’s new style of play under point guard Jeremy Lin. Anthony couldn’t believe that he, a perennial All-Star, was being asked if he would be able to find a place on the team of an undrafted, unheralded point guard with only a handful of starts to his credit.  

Anthony is emblematic of the new type of young, sensitive all-star who wants to be in the bigger market but also wants everyone to like him and for everything to be perfect. He got his wish when he was traded from Denver, but things haven’t exactly worked out like he expected. The Knicks have struggled since his arrival and he has fought injuries and inconsistency. Now, it is a player other than himself that is viewed as the savior of a city who’s fan base orbits around “Basketball Mecca.”  

Had this same scenario played out in Denver, I bet Anthony’s mindset would have been to blame the Denver media for asking such preposterous questions. It would have been yet another reason for him to want to leave the smaller market for the bright lights of the big city. But since it happened in New York, what is Anthony to say? He’s already on the biggest possible stage now. He got what he asked for. But the New York media shows no mercy and certainly no single player, no matter how big, is bigger than the New York fan, and media, base.

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Tuesday, February 14, 2012, 6 PM

Random Thoughts

On Dwight Howard being a closer:
Like most people, I was surprised by Howard’s “closer” comments after Saturday night’s victory over the Bucks in Milwaukee. The timing was odd considering that Jason Richardson was enjoying what was easily his best game in a Magic uniform. It seemed every shot he put up was going in during the second half of a game in which the Magic trailed by 10 points with five minutes to play. Had we lost that game, Howard’s comments about wanting to be the closer for this team would have carried more weight. But in the wake of such a hot shooting performance by Richardson, the comments were tinged with selfishness. Had he made them one night earlier, in the overtime loss to the Atlanta Hawks, everyone may have been nodding their heads in agreement. In that game, Howard scored a put-back dunk off of a Jameer Nelson lay-up attempt at the buzzer to send it to overtime. But in the extra period, Howard didn’t attempt a single shot. I have to admit that I found that surprising, considering Howard had shot 8 of 15 and had 18 points in the first four quarters.  

Still, what was most surprising about the comments was that he implied that Coach Stan Van Gundy does not have confidence in him. I’ve sat through enough Van Gundy press conferences to know that there is no player on the Magic roster he has more confidence in than Howard. It should be noted that the Magic have only been involved in a handful of truly tight games this season; the type of game that necessitates a closer to get a basket in crunch time. Also, the elephant in the room is that so long as Dwight is shooting so poorly from the line, the smart move will be to foul him when he has the ball and force him to make 2 of 2 from the line. The odds are currently in the opposing team’s favor.  

Finally, I have to question just how important being the closer is to Dwight. If it is truly important, then it becomes a factor in his decision to leave the Orlando Magic. After all, does he really think he’d be the closer if he goes to play for the Lakers? Surely he realizes that if he goes to the Nets, Deron Williams will get the “closer” shots over him. In Dallas or Chicago, he’d be deferring to Dirk Nowitzki and Derrick Rose, respectively. Frankly, if he wants to be a closer, his best shot is right here in Orlando.  

On Dwight’s endorsement deals:
There’s a lot of talk about whether Dwight Howard would be willing to leave roughly 30 million dollars on the table by leaving the Magic this offseason if the Magic elect not to trade him before this season’s deadline. The argument is that Dwight could gain that money back via his endorsement deals. Specifically, I’ve heard that his shoe company, adidas, would pay him more in a major market. Now, I want to state up front that I do not know the specific financial details of Dwight’s arrangement with adidas. But if I'm Dwight, and adidas wants to sign me to an endorsement deal extension, I play hardball. I mean, he clearly holds all the leverage. As an example, if they approach him and say "We will give you a 5 year, 100 million dollar endorsement deal if you sign in Majormarketville but we will only give you a 5 year, 60 million dollar deal in Orlando," then he should simply balk. They need him more than he needs them. Why can't he demand more money from them, regardless of the market? I understand that Dwight could make more from regional endorsements in a city like Chicago, but a national company like adidas is not restricted by region. They are going to market him nationally and even internationally, regardless of what city he plays in.  

On rebounding:
During last night’s Magic victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves, I watched with interest the rebounding battle between Kevin Love and Dwight Howard. I made a point to visit with Kevin Love in the visitors’ locker room after the game. I was surprised at how narrow of frame he is in person, compared to Howard. He and Howard are clearly the two best rebounders in the league right now and in this match up, he outrebounded Howard (in Howard’s defense, he was limited by foul trouble). I asked Love if he has a particular strategy for rebounding, and if it is more about anticipation or position:  

“Yeah, a little bit of both…a lot of both actually,” Love said. “I just try to assume everything’s a miss and do my work early. I think Dwight’s a little different in that he does that but he also has the size and athleticism. Me, I have to do a little bit extra out there. But at the same time I think we are both equally effective.”

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Tuesday, February 14, 2012, 6 PM

Random Thoughts

This past week was easily one of the more discouraging weeks of Orlando Magic basketball that I’ve experienced. Obviously not quite as bad as when Shaq left but certainly comparable to the time I found out that Puckhead was committing to another season of Johnny Davis as head coach. What made it so disconcerting and surprising was that it was preceded by such a positive week in which the Magic went 3-1 and beat the Los Angeles Lakers at home.  

A fantastic road victory against the surprising Indiana Pacers was sandwiched in between two historically awful losses to a depleted Boston Celtics team. Turns out that the win against the Pacers would be the last one for a while. The Magic followed up the second loss to the Celtics with three straight losses that displayed an overall lack of effort, to the point that I was wondering if the Magic had simply forgotten how to play basketball.  

Earlier in the season, the Magic were routinely scoring over 100 points a game. But it is hard to remember that potent offensive team now. Beginning with the first loss to the Celtics on January 23rd, the Magic have averaged 72 points in their last five losses. They failed to even shoot 40% from the field in all but one of those losses. The most galling feature of these losses were the 2nd half collapses; most glaringly in the 2nd loss to the Celtics, when the Magic blew a 27 point lead, and in the loss to the Pacers, when the Magic lead at the half, only to be outscored by 24 in the 2ndhalf.  

I was finishing this piece up while watching the road game vs. the Sixers. I was hoping to see a bounce back game, something that might allow me to write something positive. Unfortunately, the Magic failed to score 70 points or shoot 40% from the field. With just over 3 minutes left in the 4th quarter, the Magic had failed to hit the 50 point mark and were actually in danger of tying an NBA record for fewest points scored in a game. Thanks to a sudden burst of effort from Ryan Anderson, Von Wafer, Glen Davis, Quentin Richardson, and Chris Duhon, the Magic scored 20 points in those final three minutes, making the final score more respectable. The only real product of this last minute effort is that it allowed Stan Van Gundy to execute some game management and call some late timeouts and actually draw up some plays. I’m sure this is easier to do when the score is actually close.  

It is worth noting that during this slump, starters Jameer Nelson, Ryan Anderson, and Jason Richardson have all missed games. I say it is worth noting only because I want to state that I do not believe this is a valid excuse for the remaining players to play so very poorly. Losing games by close margins is acceptable. But losing by such large margins, and with such poor shooting, cannot be explained away by the loss of a few players. I’ve heard all the talk of the players being tired, of having to play so many games in a short period of time. I realize that this is most certainly a factor, but does it explain such truly horrid shooting. Does it explain such poor shot selection? And let’s go ahead and mention the plainly obvious: the teams we are losing to are just as tired, playing just as many games in a short period of time, and in the case of the Celtics, missing just as many starters. The sudden drop-off in play is truly inexplicable.  

Except that maybe it isn’t. Maybe we are finally seeing the fraying at the fragile edges of this poorly constructed team’s psyche. Maybe the players on this roster not named Dwight Howard are finally showing outward signs of the rejection they must feel. When that same player calls them out, tells them not to even bother coming back on the court, well, just think how that contradiction must resonate with them. To spell it out: the player that has made it clear he no longer wants to be a part of this organization, wear the Magic pinstripes, or play alongside guys he’s known his whole career is telling those he will soon be leaving behind that they should be trying their hardest for the Magic. Well, at least those players are still committed to being here beyond the next few weeks!  

The NBA tends to expect its superstars to also be its teams’ leaders. In most cases, this works out just fine. But you cannot force it on a player and expect to always get the best results. Dwight Howard has wanted to be and has attempted to be the leader on this team. But his best leadership trait has been his all-out effort on both ends of the floor. A serious-minded, vocal leader he is not, and never will be, even on whatever team he plays for next. With each loss, there is less reason for any of the Magic players to even bother listening to what Howard has to say. The other leader this team has had of late, Jameer Nelson, has had his leadership abilities cut out from under him because of how Howard’s decision has affected him this season. So really, we are seeing firsthand what happens when a lame duck team starts to struggle with poor play on the court and with trade distractions off the court.  

The head coach can only do so much, no matter how disciplined and prepared he is. When the only player that matters is enjoying his last days in the huddle, the coach’s teaching and imploring starts to have less of an impact on the entire group.  

Ultimately, the story behind this stretch of losses might have several chapters. Chapter 1: Lockout shortened season. Chapter 2: Too many games in too few nights. Chapter 3: Injuries to key players. Chapter 4: A Poorly Constructed Team. Chapter 5: The Dwight Howard Distraction. I suppose we could call the story, “A Perfect Storm.”  

I’m not sure I care to read it; I already know how it ends.

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Wednesday, January 18, 2012, 6 PM

Winning Cures All?

It seems it is quite difficult lately to write about the Orlando Magic without focusing most of my attention on Dwight Howard. After all, he has been the franchise for eight seasons now. I also keep thinking that soon, perhaps only a month from now, I will not be able to write about Dwight Howard as a Magic player. It feels weird writing about him potentially leaving when it isn’t a definite yet, especially when there are so many positive things to write about (10-3 record, 15 rpg, etc.). But it also feels very hollow to enjoy the victories we’ve racked up lately knowing that we may not be able to enjoy this type of on-court success for much longer.

It is much easier to write about Magic players that should be with us beyond this season; players such as Ryan Anderson, JJ Redick, Glen Davis, and Chris Duhon. I’ve mentioned before that I have a soft spot for players who choose to sign with the Magic, either as a free agent or extending an existing contract. This isn’t to say that I don’t care as much for players that are traded here or drafted here, but it just feels special when a player chooses Orlando amongst other options.

Duhon chose the Magic after having previously jilted us for the Knicks. Last season was a tough one for Duhon, as his play had most Magic fans thinking we’d wasted money on him. This season, it seems we finally have a very capable back-up point guard who has a different, though complementary, skill set to starter Jameer Nelson.

Glen Davis was traded here, but with the understanding that he would be going to the Magic before he signed his contract extension with the Boston Celtics. As such, I view his acquisition more as a free agent signing.

JJ Redick is on his second contract with the Magic after signing a contract offer with the Chicago Bulls and having it matched by the Magic. So yeah, he may have chosen to sign elsewhere, but it isn’t Redick’s fault that matching offer sheets for restricted free agents is part of Otis Smith’s negotiating style.

As for Ryan Anderson, he has yet to gain free agency status. But his status as a Magic player will likely become much more important should Dwight Howard leave. I’d go so far as to say that Anderson is currently the second most important player on the Magic’s roster because of his potential, either as Dwight Howard’s teammate, or on a reconfigured roster.

Jameer Nelson, Hedo Turkoglu, and Jason Richardson are certainly important players. Their experience and ability is unquestioned. The synergy they share playing alongside Dwight is what has enabled us to win so many games the last few seasons. But let’s face it, on a roster that no longer includes Howard, the on-court value of these players dips drastically below their contract value (any potential trade of Howard will likely include at least one of these players).

Anderson, Redick, Davis, and Duhon likely represent the core of the Magic roster in post-Howard Orlando. Certainly young players such as Daniel Orton, Earl Clark, Justin Harper, and DeAndre Liggins are worth consideration, but those players are essentially unknown, untested quantities at this point. Without knowing who the Magic might get in return for Howard, it is hard to assess where these players fit into the Magic’s future.

As I watch the roster around Dwight perform so admirably of late, especially the core I’ve been talking about, I start to get just a bit hopeful that we can make a great regular season run. Except for a “schedule loss” to the Detroit Pistons, we’ve lost games I anticipated we might lose (@OKC, home to Chicago). But we’ve also won games that I wasn’t expecting us to, such as on the road at Portland. We’ve been beating the teams we are supposed to beat. I realize that the national media isn’t high on us right now because of the level of competition. But having the 3rd best record in the league at this point in the season is impressive, regardless of the opponents. All of this winning can only be good for Dwight Howard’s feelings about the Magic, right? Now we just need to beat some teams considered to be better than us (i.e., San Antonio, L.A., Miami, Chicago). If he racks up some victories against his buddies who he thinks has it better than he does, maybe he starts to wonder whether the grass is really greener. Maybe we find ourselves at the trade deadline prepared to gamble on one last ride with Howard. Maybe Howard will realize that he is already in a great position to win. Maybe he’ll start to listen to people like NBA TV’s Steve Smith, who said that Orlando has fostered a culture of winning around Dwight Howard and that Howard should be the one encouraging others to come here.

It is the eternal optimism of the die-hard fan in me that wants to believe winning cures all. So, please Orlando Magic, just keep winning!

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Friday, January 6, 2012, 4 PM

Be Different, Dwight!

Part of me has been preparing for Dwight Howard’s departure from the Orlando Magic for a while now. I guess you could call it a defense mechanism; a pre-emptive strike so I couldn’t be hurt as much. Still, when the news hit last month that Dwight had requested a trade, the pain was sharp. Trade rumors swirled for a few days and my knee jerk reaction was to try to focus on other things and not even think about it. Then, when Alex Martins came out and announced that the Magic were no longer discussing trade possibilities, I pumped my fist in the air. It was the first time I’d done that in reaction to something Magic-related since the start of Game 1 vs. the Atlanta Hawks in last season’s playoffs. I know it doesn’t mean Dwight is staying, but it does mean that the Magic aren’t just going to give up and let him go without a fight. It means they are going to try to see this through, and at the very least, try to wait till the last possible minute to trade him.

Frankly, I cannot imagine the Magic trading Dwight before the All-Star Break. I mean, the events are taking place here in Orlando at the brand-spanking new Amway Center! The organization, the fans, and the city want Howard in a Magic uniform during that event even if he is traded shortly thereafter. What would be worse: using the All-Star Game in Orlando as a farewell to Howard and him giving a fond farewell to the city, or having him hang out here for three days in a Nets or Lakers uniform and having all of those boos raining down on him constantly? I just cannot imagine that scenario being palatable to anyone in Magic management. I think, no matter what, we have him until after the All-Star break.

I try to tell myself that Dwight Howard is just frustrated. He sees his peers in New York, LA, Dallas, and Miami and wants what they have. He wants all-star teammates and to have a chance at a title every season. I try to tell myself that it isn’t anything to do with Orlando or a small market. But we haven’t heard anything – and these things always come out – about him trying to recruit his peers to come here. He’s requested a trade to New Jersey, but why couldn’t Deron Williams just as easily request a trade here? Things certainly aren’t looking good right now in New Jersey. Williams appears frustrated, and the Nets would be lucky to get 20 wins this season. Is it preposterous to think that the Magic couldn’t make a trade offer to the Nets? If the Nets can offer us an unsavory package around Brooke Lopez, can’t we do the same? At least in the case of a package of Magic players, all of them are healthy! No, it seems to me that the size of the market is the key thing here.

Many Magic fans felt that Howard was different. We thought he was the anti-Shaq. When he chose to sign an extension with us a few seasons ago, we felt he had proven that superstars do want to stay here. When he got us to the Finals and won a game, we felt he’d already done more than Shaq ever did. All of those thoughts still hold true and will never change. But it remains to be seen if those thoughts and that sentiment are enough to keep him here.

Kevin Durant re-upped with the Thunder around the same time that LeBron James was leaving the Cavaliers. Media and fans took the opportunity to point out the differences between an unassuming superstar like Durant and a “look at me” superstar like LeBron. Durant was compared to stars like Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki, all-world players who chose to stick with their original teams. I hope that we find that this is exactly who Durant is, and Dwight as well, for that matter. But it is too early to put Durant in the same camp as Duncan and Dirk. After all, players like LeBron, Carmelo Anthony, and even Howard resigned with their teams beyond their rookie contracts. We can’t know for sure what Durant will do a few seasons from now. Durant may end up leaving after his current contract is up, especially if Russell Westbrook is still on the Thunder and driving Durant batty.

Dwight Howard has what appears to be a pretty strong group of complementary players around him right now. In fact, if Ryan Anderson continues his current level of play for about 15-20 more games, he just might make the all-star team. Glen Davis, a player with whom Dwight has wanted to play, brings playoff experience and versatility to the frontcourt. Meanwhile, JJ Redick continues to improve, become more confident, and picks the pace of play up when he is on the court. The young core of Howard, Anderson, Redick, and Davis could be something special if given the opportunity to stay together for a while. Combine that with solid play from veterans like Hedo Turkoglu, Jameer Nelson, and Jason Richardson, and this team could still be very successful this season. In fact, I’d argue that this Magic team, as currently constructed, is a better team than the Nets would be with Howard, Deron Williams, and any filler left over after a trade with the Magic.

If communication between Dwight Howard and Magic management has been poor, as Dwight claims, then Magic management should improve those lines of communication. It seems pretty simple. If this lack of communication is truly the reason he wants to be traded, then shouldn't immediately improving communication appease him? It won't if his true desire is to play in a bigger market.

All of this major market talk is painful to me because I am an Orlando native. I was born here, right in downtown Orlando. I’ve seen the city grow. Not all of it is good, but most of it is. I am proud of the city. It is difficult to hear that a player might choose to leave and play somewhere else because he is unhappy here. I cannot imagine any other city in the entire NBA ever loving Dwight more than Orlando does. I cannot imagine any other city in the NBA needing Dwight as much as Orlando does. He has already endeared himself to this city. If he chose to stick it out and remain here, he would literally and figuratively be the biggest person in this city for the foreseeable future. No other team – not the Nets, not the Mavericks, not the Lakers – can offer that to Dwight.

If Dwight stays, we can offer him more money than any other team, if this is important to him. If he sticks it out with us, it gives us the time to make the moves necessary to bring in the players Dwight needs to get his ring. But beyond that, we can offer Dwight something that no other major market can ever offer: an entire city.

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Tuesday, December 20, 2011, 8 PM

Best Seats In The House!

One of the more interesting Orlando Magic experiences I've had was last February, when the team hosted an auction in the hollowed-out, skeletal remains of the Amway Arena. Getting the opportunity to fully explore the building, to see so many pieces of Magic history up for purchase, was a great way to say goodbye to a building that holds so many memories.

I ended up bidding on and winning a pair of arena seats. I wanted the seats so that I could take home a memento that would serve as a physical reminder of all the time I spent in that building, rooting for my favorite team. But I didn't just want to own them; I wanted to use them. I could have easily found a spot in my attic for them, but to me, that defeated the purpose of wanting them in the first place. What I really wanted was to figure out a way to have them, and use them, in my own house.

The seats came without legs, or should I say, without feet. In the arena, the seat legs had been mounted to cement. But once the seats were removed from the arena, they could no longer stand up on their own. During the auction, a company was selling metal legs that could be mounted to the seats, allowing them to stand without having to be mounted to a wall or anything else. But these metal legs were ridiculously expensive and they also did not offer anything even remotely aesthetically pleasing to the seats. And let's face it; these red seats needed all the aesthetic help they could get!

My first step was to scrub the seats clean of 20-plus years of grease and grime. I was quite surprised and impressed by how well they cleaned up. The fabric on the seats is most definitely worn, but it has held up well, and will likely last another 20 years. The metal and plastic - both red - are where the seats really came clean and looking better than they have since the early-90's.

The idea I had in my head was to mount both seats on a single wooden platform, as opposed to trying to anchor them in a fixed location on a wall. A free standing platform would make the seats portable and allow me to move them from room to room, if needed. Also, I felt that by mounting them on wood, I could more easily justify them to Mrs. Live or Die Magic: "But honey, it's a piece of furniture!"

So, after designing the platform on paper, I set to work getting the wood, hardware, tools, glue, and varnish that I'd need to complete my seat platform. It took parts of three days to complete, and the finished product looked much better than I could have ever hoped for. Not only do the seats look good in my den, but they also add something to the room. They sit directly across from my coffee table, allowing me to prop my feet up. They also sit a perfect distance from my HDTV and I am now able to watch Orlando Magic games while sitting in Orlando Magic seats!

I feel reasonably certain that no Magic fan who purchased seats that day has displayed them quite like this. Every time I think I couldn't be a bigger or more die hard Magic fan, I go and do something like this. Now I have to figure out a way to top myself!

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Friday, April 22, 5 PM

Regular Teammates

As Magic fans have watched these first two playoff games against the Atlanta Hawks, it has become even more obvious how important Dwight Howard is to our hopes and dreams. As the national audience, with no emotional ties to the Orlando Magic, has watched Dwight’s performance, they have begun wondering who Dwight will be playing with beyond next season. See, they figure that since Dwight clearly has no help in Orlando and is having to play 48 minutes, he will choose to leave and go to a team that will provide him with more help.  

The problem with this is that it is based on a two game sample; two games in which every one of Dwight’s teammates seemingly forgot the general location of that orange colored cylinder that sits 10-feet up in the air on either end of the court. The likelihood of this kind shooting continuing for the remainder of the series is low. The Magic are getting good looks at the basket, they simply aren’t falling. If they can continue to get those same looks tonight in Game 3 and Sunday in Game 4, then I see no reason the team cannot come back to Orlando with a commanding 3-1 lead. Defensively, we figured the Hawks out in Game 2. Our overall effort was strong. In this sense, Dwight’s teammates fed off of him and picked up their defensive intensity. Maintaining that level of defense is a must as we wait for the shots to start falling.  

Jameer Nelson has a tough defensive matchup against Kirk Hinrich. However, as good a defender as Hinrich is, he cannot keep Nelson out of the lane if he continues to drive to the basket. As the Magic players continued to miss shots in Game 2, it was obvious they started to get tentative. This was especially obvious with Hedo Turkoglu. He seemed scared to get closer to the basket for fear of missing yet again. So, he’d take a step or two toward the basket, then pull back out and pass off. This is fine if the lane has been closed off to you, but Hedo was doing this when he had a single defender on him. This tentativeness simply allowed the Hawks’ defense more time to set up. The Magic players capable of dribble penetration – Nelson, Turkoglu, J-Rich, Q-Rich, and Redick – all need to be more aggressive driving the lane against the Hawks. This has been what works for us and allows for any of the following: a kick-out 3-pointer, a dump-off to a well-positioned Howard or Bass, or an “and 1” shot on the basket. Even if the whistle doesn’t blow, at that close of a range, Howard is the most likely person to get the rebound and the put back dunk.  

I had hoped to write a piece talking about how we needed two players to really step up and help Dwight Howard out so we can get out of the first round and start thinking about the Chicago Bulls. This Hawks series will be a tough test and Howard will need help. But I know longer think that it will require monster performances from Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu. I can put aside my dreams of Gilbert Arenas suddenly morphing into a 21st century version of Vinnie Johnson (but oh MAN, wouldn’t that be cool!?). I don’t think that Ryan Anderson needs to try to score 20 points alongside Dwight instead of while filling in for Dwight. You see, Dwight Howard has already taken care of the monster performance. He has already taken care of elevating his game to a post-season, MVP level. He doesn’t need his teammates to suddenly be more than what they are. All he really needs is for them to perform the way they are supposed to. Yeah, I’m pretty sure as long as playoff Dwight is playing the way he is, the regular season version of his teammates will be more than sufficient.

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Wednesday, April 13, 2 PM

Season 52

I’m not sure if there has been a time this season when I’ve felt more proud of the guys in Magic pinstripes than I did after our loss to the Chicago Bulls. Sure we’ve had big wins over the Heat, the Celtics, and the Spurs this season, but there was something special about this game. I arrived at the Amway Center fully prepared to watch a Magic loss considering the fact that Dwight Howard was watching the game over at Q-Rich’s place while they both enjoyed suspensions. I had come to terms with it and had even begun to rationalize how the loss was acceptable because we weren’t showing our hand against a Bulls team that we hope to meet in the 2nd round of the playoffs. By the 3rd quarter, I’d changed my stance and realized I was going to be quite upset if we ended up losing, especially since we were taking everything that Derrick Rose had and were giving it right back to him.  

Perhaps it was a situation where every Magic player realized he needed to step his game up a bit more to account for the absence of Dwight Howard, or maybe we simply were forced into a different style of play and the Bulls weren’t prepared for it. Either way, what unfolded was a nice surprise and an enjoyable loss, if such a thing is possible. It seemed fitting that the game came down to tenths of a second, considering this entire season has progressed via the most unexpected of paths, with uncertainty being the only thing we can count on. Even Dwight Howard, Mr. Double-Double, and the only Magic player who produces every night, has moved under a dark cloud of uncertainty as his technical foul total reached the suspension limit last month.  

It is likely that Coach Stan Van Gundy might have considered sitting Howard for one game to rest before the playoffs. But it is also likely that Van Gundy doesn’t like having his hand played for him. So, while we can all agree that the forced rest was good for Howard, I refuse to buy into the revisionist mindset that it was a positive thing for him to get suspended for the Bulls game. The fans in attendance at the Amway Center on Sunday were treated to an incredible game despite Howard’s absence. But every fan in the building would have preferred that he’d played – as would Howard himself.  

In the last couple of days, Howard has commented that he cannot allow the constant threat of technical fouls to affect the way he plays. This is the exact manner in which he should be addressing how he is refereed. He shouldn’t be thinking about the refs while on the court; he should only be focused on his teammates and the opponent. But, when the whistle has been blown, he does need to think about his reactions before he reacts. While it is true that rolling the ball away from an official typically leads to a delay of game call, there is precedence, even in Howard’s own experience, for this action to receive a technical instead. So, why take the chance?  

Beginning with Game 1 vs. the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the playoffs, Howard’s technical foul count will be back to zero. Should he reach seven technical fouls in the playoffs, he would receive a one-game suspension. He would receive an additional one-game suspension for every two technicals beyond that. Now, I think we can all agree that Howard will be called for technical fouls in the playoffs, but I feel confident that he will not even come close to reaching seven, even if the Magic enjoy a sustained playoff run.  

I don’t even like thinking about Howard missing any more games this season. Missing two games due to suspension is two games too many. As much as I appreciated the way Howard’s teammates took it to the Bulls on Sunday, I definitely preferred the way they looked with Howard in the victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday.  

So, tonight's matchup against the Indiana Pacers will be a “going through the motions” type game for both teams. It appears that JJ Redick and Gilbert Arenas are the only two Magic players who will be out. It is possible that Pacers star Danny Granger, you know, the guy drafted after Fran Vazquez, may sit as well. Regardless of who plays and who doesn’t, I doubt the starters get big minutes for either team. Ryan Anderson, Chris Duhon, and Earl Clark should have great chances to match or exceed season highs tonight. I do hope the Magic do enough to actually get the victory…52 wins sounds so much better than 51.    

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Tuesday, April 5, 2 PM

$10 Million Turk

While watching the Orlando Magic’s losing performance against the Toronto Raptors on Sunday evening, I was amused at the constant booing that Hedo Turkoglu received from the Raptor faithful every time he touched the ball. I do not take issue with the booing; I’m of the mind that booing is acceptable, if it is justified. To Raptors fans, Hedo was a bill of goods that was sold at too high a price, a price that also included Chris Bosh. What I mean is, in the minds of Raptors fans, Hedo’s failure to produce as expected last season contributed to the Raptors not faring so well. This may also have diminished Toronto’s chances to keep Bosh (though he was likely gone, no matter what). Hedo didn’t help his cause by saying negative things about the team and the city of Toronto. So, the Raptors fans had plenty of reasons for booing Hedo.

The reason it amused me is because Hedo should never have been in a position to be booed by Raptors fans in the first place. If ever a player, and an international player at that, belonged with a certain team, a certain city, a certain system, it is Hedo Turkoglu and the Orlando Magic. The make-up of our team, with much of that emphasis placed on Dwight Howard, is perfect for getting the most out of Hedo’s game. Hedo’s finest seasons and finest moments have come while wearing Magic pinstripes. He feels happy here. His family feels happy here. He never wanted to leave Orlando.

It is telling that Otis Smith made a trade to bring Hedo back to the Magic in the 2nd year of a contract that Smith initially did not want to sign. Many Magic fans who truly liked Hedo, agreed with Smith’s decision not to sign him. These fans didn’t feel that Hedo was worth 10 million per season. After all, one of the reasons that Hedo was so valuable a player to us was because he did what he did while being such a bargain from a contract standpoint. But how could one justify suddenly having to pay twice as much for the same output, when the player is arguably only the third or fourth most important on your team? Smith’s decision to trade for Hedo means that, contract dollars aside, Smith feels that Hedo belongs here and that he is a better player with us than he could be elsewhere.

This rationale would be solid if Hedo was a more consistent player this season. You see, Hedo’s contract situation isn’t the only reason that he remains a divisive player amongst the Magic fan base. For every fan that was ecstatic to have him return last December, there was a fan screaming “What!! THAT guy!?” These particular fans have no issues with his timely passes into the post, his beautiful alleys to Howard’s oops, his effortless 3-point shooting, his ball-handling, or his offensive versatility. No, their problem is that he doesn’t do all of those wonderful things consistently enough to offset his defensive effort, his “all fade-away, all the time” shooting style, or his inexplicably poor decision-making at crucial moments. Presently, and for the first time since Stan Van Gundy took over the team, Hedo is a player that is very hard to get a read on. For every great game in which he gets double-digit assists and hits several timely 3-pointers, he has a game where he completely disappears from the offense. Even worse than his disappearing act are the games in which he takes multiple ill-advised shots, all with his patent-pending “fade-away flair.” Seriously, the guy is incapable of taking a shot while physically moving toward the basket. I’m sure you’ve heard me say this before, but Hedo is still the only NBA player to intentionally take a fade-away lay-up. Finally, for reasons unexplained, Hedo has forgotten how to shoot free throws. It is ridiculous that he is averaging under 70% for the season and under 60% over the last month!

Hedo’s inconsistent play from game-to-game is harder to swallow when you consider that he was brought back, in part, to improve ball movement and make it easier to get the ball into Dwight in the post (this should always be easy for Hedo considering he is arguably taller than Dwight). At this stage of his career, Hedo is unlikely to grow further as a player. Frankly, we don’t really need that from him. He will certainly never be a lock down defender, nor do we need him to be. He simply needs to execute Stan Van Gundy’s defensive philosophy, make his defensive rotations, and do his best to stay in front of his defender. Hopefully, his teammates’ help defense, and the presence of Dwight Howard, will more than make up for Hedo’s defensive shortcomings.

What we really need to see from Hedo is more of what we know he’s good at. If he is wide open for a 3-pointer, he should take it. He shouldn’t second guess himself. He should get the ball to Dwight in the post the moment Dwight has set himself in position. He should avoid dribbling for 15 seconds before unnecessarily taking a 20-foot fade away jumper. He should drive to the basket more and use his height to get a good and close shot at the basket and draw the foul. He should be more assertive but at the same time, more relaxed on the court. Much like they’ve done in their glorious recent past, his Magic teammates would feed off of that.

I know I’ve spent the last few paragraphs cutting Hedo down, but the truth is, I am glad he is back. As exasperating as Hedo’s play can be, he is still our Hedo. He truly is an Orlando Magic player. He chose to come here during his free agency season of 2004 and he never wanted to leave. He came into the Magic family at the same time as Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson and he enjoys a strong bond with both of those players. He also has a great relationship with Coach Van Gundy. Van Gundy is not always pleased with what he sees from Hedo, but he recognizes that the Magic are a superior team when Hedo is playing at his best. By watching the games, it is easy to see that Hedo is an easy player to play with. He is adapt at getting the ball to a location the receiving player likes and, on the whole, he is unselfish on the offensive end. He is able to find Brandon Bass open at the top of the key. He is able to find Jason Richardson and Ryan Anderson wide open for 3-pointers. He allows Jameer Nelson to play off the ball at times, freeing up Nelson to focus on scoring. Of course, no one benefits from Hedo’s playmaking abilities more than Dwight Howard. Dwight Howard enjoys playing with Turkoglu, and that has to stand for something, doesn’t it? It is what we have to hang our hat on because frankly, Hedo and the Magic are likely stuck together for another three seasons (Hedo has a player-option in 2013).

Over the years, we found humor in Hedo’s well-deserved reputation for being lazy. We made fun of his affinity for pizza (and really, what’s not to love?) His teammates made fun of him for his gut and his lack of discipline with his conditioning. His effortless offensive game was only matched by his effortless defensive game (see what I did there?). But now, what we really need from Hedo, especially since our playoff prospects look murky for the first time in three seasons, is less humor, and more value. In fact, what we need is for him to become the 10-million a year version of himself.  

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Thursday, March 31, 2 PM

Fan Ranting

It could be that the itching and scratching of this week-old playoff beard is starting to make me a bit touchy, but I decided I needed to get some things off my chest. So here goes…  

Beginning with the Finals run in 2009, I have been growing a playoff beard, at the start of the first round and shaving once the Magic are eliminated from the playoffs. This year I planned to do it again. However, I have succumbed to peer (and team) pressure and begun my playoff beard early. I will be quite grizzly by the time the first round even starts. I will be very upset if the rumors are true that the Magic players are waffling on their “Fear the Beard” stance of only a week ago.  

It was bad enough that Dwight Howard was whistled for a technical for tossing the ball away in the Knicks game, but it was even worse that the League office was given a chance to correct the mistake and chose to uphold it. And don’t try to tell me it was justified, that’s not the point. Plenty of stuff other players do that should “justified” a technical gets a pass. Howard has become a target, plain and simple.  

What does it say about the state of the NBA that I enjoy Miami Heat losses only slightly less than I enjoy Orlando Magic victories? If it was simply a rivalry thing, it would be a good thing. But in this case, it is because of what the NBA has allowed itself to become.  

Just because a guy has a TV show and claims to be a sports fan, it doesn’t make him knowledgeable about the sport. I had to laugh at Jimmy Fallon last week for encouraging Howard to join the New York Knicks. Based on the current situation, Howard has as much chance to play for the Seattle Supersonics in 2012 as he does for the Knicks. On a side note, I find it humorous that Fallon, a native of Brooklyn and a presumed Yankees fan, portrayed the biggest Red Sox fan ever in the movie “Fever Pitch.”  

It bothers me every time I hear the talking heads on the national networks make comments implying that most NBA fans only care about the major market teams. I know for a fact that the Orlando Magic fan base is as rabid and loyal as any fan base in the entire league, small market or not. If the Magic don’t win, I’m surely not rooting for the Celtics, Knicks, Heat, or Lakers. Give me Oklahoma City or even the San Antonio Spurs again any day.  

Speaking of OKC, I hated seeing the Seattle Supersonics leave Seattle and there being very little the average Sonics fan could do about it. On the plus side, it was great to see the team go to a smaller “one horse” market like Oklahoma City and begin to thrive there. I can’t see any good that could come of the Kings successfully leaving Sacramento and giving the greater Los Angeles area a 3rd NBA team! I’m sure Lakers fans in LA would gladly trade the other two NBA teams for one NFL franchise.  

It is unfortunate that Dwight Howard is likely an also ran for the Most Valuable Player award this season. I understand why Derrick Rose is the front-runner and why the Chicago Bulls are such a great story. But I still think that Howard is slightly more important to the Magic than Rose is to the Bulls. With that statement out of the way, I say that the Bulls can have all the accolades, so long as we crush them in Round 2 of the playoffs.  

I really really want to like Gilbert Arenas. He is wearing the Magic uniform, and therefore, I feel compelled to like him. However, his play on the court is starting to affect my ability to develop an affinity for him. In the back of my mind, I continually repeat “just wait till he has a full offseason with us, things will be better.” Won’t they? WON’T THEY!!??  

If you’re the Orlando Magic, you don’t lose to the Atlanta Hawks. You might slip up and lose to a team like the Toronto Raptors or the Golden State Warriors, but you don’t lose to the Atlanta Hawks! We are supposed to own the Atlanta Hawks! We are supposed to be to them what the Detroit Pistons used to be to us. And now we have lost three times to the Hawks this season, giving them the season sweep. What is wrong with this picture/! Why would we want to give the Hawks any sense of confidence going into an inevitable first round matchup with them?  

Did anyone else see the Hawks’ Jason Collins deliberately grab Howard and angrily spin him around under the basket in the 2nd half last night? How was that not a technical foul? This came after Collins was allowed to bring both arms forcibly down on Howard’s shoulders in the first half. Both times, only a foul was called.  

OK, this one is more of an observation than a rant. We sit at 47-28 with seven games to go. The loss to the Knicks in overtime was tough; the loss to the Hawks last night even tougher. Still, I see no reason why we cannot finish the season with a 7-game winning streak. Of our remaining seven games, the only one in which we will not be favored is the April 10th game vs. the Bulls. If we win the four games between now and then, our momentum could carry us to a victory over the Bulls. From that point, we should easily finish with 54 wins and the slimmest of slim chances to overtake the Celtics for the #3 seed. Nothing wrong with hoping!  

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Thursday, March 10, 10 AM

Take Your Seats, Please! – Part 3

With Marc Acres 3:16 back under control, we sat and prepared for the auction item that we were really there for: upper bowl seats! Each arena section was being auctioned individually. We were quite surprised by this because it meant that there would be people that were interested in purchasing hundreds or even thousands of these seats. I’m still trying to imagine what they could possibly be used for. Marc Acres 3:16 and I were wanting two seats each to install somewhere in our homes and either make use of them as seats, or at the least have them displayed as a symbol of the first 21 seasons of Orlando Magic history and the common fan that cheered those teams on.  

We were pleased to see that two of the sections were set aside for fans like us. These seat sections would be auctioned off as single seats. The courtside seats were auctioned off first and we were surprised at how high a price per seat they went for. We started to get just a bit nervous that our seats would end up going for a steeper price than we expected. Turns out our auction luck had finally turned and we ended up getting the seats for $12 each! On a whim, Marc Acres 3:16 decided to get four seats instead of two, since the price was so good. Of course, since this is a capitalist and bureaucratic country, there were additional fees. We had to pay $25 per seat to have the seats removed from the arena by a company specializing in seat removal. This same company was offering to sell us the brackets necessary to use these seats in our homes, provided we didn’t mind paying an exorbitant cost for the brackets themselves and the shipping to get the brackets to us. Here’s a thought! Maybe that company could have had some brackets on hand to sell! We were told by a representative of this company that if we provided our contact information, we would be called or emailed when the seats were ready to be picked up. We were told it would be no later than Thursday, February 17th.  

So, we left the O-Rena empty-handed, but we had accomplished our goal and we knew that soon, we’d have upper bowl seats of our own. Thursday came and went with no word from the seating company. On Friday morning, Marc Acres 3:16 and I called and emailed the company, trying to find out if the seats were available. I knew my weekend was going to be busy, and my best chance was to use my lunch hour on Friday to pick up the seats. By lunchtime, we hadn’t heard back from the company. I decided it was worth my while to drive down to the O-Rena and see what the scoop was. I parked my truck next to the player entrance and proceeded through the security entrance. It felt strange to just walk directly into an area that had been off-limits for so many years. The auction company employees were still set up in the main tunnel, just like they had been the previous weekend. I spoke to the first person I saw, asking him if the seats were ready for pick-up. He informed me that they were! I told him that the seating company had told us we’d be contacted when they were ready. He apologized and said he wasn’t sure why the seating company hadn’t contacted us. I provided my auction item information and was told that my seats would be brought out shortly. I called Marc Acres 3:16 and told him that the seats were ready. I asked him if he wanted me to pick his seats up as well. He said yes, and I confirmed with the auction folks that it was permissible for me to pick up his seats.  

I managed to get all six seats loaded into the back of my light pick-up truck and boy, was that a sight! I was practically cackling to myself as I got on I-4 from Hughey Avenue and entered the lunch hour traffic. I had to have been quite the spectacle for the other motorists, with those six bright red seats in the back of the truck. I thought it was fitting that I drove past the new Amway Center with my old Amway Arena seats.  

Marc Acres 3:16 picked up his seats from my garage that weekend. My two seats still sit in my garage. I still must decide whether I want to permanently mount the seats somewhere in my house or whether I want to purchase or build legs for the seats so that they can be used freestanding and also be portable. Believe it or not, Mrs. Live or Die Magic is totally supportive of my seat purchase and is also trying to figure out the best place to put them.  

The seats are actually in pretty decent shape, considering that each one has been used by hundreds if not thousands of different people. The seats have their share of grime and gum, but to me, that is part of the charm. Think of the amount of beer or soda that has been spilled on those seats; or the amount of nachos, popcorn, and ice cream that has fallen on them. Think of the number of tenders from the O-Rena Chicken Tender Basket that have landed on these seats. Yes, they likely need a decent cleaning, but it all speaks to the great moments that these seats have seen. The wins and losses, the fantastic plays they’ve bore witness to. The emotions they’ve felt from the Magic fan sitting in them. The sudden pop of the seat spring as the fan bolted out of his or her seat to cheer a big Magic bucket or a steal, a block, or a rebound. Someone sat in that seat and watched Nick steal the ball. Someone sat there and saw Shaq rattle the rims. Someone sat there and watched Magic Johnson have his big All-Star game moment. Someone sat there and watched Penny Hardaway get traded to the Magic. Someone sat there and watched T-Mac score 62. Someone sat there and watched Howard dunk over Duncan. Someone sat there and watched the Magic close out Cleveland in the Eastern Conference Finals. Someone sat there and witnessed Finals games in 1995 and 2009. These seats are a small part of Orlando Magic history and I cannot think of a finer final resting place than in the homes of Orlando Magic fans. After all, where else can they continue to be used by fans watching Magic games?

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Monday, March 7, 10 AM

Take Your Seats, Please! – Part 2

There were thousands of items being sold and only a handful that we were interested in. So, several times we left the auction area and wandered around the arena. With a few exceptions, most areas of the arena were open and accessible. So, we took the opportunity to visit parts of the arena that we never could during an actual Magic game. We toured the “Blue” lounge and took a long hard look at the fancy tabletops, bar stools, and large round furniture items up for auction before deciding that it wasn’t worth it if it didn’t have a Magic logo on it. It was a good thing too; you wouldn’t BELIEVE how much money that kind of stuff went for!  

As we made our way around the tunnel, we found the visitors’ locker room. We were fascinated by the history we could feel in the room – essentially, every major star of the last 21 years has spent time in that room – but also surprised at just how run down and decrepit it looked sitting empty and unused. It seemed hard to believe that only 8 months previous, the Boston Celtics were situated in there for the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals. As we made our way through the locker room, we found an old whirlpool tub, and even a very old and rusted nautilus machine sitting near a large HVAC unit and a piece of equipment resembling a medieval torture device (seriously, explain to me why that thing was in the visitors’ locker room!) The locker room features many twists and turns and as we attempted to exit the place, we found ourselves getting more and more lost. Marc Acres 3:16 commented that we had become Spinal Tap, trying to make our way to the stage.  

As we passed the Kodak lounge again, we witnessed another auction attendee trip an emergency exit alarm on one of the doors. Concerned that we would be blamed, we began running toward the end of the tunnel, which dead ended in an elevator. With no one else around, and with the elevator operating, we figured we’d take it up and see where it goes. We got off on the concourse level and we were floored by how empty it seemed. I’d never seen the concourse looking so wide open. Typically, fans are packed in this area during the games, with very little room to maneuver. We tried to make one last visit to the men’s restrooms, but they were gated. The three of us made the entire circuit around the concourse, taking everything in and talking about all the visits we’d made there over the years. We looked up at the inverted “steps” of the upper bowl as it rose above us. Several of the banners – Matt Guokas, Scott Skiles – were still hanging. As we walked by the old O-Rena snack bars, we started to look for signs of the OCTB. Had we been able to find one of the old menu signs that said “Chicken Tender Basket,” we surely would have attempted to acquire it. But alas, save for a nacho cheese machine here, or a popcorn container there, there was no sign of our favorite eats.  

As we came full circle and were approaching the elevator we had originally exited from, I looked over at all the counters and carts leftover from where the ice cream, alcohol, and bar-b-q used to be sold during games. Out of the corner of my eye I caught movement on the ground and I turned my head just in time to see a small mouse scurry across the floor and hide underneath one of the carts. I was the only one that saw the mouse and when I told Bhnole and Marc Acres 3:16 that I’d seen a mouse, they were dubious. Still, I forced them to help me look for the mouse. So, there we are, all by ourselves in the middle of the empty O-Rena concourse, kicking and pushing on a defenseless cart. It was disgraceful. We never did see the mouse again.  

With our tour of the O-Rena over, Bhnole was ready to pay for the two photos he won. We accompanied him to the pay counter and while we stood waiting, we noticed a couple of young kids – maybe 6-to-8 years old – dressed in full camouflage and standing near a rather tall older gentleman who was speaking with one of the security guards. We were discussing the possible reasons the kids were dressed in camouflage when it dawned on us that the tall older gentlemen looked like an older, heavier Greg Kite. With a quick, second look, we realized it WAS an older, heavier Greg Kite! We assumed that the two young boys were his grandsons. Although we didn’t approach Mr. Kite, we did watch him walk around and look at the various memorabilia items that were available for auction. We felt bad for him for two reasons. First off, he had arrived late to the auction and nearly all the memorabilia items he was perusing had already been auctioned off. Secondly, a quick walk-by of all the items confirmed that there weren’t any individual photos or jerseys of him. I’m sure that he was there to take the place in just one more time and maybe to take home a piece of his past. I hope he was able to do that.  

After saying our goodbyes to Bhnole, we settled back in our seats to watch more of the auction. Marc Acres 3:16 was especially upset that the large “Nickelback” poster prominently displayed in the Canon lounge went for far more than the considerable sum he was willing to pay for a poster of his favorite band. The most awkward moment was when the auctioneers had to call on the services of Greg Kite to subdue Marc Acres 3:16 as he repeatedly attempted to assault the winning bidder of the Nickelback poster, a 12 year old girl. But oh, what a wonderful moment for the longtime Magic fans in attendance, as once again, and for the final time, they got to watch Greg Kite and Marc Acres go at it underneath the Magic basket  

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Thursday, March 3, 4 PM

Take Your Seats, Please! – Part 1

Before this story ends, you will hear about Greg Kite, a mouse, and an ill-fated Nickelback poster. You will learn auction “dos and don’ts” and will learn, at long last, the secret to Joe Wolf’s likability. But first, let’s back up a bit. On Saturday, February 12th, I had the pleasure of getting personal closure on the first 21 seasons of Orlando Magic basketball by visiting the Amway Arena one final time. The Magic, in conjunction with city officials, held an auction at the old building to sell off numerous physical assets and pieces of memorabilia, with proceeds being split up between the team, the city, and the Orlando Magic Youth Foundation. For me and a couple of buddies, it was a chance to tour the place one more time and hopefully, take home a piece of the Magic to keep in our own homes.  

The list of auction items was as eclectic as a Denny’s menu. If you came as a Magic fan, then most likely you were more interested in the autographed Magic basketballs, jerseys, and photos. If you came as the owner of a restaurant, business, or church, then you more likely were interested in the chairs, tables, refrigerators, fans, furniture, and vacuum cleaners. Then there were the people who represented both, and for these individuals there was the basketball stanchion, the golf carts, and the jumbo-tron.  

The auction took place on the arena floor. The majority of attendees sat in the first 10 rows of the lower bowl seats. I’d estimate that 300 to 400 people attended in person, with who knows how many more participating online. Nearly every item that was being auctioned was displayed somewhere in the building. Most of the hand-held items (photos, balls, jerseys, etc.) were displayed on tables on the arena floor. The auctioneers were staged on a raised platform in front of the stands and large video boards were used to display the lot number of the item currently being auctioned and a photo of the item itself. The auction was started by Nick Anderson, who was there for the first few items, and he even signed the items for the winner.  

I attended the auction with my friends and fellow Magic message board members “Bhnole” and “Marc Acres 3:16.” I’ve both bought and purchased items on eBay, and I’ve seen enough auctions being depicted on both television and in the movies to have a general idea of what goes on, but nothing could have prepared me for the unique experience me and my friends enjoyed on this Saturday afternoon. For those of you that don’t know, when you attend an auction, you are given a paddle number. You use both this number and this paddle to indicate your intent to bid on an item. When the bidding begins, the auctioneers look for these paddles and numbers to know who is bidding and just as importantly, the amount the bidder is paying. As the auctioneers call out the price, the bidders agree to that price by raising their paddle. Some bidders will leave their paddle number displayed, perhaps on their sleeve or in the pocket of their shirt, and simply use their hands or some other visual cue to let the auctioneers know that they are willing to go higher or are no longer interested. Therefore, it is important to remain still during the auction if you are not interested in an item.  

Bhnole would have benefitted from this knowledge beforehand. I was the last to arrive and so Bhnole and Marc Acres 3:16 were already seated about 8 or 9 rows up in the stands when I arrived. Bhnole spotted me, shot his hand up in the air, and yelled “LOD!” just in time to bid $300 on an auction item! Realizing what just happened; Marc Acres 3:16 turned to him and yelled “What are you doing? You just bid on that item!” The second best part was that neither of them had any idea what the item was. A very red-faced Bhnole sat in a progressively increasing state of panic for about 10 seconds until finally, another bidder agreed to pay more than $300 for the item. But the best part was that the guy Bhnole had yelled at….yeah, it wasn’t even me!  

I arrived a few minutes later and about fell out of my seat as they recounted the story to me. At least three other times during the rest of the auction, Bhnole again raised his hand during the bidding. He’d say something like “Hey, that banner would be cool to own” and then point upward. Marc Acres 3:16 would slap his arm down and yell “What the hell’s wrong with you! You’re gonna give me a heart attack!” This pretty much set the tone for the rest of the auction. We were deathly afraid to move our hands, arms, or head in any kind of manner. I was wearing my glasses on this day and cursing myself for not wearing my contacts because I was constantly having to adjust my glasses. Meanwhile, every part of my face and head decided that THIS was the moment that it needed to be scratched!  

As it turns out, accidently bidding on an item would have been the only way that Marc Acres 3:16 and I would actually get to participate in the bidding process. Both of us were interested in items, but they ended up going for much, much more than we were willing to spend. Bhnole was much more successful, bidding on, and winning, a framed photo of Marcin Gortat dunking and another framed photo of the Magic emblem.  

Sitting a few rows up in the lower bowl seats gave us a great view of all the items up for auction. We could see all the leather courtside seats being sold; the basketball stanchion that was stress tested by Shaq himself, and the jumbotron. The jumbotron had actually been lowered all the way down to ground level. You don’t have a true sense of just how huge this thing is until you see it at eye level. It is as tall as a two story house and easily took up most of the mid-court area of the arena floor. We sat there trying to figure out who could actually make us of it. It seems like there would be a very small number of businesses that could actually make use of something like an old jumbotron. Marc Acres 3:16 thought a great idea would be to gut the interior and turn it into a small apartment.  

Marc Acres 3:16 had identified a framed photo of Marc Acres (you know, the actual Magic player) that he wanted to bid on. I had identified a framed photo of Joe Wolf that I wanted to bid on. Many of you are likely saying to yourselves, “Joe Wolf? Who is Joe Wolf?” Others of you are maybe saying, “Joe Wolf? I vaguely remember that guy, but why would you want his photo?” But then there are the select few of you who are saying, “Joe Wolf! I would totally want a framed photo of that guy!” That’s because you might remember a Magic game at the Miami Heat on November 18th, 1995 when Joe Wolf came off the bench to score 16 points. Now, you might not think that 16 points is all that remarkable, but what was remarkable was Wolf hitting 8 of his 9 shots and hitting most of them consecutively! He also hit those shots while sporting the finest mullet in Orlando Magic history. I was watching that game and Joe Wolf kept hitting shot after shot and with each shot; I’m screaming “JOE WOLF” at the television. Later on, I found out that Joe Wolf owned multiple Dairy Queens in his home state of Wisconsin. So, tell me, how could you not want to own a framed photo of an NBA player who blasts Loverboy while driving his Trans Am to his Dairy Queens whilst his awesome mullet blows in the wind? It was a no-brainer for me.  

So, you can appreciate my disappointment when the auctioneers chose to group multiple photos into one auction. Here Marc Acres and I were expecting to be able to bid on a single framed photo and instead, if we wanted that individual photo, we’d have had to purchase 20 other photos that we had no interest in. Instead of paying $20-$30 for a Marc Acres or Joe Wolf photo, we’d have had to spend $200-$300 on a whole stack. It wasn’t worth it. We attempted to make contact with the two auction attendees that won the two large groups of photos that contained the ones we wanted. We thought that they might be willing to sell us just the photos we wanted. As of this writing, we have not heard back.  


This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Friday, Feb. 25, 1 PM

Trade Deadline Depression

More so than in years past, the Orlando Magic fan base watched Trade Deadline Thursday transpire with no small amount of angst and concern. With the team seemingly on a decline, at least in comparison to other Eastern Conference contenders, Magic fans were hoping that Otis Smith had one more trick up his sleeve. A move, whether it be big or small, that would help alter the team’s fortunes for this season.

Things might not have seemed so funereal if the Magic hadn’t lost in spectacular fashion to the lowly Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night. That loss, combined with the choice words Dwight Howard had for his teammates, had Magic fans jumping from the figurative ledges in droves. Seeing teams like New York, Boston, and Atlanta all make moves to improve their teams only served to place the spotlight more firmly on the Magic and their lone superstar. The argument could be made that Otis Smith already made his roster-altering move this season. But the argument loses steam when you see how the play of Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson, and Gilbert Arenas has tailed off this month, especially on the defensive end.

When 3 PM came and went and no trades involving the Magic were announced, many Magic fans pronounced the season over, with our prospects hopeless from this point forward. I myself am ready for the playoffs to get started, even if we end up with a much lower seed than we’ve had the last three seasons. Last season, we were a clear favorite to win the East, especially coming off our dominant run to the Eastern Conference Finals. This season, we are more of a wild-card team; a team that you can’t quite pin down. We could either get swept in the 2nd round by a team like Boston or Miami, or we could pull out a dramatic Game 7 victory in the Semis over a team like Chicago. Last year, I saw getting to the ECF as a formality. This season, I would be ecstatic if we made it that far, because it would mean that we defeated a great team from amongst Boston, Miami, and Chicago.

I can’t feel too apologetic about my lowered expectations because I am basing it on what I’ve seen of this team. It would appear that while Howard has picked up his game, his teammates have slacked off. I know that “slacked off” implies a lack of effort, and maybe that is a bit unfair, but I don’t know how else to explain it. This same team went on a 9-game winning streak a couple of months ago, so it isn’t like they aren’t capable. They have managed to stay within 6 games of the #1 seed, and with 24 games to go, much can still happen. But the lack of consistency is just too much to ignore. I suppose this is why I’d rather just get the playoffs going.

I don’t have any insider information, but my gut tells me that things will have to change if the Magic get emphatically bounced from the playoffs in the 2nd round, or God forbid, the first round. At that point, everyone will realize that we would be in a fight for our franchise’s future. Dwight’s decision to stay or to go may be made at that point, even if he has another year with the team. We cannot pin our hopes on a “franchise tag” being added to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement this summer, and we cannot pin our hopes on Dwight staying with us out of loyalty. At that point, an all out attempt to make the roster more attractive to him would have to be made. This would include taking a hard look at the coaching staff and taking a hard look at the front office. I feel sorry for Coach Stan Van Gundy. His coaching style and philosophy have not changed since he arrived. What has changed is the personnel with which he works. In fact, it has constantly changed. Yet that is a non-factor when it comes to this new NBA. Now, you must keep your stars happy and make them feel like they can compete against their fellow star buddies. Again, I have no insider knowledge, I’m just a fan like you, but really, is there another logical way to look at it?

I’m still hopeful that the words of Dwight Howard, and the frank discussions the team had yesterday, prove fruitful and we see this team make a late-season push like they did last year. The fact remains that we are an extremely talented and deep team. But we are a flawed team in that we cannot know what kind of effort we will see each game from our players. It is hard enough to recognize this as a fan; I cannot begin to imagine how frustrating it must be for Howard and the Magic coaching staff.

If Howard’s teammates truly have his back, then they can show him by helping him defeat the Oklahoma City Thunder tonight. Then, next week, help him defeat the New York Knicks and his buddies Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony. Follow that up with a win over the Super-Team Miami Heat. Then, get a bit greedy and help him defeat his buddy Carlos Boozer and his all-world point guard Derrick Rose and the Bulls. The best way to show Howard that he belongs here in Orlando is to help him beat all the other teams not in Orlando, right?

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Friday, Feb. 4, 5:00 PM

Giving Bass a Pass

I’ve decided to elicit a major reaction from the Magic fan base. I’m going to defend Brandon Bass. Those of you who may already be feeling your blood boiling likely find it ironic that I chose to use “defend” and Bass in the same sentence. You see, we Magic fans are typically very blunt in our assessments of players. We don’t sugarcoat our opinions. A Magic fan is just as likely to discuss a player’s warts as he or she is to discuss a player’s strengths. Magic fans prefer bitter chocolate, sweet and sour dipping sauce, and sappy Poison songs about roses. Even Dwight Howard is not immune from our “yes, but” wrath. Magic fans are often wrong, but never in doubt.

This brings us to our injured starting power forward, Brandon Bass. It appears that his sprained left ankle will keep him out beyond the All-Star Break, meaning he could miss at least the next 7 games. So, since we will be without Bass’s services for some time, I thought it would be a good time to ponder what he has meant for the Magic and what we’re likely to miss with his absence.

First off, let’s all pause a moment for a chuckle as we all acknowledge that “Bass” rhymes with “pass,” something that Bass is not prone to do. Bass has developed a reputation as somewhat of a “black hole” on offense. Once he receives the ball, he seems determined to put up a shot, regardless of whether he is in a good position or not. He also seems to fluctuate between being tentative on offense and being aggressive. His tentativeness can be seen when he pauses too long after receiving the ball, causing him to lose any advantage he might have had over his defender. His aggressiveness can be seen when he catches the ball in the high post and quickly makes a move to the rim. This aggressiveness is also evident when he crashes the boards on offense. I suppose we could say his offensive game is aggressively tentative, or is it tentatively aggressive? Regardless, more often than not, Bass will attempt a shot once he’s received the ball. The outcome we’ve most often seen and appreciated is his jumper from above the key, reminiscent of Horace Grant. Sticking with the comparison theme, I think some fans expect that a player with nearly the exact build of Anthony Mason should be able to pass like Mason too.

On defense, Bass has developed a reputation among the fan base of, well…being a bad defender. The truth is, Bass is actually a decent one-on-one defender. His size and quickness, if not his height, gives him a decent chance against most power forwards in the league. But Stan Van Gundy’s defensive philosophy, especially when applied to the Magic’s current roster, relies heavily on team defense, and this is where Bass needs improvement. He is often caught out of position during transition, taking too long to find his man. When he double teams, he doesn’t rotate back quickly enough. In fact, the same tentative/aggressive explanation can be used here. He can be tentative when deciding whether to leave the double team or not, and super aggressive when attempting to defend a high pick and roll, leaving himself out in no man’s land while his teammates defend 4 on 5.

Despite pointing out his flaws, some of which are legitimate, and some of which could be considered nit picking, I still feel that Bass has great potential as the much-needed power forward sidekick we’ve wanted for Dwight Howard. In a perfect world, Howard’s sidekick would be equally proficient on both ends of the floor, much like Horace Grant was for Shaquille O’Neal, Otis Thorpe was for Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Oakley was for Patrick Ewing, and Tim Duncan was for David Robinson (or vice versa!). For now, it appears that Bass’s greatest possible impact on games is on the offensive end. If that never changes, then he still is a great asset alongside Howard because he does force opponents to worry about someone else in the post. His ability to consistently hit the outside shot also makes it more difficult for opponents to collapse the paint. As for his issues with team defense, well, I want to say that it will improve as he continues to get more and more playing time. After all, he is a starter for the first time in his career. Van Gundy continues to comment that Bass is improving on defense. So I, for one, want to continue to look at Bass’s upside, even as he continues to work on his defensive lapses.

Now, for the rub…if Ryan Anderson should put up all-star worthy numbers during Bass’s absence, all of this talk may be moot! Bass’s absence was certainly felt last night vs. the Heat. It was a game during which his abilities on defense wouldn’t have mattered as much; it was his offense we were missing.

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Friday, Jan. 28, 4:00 PM

Three Pointers

Point #1 – “No Need to Hurry”
There seems to be a mindset out there that dictates the Magic make a move for a back-up big man, and soon! This mindset has merit only if we are discussing possible playoff matchups. Certainly, by late-April, it would be nice if the Magic had a back up big man that could spell Dwight Howard should he get into foul trouble. But Otis Smith still has nearly four weeks until the NBA trade deadline on the 24th; therefore, I see no reason for him to hurry up and make a deal now, especially considering how well the three-man front court rotation of Howard, Brandon Bass, and Ryan Anderson are playing. Even coach Stan Van Gundy has said that he is comfortable going with little-used Malik Allen in the post in the event that Howard has to sit. The need for a big man, someone other than Malik Allen, will become much stronger in a playoff series against a team like Boston. In fact, let’s face it…many GMs make their roster moves based on how they feel the move will increase their chances against their playoff competitors.  

On the offensive end of the court, the Orlando Magic are known for two specific traits: the interior presence of Dwight Howard, and the propensity to take, and make, three-point shots. Considering that these are our two strengths, it is refreshing to realize that the Magic do these two things better than any other team in the league. No team can match Dwight Howard in the post, at least on the offensive end; and no team can look at its top 9 players and see seven than can hit the 3-ball at any time. I just hope that any move made for a back-up big man has little-to-no impact on our ability to bring down the rain from our bench.  

Point #2 – “I Cry Foul!”
As a fan, I’m constantly frustrated by opposing teams’ attempt to get Dwight Howard in foul trouble. Perhaps I’d feel different if I wasn’t a fan of the team with the best big man in the NBA. But too often, I see players going out of their way to get a foul called on Dwight Howard. I’m not talking about players taking the ball hard to the basket and hoping that Dwight fouls them. There is nothing wrong with that. I’m talking about the players who flop on defense, or quickly cut over to get in front of Dwight to take a charge, and most especially, the players who purposely try to get tangled up with Dwight down low, forcing him to react and get whistled. To me, it just seems like dirty pool, or at the least, cowardice. Why not try to beat the Magic fairly, based on the performance of the players on the floor? Why try to increase your chances of winning by getting rid of a player? Sure, the win still counts as a win, but it should feel more hollow if you do your damage when the opponent’s best player is off the court through your actions. To my knowledge, the Magic’s coaching staff has never targeted an opposing player for foul trouble. Please correct me if I’m wrong. So, why is it that we see so many opposing teams making a deliberate, blatant effort to get foul calls on Dwight?  

Point #3 – “A Fourth Point?”
I am rather surprised by the news that Jason Williams bailed on the team and was subsequently waived. I know that Jason Williams has had his issues throughout his career, but I thought his age, combined with his relationship with, and respect for, Stan Van Gundy, made him a great fit as a reserve point guard. All indications are that everyone involved (Magic management, Magic coaching, and Williams himself) knew that Williams was agreeing to be the back-up point guard to the back-up point guard! By the time Williams signed, Chris Duhon was already under contract. So, surely Williams realized that he wasn’t going to get much playing time.  

His apparent dissatisfaction has come about since the Magic made roster-altering trades in December. The arrival of Gilbert Arenas – who has been playing back-up to Jameer Nelson at point guard – essentially turned Chris Duhon into the third-string point guard. Guess what that made Jason Williams! Perhaps Williams’ issue is that he doesn’t want to be the fourth-string point guard on a contending team if he can be the third-string point guard somewhere else! Still, I’m sorry to see Williams’ go, and I’ll be even more sorry if he ends up back in Miami.

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Friday, Jan. 14, 8:30 AM

C'mon, Get Happy!

I think all Orlando Magic fans expected to find themselves feeling good about their team at this point in the New Year. But they didn’t expect those good feelings to be directed toward Jason Richardson, Gilbert Arenas, and most especially, Hedo Turkoglu. Yet, here we stand with good feeling all around for a Magic team that is suddenly smaller, more dangerous, and infinitely more unpredictable than before.

For a fan base that has grown accustomed to a certain amount of buzz surrounding the franchise, the late-December trades were the equivalent of being dropped into the bee farm. I practically turned schizophrenic trying to wrap my brain around the fact that we had managed to trade the untradeable contract of Rashard Lewis for the equally untradeable contract of Gilbert Arenas while simultaneously trying to comprehend the idea of Hedo “The Pizza” Turkoglu being back in Magic pinstripes. There were just too many variables to take in all at once. And we got Jason Richardson too!? And we traded the Warlock?! Talk about an early Christmas present! I had only just written that I hoped Otis would choose to give the current roster a bit more time. But even I couldn’t help but get caught up in the excitement and the uncertainty of the remade roster. 

The baptism of fire started with a list of heavyweights that the Magic soundly put down on their way to the third nine-game winning streak in Magic history. Much more important that the streak itself is the fact that the Magic are playing with purpose and with confidence again. Just as important, they are having fun and seem truly happy again. You can go find any number of articles that talk about our improved defensive or offensive efficiency and our point differential since the trade. You can read how the players’ PER rating has gone through the roof. But you really only have to look at the faces of the players – and our win/loss record – to know that the trades are a success so far.

Howard seems truly enamored of Gilbert Arenas, perhaps even giddy over having such a star for a teammate. It’s as if he has renewed hope for such a pairing after seeing things quickly go sour with Vince Carter. Jason Richardson is likely still pinching himself that he is the starting shooting guard for a title contender. He enjoyed unexpected success last season with the Phoenix Suns’ run to the Western Conference Finals. But that success must have been a distant memory as the Suns quickly showed they weren’t the same team without Amare Stoudemire. So far Richardson has done one thing that Vince Carter did and three things that Vince Carter didn’t. The one thing is remain an effective three-point threat from the shooting guard position. The three things are being a defensive threat from the shooting guard position, driving to the basket with authority, and managing to remain on his feet for the majority of the game. Hedo Turkoglu almost deserves his own article but for now I’ll say that he is probably the player happiest with the trade. He never really wanted to leave Orlando and is now back in a system that suits him and surrounded by teammates and fans who love him. 

You know who else is happy? Our three young guns JJ Redick, Ryan Anderson, and Brandon Bass. With Mickael Pietrus gone, JJ has the back-up shooting guard role completely to himself. Likewise, Ryan Anderson has the back-up power forward spot completely to himself and has even seen minutes subbing for Dwight Howard. Even more than those guys, Bass has had the spotlight shone right in his face. He is not only the starting power forward now, but he has become the new “It” guy to explain why the Magic are now back in the title conversation. The whole “addition by subtraction” argument can be used when discussing these three and the Magic’s tight 8-man rotation lives and breathes with them.

Most Magic fans likely didn’t realize that the team was last in the league in fast break points before the trade until they were suddenly leading the league in fast break points after the trade! The fast break is a fantastic way to keep players and coaches happy! There is a greater likelihood of an easy, yet dynamic, basket such as a slam dunk or a spot-up three. There is also the added benefit of some of the players not having to pass the half court line, and thus being able to more quickly get into their defensive positions. This no doubt, makes defense-conscious coaches like Stan Van Gundy very happy!

All of this positive energy and good feelings around the team must continuously be earned. We learned the other night in the OT loss to New Orleans that we still need to make our shots (and our free throws!) in order to win consistently. Last night against Oklahoma City we learned that hitting our free throws and hitting our shots doesn’t guarantee victory if we let the other team make all of their shots. But with a clearly defined rotation in place, and by extension, clearly defined roles established, this current Magic roster seems poised to make the Magic fan base sit up and take notice, having no idea what is going to happen next!

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Friday, Dec. 17, 2010, 4 PM

Some Christmas Magic, Please!

OK, so things aren’t looking so great right now. The team is clearly in a slump and it has put the Magic fan base into full-on Scrooge mode (or Grinch, if you prefer). The stomach bug seems to have left permanent scars on this team. Our wing players seem to be aging before our eyes. Our vaunted bench depth is depleted by an injury here, and injury there. Our dynamic point guard is shooting 38% for the month. Even our star center is struggling from game-to-game and finding it hard to get shots late in games. The current struggles are magnified when viewed in comparison to the current progress of the in-state rival Miami Heat. Since our emphatic victory against them on November 24th, the Heat have gone 11-1. Meanwhile, the Magic have gone 6-5. When you also consider the recent winning streaks of the Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs, Chicago Bulls, and New York Knicks, it is understandable that Magic fans are starting to bang their heads against the Festivus pole, wondering why their team is heading downward when all the other contenders are hitting their strides.

I admit that I have been surprised by our struggles the last two weeks. I’ve had to turn to the egg nog a bit too much while watching these recent games. As I noted in my previous blog, I felt confident that the Magic could make significant strides this month in once again proving itself a title contender in the East. The loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on December 4th didn’t bother me too much considering we were playing on the road without Dwight Howard, and the Bucks had a strong inside presence with Andrew Bogut. But the loss to the Atlanta Hawks in Orlando on December 6th really hurt. Sure, we were playing without Jameer Nelson, who surely would have made a difference. But we have absolutely owned the Hawks the last few seasons and have seemingly beat them in our sleep. The futility continued in road losses to the Portland Trailblazers and Utah Jazz. A win over the last-place Los Angeles Clippers was still a much closer game than it should have been. Finally, the Magic lost a very winnable game at Denver this past Tuesday when they allowed the Nuggets to close the game out with a 19-3 run in the final five minutes. It was after this game that emotions seem to come out of our star player, as Howard seemed to question the defensive abilities of his teammates. It should be noted that Howard’s frustration was primarily in response to the Nuggets’ Carmelo Anthony scoring at will during the game. But let me state the obvious: Anthony is one of the handful of players in this league who can score at will against any player in any game.

By my count, I’ve already used three standard excuses for slumps in the NBA: rampant team-wide stomach bug (a yearly favorite), a potpourri of injuries to various players, and losses on the road. We could argue the merits of these excuses and yet we’d still come to the same conclusion, which is that the Magic must work through their current issues and find the same type of groove that their fellow title contenders are currently enjoying.

Considering the stretch of games coming up, the Magic may not find that groove right away. Playing the Mavericks, Spurs, and Celtics in a row is not the cure for what ails ya! Still, it also represents a significant opportunity to prove that the recent slump was just that, a slump. I for one am not ready to lend credence to the rumblings that underlie the Magic’s losing streak. It would appear to some that Dwight Howard and Brandon Bass are the only players worth keeping on this team. While I’d be the first to say that it is the players making the most money on this team that need to step up the most; I also have watched this current Magic team play enough to know that when the skill sets of this roster are moving in harmony, few teams stand a chance of beating us. I’m not ready to give up on this squad in its current form. I’m not saying that there isn’t a trade out there that might make us better, but it isn’t like we haven’t seen small slumps like this before. Meanwhile, I do not anticipate those other teams continuing to be able to win at their current pace all season long.

So, before you say “bah humbug,” try to put the losses in perspective Magic fans! The season is still young and we tend to hit our winning stride later in the season. It would be easy to plummet into a fatalistic mindset now, thinking this team is doomed. But we’ve seen some crazy things happen in the NBA. This team knows it is underperforming and the recent strife in the locker room can be the catalyst for a turnaround, even if it doesn’t happen right away. Still, I’ve decided that all I want for Christmas is victories over Dallas, San Antonio, and especially, Boston! Hey Santa, you think you can make that happen?

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2010, 1 PM

December Road

It should come as no surprise to Magic fans that the Orlando Magic are sitting with a record of 13-4 after 17 games (basically 1/5 of the season). The surprise might be how they’ve accumulated those wins. The early run of blowouts was soon replaced instead with gritty, grind-it-out wins. Three of these wins have come via last second shots against inferior opponents on Saturday nights. Of course, they’ve also come on the road. So, it would be fair to say that we still don’t quite know what kind of team this year’s version of the Magic will be. We do know that from an effort and excitement standpoint, it’s as good a Magic team as we’ve ever seen. Anyone watching the final minutes of last night’s win against Detroit knows what I’m talking about. We also know that with the exception of an inexplicable home loss to the Toronto Raptors, the Magic refuse to lose to lesser teams, even when down on the road. It is this characteristic of the squad that can carry us through a road-heavy December schedule.

The Magic have a great opportunity this month to further widen the gap between themselves and everyone else in the East, and maybe even gain a few games on the Boston Celtics (who are also 13-4). I personally would like to see the Magic gain as much ground as possible on the Miami Heat. I know there is a growing contingent of fans (and even media types) who feel that the Heat as configured will not work. But I still believe that all the talent on that roster will eventually gel and at some point in the spring, the Heat will go on an extended run. But if the Magic use this month to pull away, the Heat will not be able to catch us record-wise and we will be able to secure home court advantage against them should we meet them in the playoffs.

The NBA granted the Magic with a home-heavy schedule in November, most likely to help them break in the new arena. But the payback for that is 10 road games in December. Those road games include three sets of back-to-backs. Four of the six home games in the month come against teams with winning records, including a brutal three game home stand from December 21st through December 25th against the Dallas Mavericks, the San Antonio Spurs, and the Boston Celtics. Merry Christmas!

The schedule also gives us an opportunity to take on several quality opponents such as the Chicago Bulls, Portland Trailblazers, Utah Jazz, and Denver Nuggets. Seeing how we match up against these types of teams, as well as the three title contenders later in the month, is crucial in determining if we stay the course with the current squad or swing a big trade before the deadline. We also get to actually play the New York Knicks, assuming our brand spanking-new arena doesn’t suddenly sprout asbestos on Dec. 30th!

But despite the road games and the tough home opponents, the Magic really have an opportunity to put away some wins. In the past when I’ve done similar blog posts, I’ve predicted the outcome of each game. I won’t do that this time, but I will say that a 12-4 record for the month of December would be outstanding and I truly believe it is feasible. Going into the new year with a 25-8 record would be phenomenal and would certainly have us at the top of the East (with Boston likely lurking nearby).

If you’re a Magic fan like me, then at least part of your enjoyment of the holidays is predicated on how your favorite NBA team is doing. A 12-4 record in December will certainly have me in a holly, jolly mood well into January.

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2010, 10 AM

We Need You Vince, Beat the Heat!

One of the better regular-season NBA games that I’ve watched in quite some time ended in a loss for the Orlando Magic. As difficult as it is to see the Magic lose, it is much less difficult when the Magic play great and are beat by a team playing just a bit greater. Such was the case when the Magic played the San Antonio Spurs on Monday night, in San Antonio. I remember thinking early in the 2nd quarter that this is what a game between two elite teams is supposed to look like. The defense was fantastic, which is what made the high-percentage shooting from both teams even more impressive. The lead changed back and forth throughout the game. The Magic basically countered all of the Spurs moves until the end. Sure, there were some bad turnovers and Vince Carter once again chose the wrong time to get hurt, but I really can't complain much about this one. It was just a great, entertaining game. That is one of those games where you tip your hat and move on. It took an unreal shooting effort for a good team to beat us on their own floor. Most Magic fans can live with those. Also, it was nice to bear witness to Dwight Howard clearly being the best player on the court, as he should be.

But it was still a loss. It was a wasted opportunity to get a “quality” win over a playoff team. So far, our only quality win is against the Atlanta Hawks. Let’s face it, we could be winless for the season and still manage to beat the Atlanta Hawks. So, I figure the quickest, easiest, and best way for us to make up for the loss to the red-hot Spurs is to beat the not-so-hot Miami Heat tonight. It doesn’t matter that the Heat have injury issues. It doesn’t matter that they are having trouble gelling all of that talent together early in the season. It doesn’t matter that the Riley Watch was kicked up a notch by none other than Phil Jackson. See, if we beat the Heat, it will not only boost our status, our confidence, and our prospects for the season, but it will also further knock the Heat back on their heels, their heads ringing from lofty expectations falling on their inflated heads. If we beat them tonight, we won’t have to worry about them again until February. The Heat only have one “quality” win of their own. Unfortunately, it came against us. So, both teams still need to prove themselves to the other contenders. Beating the Heat tonight means that we have to worry less about that.

There is one player on the Magic roster that can benefit tremendously from playing and performing well in a Magic victory over the Heat tonight. Vince Carter is well-liked among Magic fans, yet most of them, including myself, can’t quite figure out why he seems to pull up lame at the strangest times. His injuries are legitimate, yet it seems that they happen at the most inopportune times and they seem to affect him more than a similar injury would affect another Magic player. If Dwight gets poked in the eye, he plays. If JJ sprains a finger, he gets taped up and comes back in. Jameer practices with migraines; and Q regularly walks off ankle sprains. But a similar injury leaves Vince on the floor for several minutes.

Vince has long had to deal with detractors questioning his mental fortitude. They say that when things aren't going his way, or if it’s a big game, he shakes his head and mentally checks out of a game. But I’m not sure that is true with the Vince Carter we have. In the game against the Spurs, Vince was injured while doing exactly what we need him to do against the exact type of teams we need him to do it against. He had attacked the rim against one of the best defenses in the league. His shot wasn’t falling, so he got aggressive. This is the Vince Carter we need. Even when he had to leave the game in early foul trouble, it came on a very aggressive drive to the basket against Tim Duncan. That offensive foul call, his third, was one of those iffy calls that could have gone either way. He drove toward Duncan, and Duncan shifted over to take the charge, and then unnecessarily flopped. After the whistle, Vince walked down the court and said something to Duncan about the flop. He was good natured about it, but he said something to him nonetheless. I think a player that wants to mentally check out of a game, or play the shrinking violet role in big moments, wouldn't have said a word and instead would have gladly gone to the bench. His injury after that great drive midway through the 4th quarter was very unfortunate. Had he stayed in the game after that tremendous drive to the basket, the Magic would have had a much greater chance to win that game.

Tonight’s game represents a great opportunity for the Orlando Magic to set themselves apart from the Miami Heat. It is an even greater opportunity for Vince Carter to step up and show Miami and the rest of the NBA that Orlando is home to a collection of electrifying players who are capable of playing together.

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2010, 4 PM

A Grizzly Win

The first quarter of the Magic’s victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday night was a novel experience for me. Never before had I watched two teams combine for 20 turnovers and 14 steals in one quarter. Although the Magic scored 20 points in the quarter and led by 8, they did it on 35% shooting and without recording a single assist. This last fact was primarily because they shot 12 free throws in the quarter and made 10 of them. Of course, the Grizzlies managed to shoot a whopping 25% in the opening quarter; making anything the Magic did look awesome in comparison.

After the first quarter, the game settled into a sense of normalcy. Both teams finished with fewer than 20 turnovers for the game, so the last three quarters saw better ball handling and better passing. Both teams even managed to improve their shooting over the course of the game, however, the Grizzlies only “improved” to 36%. It was the Magic’s ability to stymie the Grizzlies previously high-scoring offense that was the story of the game. The Magic chose to worry less about their offensive woes and focus on the things they can control during any and every game: their effort and focus on the defensive end. It should also be stated that the Magic shot just under 80% from the free throw line. So, even when their shots weren’t falling, they were taking advantage of those “free” throws, including Dwight Howard, who made 8 of 11.

Although I doubt it would have affected the outcome of the game, I was surprised by one odd thing about the Grizzlies’ first quarter. They played Tony Allen, a back-up, for six minutes in the first quarter, primarily because OJ Mayo had received two personal fouls. When he entered the game, the Grizzlies had scored 6 points. Allen went on to score the remaining 6 points the Grizzlies had in the quarter, on 3 of 4 shooting. He also managed to steal the ball four times in those 6 minutes of play. Basically, he was the lone bright spot for the Grizzlies in the quarter, but he only saw three more minutes of action for the remainder of the game. His minutes in this game reflected his average for the season, and he certainly is not the player that OJ Mayo is. Still, you have to wonder if Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins thought about playing the hot hand on a night that he certainly could have used it.

It was nice to see Mickael Pietrus focusing on defense again. He recorded two steals and one near-steal that was even more spectacular. I remember when we signed “Peaches” from Golden State; we thought we were getting a defensive-stopper who relentlessly attacked the rim on offense. But for various reasons – injuring his wrist on a dunk early in his first Magic season, being part of a team that plays “inside-out” ball with Dwight Howard – Pietrus has been relegated to a spot-up three point shooter on offense. The best example of this was his 8 three-pointer game vs. Toronto last Friday. After that game, I figured that Pietrus had decided to enter the Robert Horry stage of his career. So, it was nice to see him focusing so much on defense against the Grizzlies, even though he still took (and missed!) so many three-pointers. Perhaps Coach Stan Van Gundy should make a deal with him…for every steal he makes; he can shoot a 3-pointer. Considering how much Pietrus seems to enjoy shooting threes, I’d say that is quite an incentive.

I know that Rashard Lewis is wondering where his shot went (aren’t we all?) but he too is managing to keep his head in the game by focusing on his effort and his defense. Even though he shot poorly against the Grizzlies, he still was effective playing defense against the Grizzlies frontcourt and recorded 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal and 1 block. At this point in the season, I’m not really worried about Rashard Lewis. He will break loose some game soon for the type of shooting performance we expect from him. Perhaps being matched up tomorrow night against his former teammate and buddy, Hedo Turkoglu will inspire him.

In a general sense, I do wonder what happened to the team that seemed so fluid and dominant heading into the playoffs last season and in this most recent preseason. But even though I’d rather see us win games handedly, especially at home, I am content to watch this Magic team work through its early-season struggles. It might mean I’m a bit closer to the edge of my seat during the games, but it also makes for a more intriguing season. We’ve become spoiled as Magic fans. Back-to-back 59 win seasons and Eastern Conference Finals appearances will do that to a fan base. We grow impatient during the regular season, wishing the playoffs were here, knowing that is when we will see what we’re made of. While all of this is true, perhaps now we can see that each of these 82 regular season games is its own production. We can’t assume that we will win all games not played against Miami, Boston, or LA. We can’t assume that games against teams like Toronto, Memphis, or New Jersey are going to be the blow-outs they seem to be on paper. I still think the Magic should win games against inferior opponents, but now it seems the question will be how we win, and at what point we put the game away. Eventually, the Magic will get their groove back, and we won’t have to worry about this anymore. But for now, I’m happy to have the extra excitement that uncertainty can bring.

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2010, 4 PM

Can We Trade Wins?

I almost feel sorry for the Atlanta Hawks. Despite progressing as a team the last few years, developing roster consistency along the way, the Atlanta Hawks just have no answer for the Orlando Magic in general, and Dwight Howard specifically. The reason I can empathize with the Hawks is because I still have not-so-fond memories of the Orlando Magic struggling against the Detroit Pistons from about 2003 through the 2008 season. No matter how much progress we made or how improved our roster became, we didn’t have an answer for the steady, veteran play of that great mid-2000s Pistons nucleus that knocked us out of three Magic playoff appearances in a row (2003, 2007, and 2008). Unfortunately, that Pistons nucleus was broken up before we could ever top them.

Believe it or not, what the Magic did to the Hawks in last season’s Eastern Conference semifinals is worse than anything the Pistons ever did to the Magic in a series. The Magic swept the Hawks and had a four game point differential of 101 (a record). The Hawks made a coaching change, but otherwise kept their roster intact. The Hawks seem to have a roster capable of beating most teams in the league nightly. But like most of the league, they have no answer for Dwight Howard, who seems to relish playing against his hometown team.

In this latest Magic victory in the series, we spotted the Hawks one starting point guard (the injured Jameer Nelson), a wobbly shooting guard (the slip-happy Vince Carter), and a musical chairs starting forward (Ryan Anderson, filling in for Quentin Richardson, who was filling in for Ryan Anderson). Based on the start of the game, it certainly seemed that the Hawks were going to take advantage. The Hawks started out hot, while the Magic couldn’t hit shots, outside of Dwight Howard. Meanwhile, Nelson’s replacement, Chris Duhon, played more like a tentative rookie than the solid veteran he is supposed to be. Ironically, it was when Dwight Howard went to the bench in early foul trouble that the Magic’s scrappy bench players, Marcin Gortat, JJ Redick, Jason Williams, and Brandon Bass, erased the Hawks’ thirteen point 1st quarter lead and got back ahead early in the 2nd quarter.

The Magic ended up winning by 4 points, and we needed some vintage Vince Carter heroics in the final minutes to get the victory. Had Nelson played, he likely would have abused the Hawks point guards on the offensive end, making the game more like the blowouts we’re used to. As it stands, l think it is impressive that this Magic team finds ways to win even when key personnel are out, or if shots aren’t falling early. It’s really too bad that we can’t play the Hawks more often.

Unfortunately, wins over the Hawks (or the Wizards, Timberwolves, Nets, or Bobcats) really don’t matter much. A win tomorrow night over a quality Western Conference team like the Utah Jazz won’t matter much either. Oh sure, the victories are needed in order to advance the season toward playoff seeding. But the Magic have progressed to the point that the playoffs, and even a 2nd round appearance, are a given. Right or wrong, it really has come down to this perception: the only victories that matter are those against the Boston Celtics (three games this season), the Miami Heat (four games), and the Los Angeles Lakers (two games). I do not mean this as disrespect toward other playoff teams like the Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs, Portland Trailblazers, or OK City Thunder. The reality is that the Orlando Magic could finish the season 73-9, but if the nine losses are to the Heat, the Celtics, and the Lakers, no one outside of Orlando will give us a chance against any of them in the playoffs. It is quite obvious that the Magic are a championship caliber team and that Dwight Howard is steadily raising his offensive game up to the same level as his defensive game. But in today’s NBA, with Twitter feeds, Heat indexes, and marquee teams all but sponsored by sports networks and media outlets, it takes a bit more than a glossy win/loss record to get noticed.

Too bad we can’t trade some wins for others. I’d gladly give up four wins against the Hawks for three wins against the Heat. I wonder if the Magic players would feel the same way.

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Friday, Oct. 29, 2010, 4 PM

A Night of Magic

Opening night at the Amway Center not only met expectations, but courted and married them as well! Being in that beautiful building, full of so much energy, felt almost surreal. I kept thinking back to that wonderful July day in 2007 when the venues vote passed. Even though that vote was a victory for Magic fans, the idea of a completed building was so far in the future as to almost be unbelievable. But now it is hard to believe it has been over three years and the day is here.

It appears that the community leaders achieved all of their goals for what the building would mean for the community. Church Street was packed two hours before the game. Fans gathered in downtown to socialize, eat, and drink. People walked all around the outside of the building, taking in the sights and sounds. Knowing tonight was such a big night, the team allowed fans into the new building earlier than is customary, giving fans more time to explore and of course, spend money at the various concessions and retailers. Each fan had the opportunity to get a free poster commemorating opening night, featuring a beautiful lithograph of the Magic and Wizards players performing a tip-off.

This was my second time in the building, and I was able to do a bit more exploring. What I can’t get over is just how big the whole complex is. At least three times I got lost and thankfully was able to ask an Amway Center staffer for directions. With five levels, I imagine it will take several games before Magic fans get a feel for the building. My buddy Matt, who attended the game, commented that he didn’t realize just how old and outdated the Orena was until he walked into the new building and saw all the open spaces, the décor, the escalators, the physical building itself, and the entertainment areas.

Before the game, at halftime, and after the game, I made a point to visit the open social areas like the main lobby, the Budweiser Baseline bar, Stuff’s Magic Castle, and the O3 bar to mingle amongst the other fans and gauge the overall mood. It was clear that everyone felt that being in the building on this night was a privilege; marking a special occasion. Looking down from one of the many open viewing areas caused most fans to exclaim at the sheer size of the place. And the amount of graphic banners, televisions, and LED lights left many fans wondering if they could take it all in at once. I was pleased to run into so many people that I knew. I saw long-time Magic staffers; I saw old friends; I saw my closest Magic buddies; I even saw my pastor! Everyone I saw knew that this was a historic moment in time for this franchise and this city.

The actual game itself was eventful only because it was a win for the Magic. It really was never competitive and the lopsided score probably led to most fans choosing to explore the building after halftime. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that my personal highlight of the evening was the video introduction that played just prior to player introductions. We were treated to a wonderful montage of Magic highlights over the last 20 seasons, using downtown Orlando buildings as a backdrop. But the volume was really “turned up to 11” when the video screens suddenly went “full screen” and we were treated to the site of a 30 foot Dwight Howard slapping home and vicious dunk. I’m pretty sure everyone got chills from that moment.

It was also very heartwarming to hear from Alex Martins, Rich DeVos, and Dwight Howard. All three addressed the fans and all three clearly expressed the importance of the new building and the role that the community of fans played in this day being made a reality. When Howard said that this building “wouldn’t be here without you (the fans),” I immediately thought, “right back at ya, buddy!” Let’s face it, without an all-universe player like Dwight Howard on the roster back in 2007, who knows if the venues vote would have had as much support!

Since last night, I’ve heard many other friends and fans say that they are concerned that with so many entertainment opportunities at the Amway Center, it might be a distraction from the games themselves. I’ll allow that the newness of the building may lead to fans being out of their seats for long stretches of time, but I think this will pass as fans become comfortable with the building and have had time to explore it.

As the season progresses and the community and the entire NBA is reminded that the top title contender in the East is here in Orlando, the focus will shift back to the action on the court and not on the impressive structure surrounding it. But for one night, it was cathartic to embrace the energy, the excitement, and the feeling of collaborative accomplishment. I was proud to be a part of it.

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2010, 4 PM

First Impressions

On Thursday, October 14th, I took my two sons, my wife, and my parents to the preseason game between the Orlando Magic and the Charlotte Bobcats at the new Amway Center. This was the game that my son’s Cub Scout pack elected to attend, so we were joined by another Cub Scout (a good friend of my son’s) and his father (a good friend of mine). The boys wore their Cub Scout uniforms to the game. We arrived downtown at about 5:15pm for a 7pm game. We elected to park near First Presbyterian Church, in a metered spot (total of one dollar in quarters) and walk up Church Street. As our group of eight walked through downtown, we noticed quite a few other Magic fans walking with us from various locations, so it would appear that some fans are choosing a longer walk over more expensive parking. As we walked underneath I-4 at the Church Street intersection, I couldn’t help but notice quite a few empty spots at the $10 parking lot underneath I-4.

As we came out from under the overpass, we were greeted with a fantastic view of the Amway Center. All three boys in our party – two 8-year-olds and one 6-year-old – were in awe of the size and sparkle of the side of the building facing East. Though it was still an hour and a half before the game started, there was quite a bit going on. Police zipping by on three-wheeled motorized carts; graphic light displays announcing the future events at the center; and quite a number of Magic fans in line to enter the building.

When we realized we had a half-hour before we could go in the building, we wandered over to where there were several stations set up for fan entertainment, all for free, as part of “Fan Fest.” There was a woman applying paint to either the face or arm; a man making balloon animals; a woman drawing caricatures, and a place to make posters to take into the game. In addition, there was a bounce house, a place to shoot baskets, and a table with giveaways such as Magic season calendars and magnets. A DJ presided over the festivities, playing music and also interacting with fans. On this particular day, none of these stations were terribly crowded, so the boys got to do them all. My 8-year-old had the balloon guy make him quite the elaborate Stuff balloon and all three boys and Mrs. LOD received a Magic-themed painting on either their face or arms. To top it off, Dante Marchitelli was wandering around interacting with fans and my mom got the treat of seeing “that sharp TV guy” greet her son by name.

When we entered the Amway Center, we were momentarily stopped in our tracks, transfixed by the sheer size of the open spaces around us. Thankfully, a Magic dancer was nearby to help us by posing for a photo with the boys. We were not immediately sure where to go to find our seats, but there were multiple Magic staffers in the area to help us. Our seats were in section 220, which meant we were on the upper or “promenade” level. The gentleman that helped us also informed us that we would be passing Stuff’s Magic Castle Kids Zone area on our way to our section.

We had to take two very tall escalators to get to the promenade level. This is when I tell you that these two escalator trips caused my acrophobia to kick in something fierce. It wasn’t quite as bad as the time an old lady tried to get between me and the railing on the roof of the World Trade Center, but it was pretty close. You should never have to witness a grown man hunched down on his knees while riding an escalator. With acrophobia, it is just as much about perspective as it is about height. The problem wasn’t so much the height of the escalators themselves; it was all of that open space around me. I could look up and see objects hanging out in space above me, and look down through the glass sides of the escalators and see similar objects (and people) far below me. Considering that I was the only person in my vicinity having any issues (which the members of my party made sure to point out to me!), I assume that this is a design flaw in LOD, not in the events center itself.

When we got to the top, another usher was waiting to direct fans to their sections. As we made our way around the promenade level concourse, I was on the lookout for the concession stand that was home to the Orena Chicken Tender Basket (OCTB) served with Fries on the Side (FOTS). Sure enough, just before we reached the Kids Zone, I found it. Since we were going to check out Stuff’s Magic Castle first, we passed it by. This early before tipoff, the Castle wasn’t too crowded. All three boys immediately disappeared into the various tunnels, stairways, and bridges making up the castle. We adults made our way into the open area at the center of the castle. One thing that stuck out for me was the plethora of basketball nets and soft-sided basketballs in the area. I made like a kid and started shooting baskets myself. Then I noticed the wall on which official NBA basketballs were affixed at various heights. The purpose was to allow kids (and adults?) to attempt to jump and touch the basketballs and see how high they could jump. Despite wearing jeans and hiking-style boots, I easily jumped and touched the 9-foot-tall basketball. I then attempted to touch the 10-foot-tall basketball and failed miserably, much to Mrs. LOD’s delight. “It’s the boots and the jeans” I exclaimed to anyone around me that would listen. All I got was a weird look from a 5-year-old.

We knew it was time to leave the castle when my 6-year-old went to attempt a dunk off of one of the castle bridges. I then attempted to head back the way we came to the concession stand selling OCTB w/ FOTS was but Mrs. LOD convinced me that we’d see another concession stand on our way around to our section. So, we continued on around until we came to a concession stand selling hot dogs, my 6-year-old’s meal of choice. I decided to treat him to a soda as well and was about to order him a Mountain Dew when Mrs. LOD reminded me of what transpired the last time my younger son drank Mountain Dew. “And by the way” she said, “did you see him on the bridge just now? He doesn’t need any extra boost to his system!” The kid got a Sierra Mist.

My parents had gotten Papa John’s pizza, so we sent them and my 6-year-old up to our seats while we continued on around the promenade concourse until we found another concession stand selling the OCTB. But wait, this concession stand was selling the OCTB w/ Tots on the Side (TOTS)!! This would not do! So, with some mild irritation at having passed up the concession stand that I knew was selling fries, we continued our walk around the concourse until we came back to it. I went to place my order for three OCTBs (for myself, Mrs. LOD, and my 8-year-old) and was promptly told by the woman taking my order that they were out of chicken tenders!! Ack! So, our walk continued (believe me, I am now quite familiar with the promenade concourse now!) until we got back to the concession stand selling the OCTB w/ TOTS. We purchased three of them and I must say that the number and size of the tenders past muster as did the amount of TOTS. I won’t be a convert until I’ve had a chance to try the OCTB w/ FOTS in the new building, but I can confidently tell all of the OCTB fans out there that OCTB w/ TOTS is a worthy stand-in.

When we got to our seats in Section 220, we realized that our row – row 16 – was the highest row in the building. Having sat in the highest row many times in the Orena, I was fully prepared for this and actually liked it. The perspective from that high must be completely different than what you’d experience in the lower levels or even from the floor. The court certainly looked far away, but in no way was it difficult to view the action. The large jumbo-trons made a huge difference. I imagine that some fans may choose to watch these larger-than-life TVs for most of the games. It was also enjoyable to look around from that height and see the O-zone across the way, or the Budweiser Baseline Bar just below it. I was unable to explore the lower levels or the Sky Bar on this trip to the Amway Center, but I will make sure to explore the whole place on subsequent visits. The fact that it takes multiple trips to see it all should tell you something about the difference in size and number of amenities between the Orena and the Amway Center.

My parents thoroughly enjoyed being treated to a night out at a Magic game in the new building. The three boys had a great time as well and were into the game from the very beginning. Although they were at first disappointed when Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis, and Vince Carter didn’t start, they quickly got over it when the Magic pulled out to a large early lead over the Bobcats. The boys thought it was really cool to be sitting so high, so I think their overall game experience was enhanced by it. However, my 8-year-old was disappointed when the t-shirt throwers were unable to reach quite so high as where we were sitting.

Exiting the Amway Center after the game was a breeze. Police were on hand to make the crossing of Hughey Avenue easy and safe. It was at this point that I began to wish I’d paid the 10 bucks to park under I-4. I’m sure it would have meant a more difficult time getting out of the parking lot and onto I-4, but that long walk down Church Street was made longer by the fact that my 6-year-old had hit his wall and needed to be carried the whole way. So, for those taking young kids to the game, it is definitely worth it to pay more to park closer.

The new Amway Center left a lasting impression on me and my family on this night. It was worth the wait to be able to enjoy an evening in that building. It certainly doesn’t hurt that we have a dominant team occupying the building at present. But if one of the missions of the new building is to be a destination in and of itself, then I will echo the Magic brass when I say “mission accomplished!”

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2010, 2 PM

Magic - 'Must See TV'

Though it was only a preseason game, I looked forward to last Sunday’s Magic game broadcast vs. the New Orleans Hornets almost as if it was a playoff game. I was excited about watching the game on TV in high definition. I was excited about the possibility of seeing footage of people entering the new arena, visiting concession stands, walking the concourses, and sitting in their seats. Everything that I’d be seeing, I’d be seeing for the first time. I was able to tour the new arena with a large media contingent, but that was several months ago, prior to the completion of the building. So, to see it full of Magic fans, to see the lights, to see the energy in the building, was truly exciting, memorable, and a long time coming. I can’t believe that it has been over three years since that wonderful July day when we found out that we were getting a new building.

After the game began and I got caught up in the action, I noticed that I would forget it was a Magic home game because the new arena looked so much different on TV than what I’d been used to for the last 20 years. What was familiar was Paul Porter’s voice over the PA, and the assortment of sounds and music clips that the Magic have used over the past few seasons. It was nice to know that the new building doesn’t necessarily mean a transition to a loud, rock or rap concert type of environment. Of course, this is strictly my opinion; I might just be old and crotchety. I figure there will be plenty of rock and rap concerts in the new arena in the coming years, so it shouldn’t be a big deal if an NBA game feels more like an NBA game.

The new arena definitely passed the sight test on TV. I am sure that the national NBA audience will definitely be impressed when we introduce the new building to the League on opening night. The next test is for me to check it out myself, in person. I have tickets to the game against the Charlotte Bobcats on Thursday, Oct. 14th and I cannot wait! I have already heard from friends who attended the game on Sunday that the arena is beautiful and huge! I also heard that the Orena Chicken Tender Basket made the move too! Apparently, the Fries on the Side (FOTS) have been replaced by Tots on the Side (TOTS), and although I do find humor in the self-referencing acronym, I cannot bring myself to say goodbye just yet to the FOTS. So, we will have to see if this is a permanent change or just a test-run.

Although the new arena will certainly get its share of attention as the season begins, it is also quite exciting to see the performance of the team responsible for the new arena’s existence. As last season began, Magic fans were impressed with the focus of the players, the veteran leadership on display, and the depth of the talent on the roster. All those things that impressed us 12 months ago are on display again, yet to an even greater degree. This Magic squad has shrugged off any notion that vast changes across the NBA landscape have any affect on what they are trying to do. And I think they might just be right about that.

Based on the first three preseason games, Dwight Howard seems determined to make the leap from dynamic defensive stopper and dunker to a bona fide offensive center with a collection of post moves. It would appear that Howard’s time spent with Hakeem Olajuwon was valuable (with all due respect to Patrick Ewing). To Howard’s great benefit, there are few centers in this league capable of making his job in the post that difficult, so I big jump in his offensive output this season is almost a gimme.

Vince Carter appears to have embraced what Stan wants from him, namely, to be in attack-mode at all times. Jameer Nelson may set a personal high in assists this season. Rashard Lewis looks like his defense may rival his offense. Most teams in the NBA would be ecstatic to have the core of stars like we have in the previously mentioned four. But what really makes our team special are the next 7 names on the roster: Quentin Richardson, Mickael Pietrus, Marcin Gortat, Chris Duhon, Brandon Bass, Ryan Anderson, and JJ Redick. Feel free to choose your own order – there is no wrong answer! The fact that not all of these seven players will play every night is all you need to know about the depth of this team. It amazes me that Otis Smith has managed to collect this much starting-quality talent on one roster in the current climate of the NBA. Credit has to be given to Magic ownership and their willingness to pay the penalty (in the form of the luxury tax) for having such a roster and keeping it together for a period of time. This is where having a new arena – and the revenue streams it will bring in – will allow the Magic to keep this team competitive.

It is hard to imagine that this coming season could be any more exciting than the two year period we’ve enjoyed as Magic fans. But with the new arena, a continuously improving roster, and new challenges in the League, I’d say it is only getting better. That’s “must-see-TV” for you!

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2010, 11 AM

Things That Amazed Me This Offseason

    • The fact that the Magic’s plan to offer Dwight Howard an extension next offseason is considered “headline news.” It made the front page of the Orlando Sentinel’s website and was even the 5th “headline” link on I’m sorry, but offering the game’s best big man and defensive player a maximum contract extension is such a “no brainer” that it barely warrants mentioning. The news that would be worthy of a headline would be if the Magic did not plan on offering him a contract extension, amirite!?
    • The fact that Lebron James spent the first half of the offseason drawing as much attention to himself as possible, then spent the second half of the offseason acting indignant when some of that attention he sought out turned out to be of the negative variety.
    • The fact that Pat Riley truly believes he can have his cake and throw it in other people’s faces too. The comments he has made in response to Otis Smith and Stan Van Gundy’s comments about the Heat’s offseason moves were quite telling. He revealed himself to be just like any young NBA superstar. He wants every move he makes to be lauded and applauded, even by those with whom he is in direct competition. Sorry Pat, that just isn’t realistic, even in the fantasy world of the Miami Heat’s NBA. You can shut people up by winning a title, but until then, you have to take the licks.
    • The fact that the talking heads, especially the national ones, feel that the lesser NBA teams should be thanking the Miami Heat for providing a sellout when they come to town this season. As pointed out by one of our own message board members “Echo4papa,” those lesser NBA teams will sell fewer tickets, not more this coming season. Last season, opposing arenas could already count on a sellout when the Cleveland Cavaliers came to town. The Miami Heat, with only Dwyane Wade, were a decent draw. But now that all of that star power is consolidated on one team, there are fewer teams to count on as good road draws. Do you think anyone is going to get up for a Cavaliers or Raptors visit this season?
    • That fact that the roster of NBA players representing USA basketball in the World Championship last month seemed even more selfless and dedicated than the “Redeem Team” from the 2008 Olympics. People questioned whether a team lacking the “all galaxy” luster of LeBron, Kobe, Wade, and Howard would be able to compete against the best international teams. But it just proves that when our superior talent is matched with superior coaching and then combined with a willingness to focus solely on the team goal of winning, USA basketball is still the best there is.
    • The fact that the whole town is buzzing about the new arena! I mean, I knew that a new building would increase revenue, increase attention, and increase the enjoyment of attending a Magic game. What I didn’t expect was the amount of casual fans – or even non-fans – expressing a desire to take in a Magic game, just to get inside that building! An Orlando Magic basketball game was already a hot ticket, but I think this season will see a level of community interest greater than anything the team has experienced before.
    • The fact that Dwight Howard continues to show he is a consummate professional, despite his playful, youthful personality. He continues to work on his game, work on his conditioning, and work on his leadership. He has not allowed any off-the-court issues with his family to impinge upon his image, his team, or his game. He will not be satisfied until he brings a title to this franchise. He is aware that he has the opportunity to increase his stature among his peers by winning a title here in Orlando with his current roster of teammates.
    • The fact that many of Otis Smith’s best moves are the ones that he chooses not to make. I felt torn when I realized that the Magic would not resign Matt Barnes. He had become a fan favorite with his attitude and his hustle. However, it appears now that Matt Barnes may have enough off-the-court issues that he could have become an unwanted distraction this season with the Magic. If that weren’t enough of a factor, Otis then goes and replaces Barnes with a player – Quentin Richardson – who is an even better fit and offers even more versatility. Although Danny Granger still haunts my dreams at times, I am still proud to display my “In Otis We Trust” sticker on my truck’s back window.
  • The fact that I am just as excited about this coming Magic season as I have been for any of the previous 21 seasons. We have a continually improving Dwight Howard, yet to even enter his prime. Jameer Nelson is healthy, focused, and ready to lead. Vince Carter has renewed focus and is ready to prove he can still be an elite scorer. Rashard Lewis will be available from the start of the season and will prove to be our “glue guy” this year. Much like last season, we will sport arguably the best depth and versatility of any roster in the league. Oh and by the way, we still have the most dedicated, most prepared coach in the entire NBA. To all the other 29 teams in the NBA…bring it!

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2010, 4 PM

The Other Florida Team

Despite the rhetoric coming out of Miami these days, there is a reason for this upcoming season for the other 29 NBA teams, especially teams residing in cities like Los Angeles, Dallas, Denver, Boston, and yes, even Orlando. As exciting as it might be for Heat fans and LeBron fans around the country to consider how successful a season that souped-up roster can have, I still can be equally excited for the upcoming Orlando Magic season. We return the core of a roster that had the 2nd best record in the league and bulldozed through the playoffs before falling flat to the Celtics. Yes, we lost that series, but I won’t apologize for being excited by what I saw in the two victories we had against Boston. Our two best players stood up and led the team. Dwight Howard had all the moving parts of his talents in sync and was dominating.

I have no reason to think that the Magic won’t have an even more successful regular season than we had last year. The further progression of Dwight Howard, the additions of Chris Duhon and Quentin Richardson, the excitement of the new arena, and the hunger for respect and recognition, are all factors in what should be the Magic’s first 60-win season since 1996. Considering that the Magic have reached 59 wins the past two seasons, this isn’t much of a stretch.

The Magic – along with the Lakers and Celtics – enjoy one thing that the Heat cannot match (this season at least): continuity. Even with Boston’s higher profile additions of the O’Neals (Jermaine and Shaq), they return their core of Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. Likewise, the Lakers only added complementary pieces to their core of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, and Ron Artest. The Magic’s core of Howard, Jameer Nelson, Rashard Lewis, and Vince Carter will enjoy its second full season together, and from the beginning this time (Lewis missed the first 10 games of last season due to suspension). With the additions of Duhon and Richardson, and the resigning of JJ Redick, the Magic have so much quality depth at each position, head coach Stan Van Gundy’s biggest struggle all year will be getting everyone enough playing time to keep them primed for the playoffs.

Players such as Vince Carter, JJ Redick, and Brandon Bass will have extra incentive to play well this season. Carter needs to prove he can show up when we need him or else he risks being traded before the deadline. This being a contract year for him, he also needs to prove he is worth at least the mid-level beyond this season, as he enters his mid-30s. JJ Redick needs to prove he is worth the money the Magic invested in him last month and that he is worthy of consideration for starters minutes. The fact that Carter’s and Redick’s goals are somewhat at odds with each other will only benefit the Magic with better play from both of them, regardless of who’s on the court. Finally, Bass needs to give the Magic justification for not trading him and justification for a switch to a more traditional power forward lineup. If Bass can average 25 minutes, 11 points, and 6 rebounds this season, the Magic will be all the more difficult to match up against.

One thing the Magic shouldn’t worry about this year is attempting to keep up with the Heat’s win total. Despite a short bench, the Heat’s starters should be more than sufficient for gaining the #1 seed in the East. But that’s alright, after all, we learned from Boston last season that regular season records don’t mean much if the lower seeded team is full of hungry, playoff-savvy veterans. Instead, the Magic should focus on keeping pace with the West’s top teams, much like they did last season with edging out the Lakers for the #2 overall seed. With a bit more top-to-bottom balance in the West, it will be hard for the West’s #1 seed to top the 60-win plateau. With Boston likely happy to keep their veterans rested at the expense of playoff seeding, and with Chicago and Atlanta not likely to challenge us yet, the Magic should have a clear shot at the #2 seed in the East, and therefore, overall.

There is also something to be said for not being the darlings of the league, nor being the team that everyone else is gunning for. As flashy as players like Dwight and Vince can be at times, we really are more of a “down to business” team, as reflected in the demeanor and work ethic of our head coach. So, maybe it will serve us well to just go through this season in as much anonymity as 22 nationally televised games and a brand spanking new arena will allow.

I also am very curious to see what the pooling of talent in Miami does to our young center’s ego. My guess is that Dwight Howard sees it as even more motivation to win a ring here in Orlando with his “meager” collection of teammates. Surely there must be a sentiment among his NBA peers that a ring won against “super teams” like Boston and Miami is worth even more than a ring won by those teams. And if there isn’t such a sentiment, there should be.

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Tuesday, June 29, 2010, 3 PM

Back But Still Bitter

My self-imposed exile from all things basketball came to an end last week, just in time for the 2010 NBA draft. I took the loss to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals pretty hard. What made it worse was watching how well we played – especially Dwight Howard – in games 4 and 5, and wishing that we had somehow found a way to play that well in at least one of the first three games. So, like any Magic fan who wears his heart way to prominently on his sleeve, I avoided watching the NBA Finals. I didn’t watch a single minute of it. In fact, when commercials for the Finals came on, I changed the channel. No matter who won, I was going to be upset. But ultimately, I suppose I’d rather see the Lakers get yet another title than see Boston get yet another one.

Favoring the pompous Lakers over the smug Celtics wasn’t always the case. Long before the Magic arrived in Orlando, I was a big Celtics fan. I loved Larry Bird and couldn’t stand Magic Johnson. But ever since Boston’s big trades of 2007, any residual affinity for the Celtics has long since been slam dunked from my mind. In fact, as of this year’s playoffs, I think I’ve even done a bit of revisionist tinkering in my brain and now I am not sure that I ever liked the Celtics. At the least, I see their storied 1980s run in a completely different light. It is just really hard to have any good feelings toward any Boston sports team or fan base right now.

It really begins with their players. Kevin Garnett and Rasheed Wallace have always been hard to stomach. Ray Allen always has that sneer (he apparently got it from his mother). Rajon Rondo is the slap-happiest point guard in the league. Paul Pierce flops more than any three European or South American players put together. Kendrick Perkins is the one starter I actually have a degree of respect for because on the whole, he plays his game and doesn’t worry about complaining. But this season he broke out of his shell a bit. You know what, I think I respect Paul Pierce as well. In fact, I have tremendous respect for his game, despite the flopping and the constant whining to the refs. He consistently did what an elite level scorer is supposed to do. He got in the lane at will, got his shot off at will, and drew fouls at will. I can’t stand the guy, but I sure as hell respect his game.

Doc Rivers deserves his own paragraph. Considering the prolific flopping players on his team are guilty of, I’ve seldom seen a head coach complain as much as he does about the flopping being done by his opponent. The hypocrisy is comical. Everyone I ever speak to at the Magic games says that Doc Rivers is a great guy. I agree! He is a great guy! He’s a family man who clearly places high importance on quality time with his kids. He’s an exceptional communicator. He was a good enough player, and well-known enough, to immediately have the respect of his players. He is great at working the refs; he is great at managing egos and personalities. But despite all of those obvious platitudes, and his success with the Celtics over the last three seasons, I still have trouble seeing him as a great coach. I’m open to being persuaded to feel differently about him, but it is hard for me to forget that Rivers was nearly out the door with the Celtics before GM Danny Ainge pulled off the trades for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett (Ainge was nearly out the door himself!). So, now it appears that Rivers may get out while the getting is good, though he certainly has a justifiable reason for doing so. How can you pass up watching all three of your children playing at an elite sports level, all in the same year? Especially when you can afford to do all the long-distance traveling it will require.

Losing to the Celtics was unbearable and apparently, multilayered. On the surface was the present-day elimination from the 2010 NBA playoffs at a time when it seemed the Magic could do no wrong. But underneath that was something much more devastating to Magic fans’ long-term mental health, especially if the Magic’s current core fails to win a title: the idea that Kevin Garnett’s 2009 knee injury prevented the Celtics from making three straight trips to the Finals. To phrase it as an even sharper dagger to the Magic heart, the Magic only went to the Finals because Garnett hurt his knee. It would appear that every NBA fan outside of Orlando and Cleveland now believes this to be the case. This goes double for the media and network pundits. We might as well forget about that wonderful run we had last year because it doesn’t hold any weight anymore. In fact, it’s a good thing the Lakers beat the Celtics after all, because the NBA was about to take back the 2009 title because they didn’t earn it against the true Eastern Conference Champion.

It is frustrating that we even have to mount the argument. As Magic fans, we know that we still had to earn that victory over the Celtics in the 2009 Eastern Conference semi-finals. It wasn’t easy. We had to win a Game 7 on the road. Just ask this year’s Celtics how hard it is to win a Game 7 on the road (oh wait, the Celtics only lost Game 7 of the Finals to the Lakers because Kendrick Perkins didn’t play). We still had to beat a 60+ win Cavaliers team in the Eastern Conference Finals without home court advantage. So, shouldn’t winning the East over the best team in the East have validated our right to be in the Finals, regardless of who we beat in the semis? I say it is so.

The fact is, injuries are too common in professional sports for them to be the sole basis for a “coulda shoulda woulda” type of revisionist argument. The Pistons got their first title in 1989 by clinching the winning game vs. a Lakers team that was without Magic Johnson or Byron Scott. But so what? Everyone automatically assumes that the Bulls would have won 8 straight titles had Michael Jordan not run off to try baseball. First off, there is no way to know that for sure. The 1995 Bulls were beaten in the playoffs, with Jordan (by the Magic, heh heh). End of story. Also, it isn’t like the NBA kicked Jordan out for two seasons, depriving the league’s fans of an historic run. No, it was Jordan’s decision. Jordan was the one to give up his best sport, at which he was the best in the league, at the height of his game, to go and play baseball in the minor leagues.

Anyone remember back in 1999 when Phil Jackson suggested that the San Antonio Spurs title should have an asterisk beside it since the lockout-shortened regular season only had 50 games? I found it preposterous then and even more so now. It wasn’t the Spurs’ fault that there were only 50 games in the regular season. The playoffs were still the same length. Perhaps what Phil meant to say was that the Spurs should have an asterisk by their title because Jordan had retired prior to that season after completing his second three-peat. I guess it’s a good thing that the Spurs went on to validate that first title by winning three others.

An NBA team can only play the players available at the time, and against the players available to their opponent at the time. It can’t control the politics of the league, who is retiring and who isn’t, and who lost to whom prior to facing them. An NBA team can only prepare itself as best as it can and simply play the path before them. No team, and especially no NBA champion, should have to apologize for winning a title or feel that its title is any less special because of who it came against or who wasn’t able to play or perform up to their capabilities.

The Orlando Magic won the 2009 Eastern Conference semi-finals fair and square. The 2009 Los Angeles Lakers won both their 2009 and 2010 titles fair and square. Anything that Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins, or a spoiled Boston Celtics fan says different is only going to sound like sour grapes. As a Magic fan of recent vintage, I know exactly what they sound, and taste like.

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Thursday, May 27, 2010, 10 PM

Don't Stop Believing!

Remember that awful feeling you had late Saturday night? Yeah, me too. But just barely! With each passing day, that feeling fades further and further away, replaced with something slightly resembling hope!

I had convinced myself prior to Game 4 that I would be satisfied with just one win because it would afford me the opportunity to attend one more game at the O-Rena. Well, I got that wish, and what a game it was! So, human nature is to get a bit greedy. Now I’m wanting yet another game in the O-Rena. The “wink wink” farewell being given by Magic fans, media members, and Magic workers when they were leaving the building after Game 5 was “see you Sunday!” It was our way of showing that we very much believe that this team will pull off the rare feat of forcing a Game 7 after going down 3-0.

“Believe” has been a constant theme for Magic basketball of late, and it could not have been reinforced more than by the comments of our star players themselves. Just take a look at some recent comments from Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson:

"After we got down 3-0, it was like either we were going to give in or keep fighting. And everyone made a commitment that night that we're going to go hard and believe in each other," Howard said.

"I just feel that if we keep believing in each other and trusting one another and playing as hard as we can, anything's possible," Howard said.

"At this point we believe we can win the series. We have to stay humble and remember what we've done to win these last two games. I believe they have the pressure on them now, but they're a veteran team with Hall of Famers and a great coach, so they'll be prepared," Nelson said.

"We just all believe. We all believe. We know we can do it," Nelson said.

When the players themselves are throwing that much “belief” around, you know it isn’t just a catchy slogan or wishful thinking on the part of the fanbase. These players are locked-in to thinking that they will win the next two games and continue on their quest for a title this season. As the ones who have allowed our very lives to depend on the outcome, it is our duty to buy into their belief, even though it is frightening to do so.

Let’s discuss how frightening it is. I was scared to leave the house for Game 4 on Monday night. My heart raced as I turned the game on. I even murmured under my breath, “once more, into the breach.” When the game went into overtime, I couldn’t sit still. With each break in the action, I kept finding excuses to get up and walk around. I’d go fold some clothes, rearrange the pillows on the couch, straighten the living room rug, just anything so I didn’t have to sit still on the couch. When the horn sounded a Magic victory, I didn’t yell or scream or even jump up. I just stood up, fatigued, but with a sense of relief. I was so drained and tired, I felt like I had played the game myself!

Apparently, I’m not alone in experiencing fright during these games. I was discussing a viewing party for Game 6 with my Magic buddies and most of them are too frightened to even consider it. Actually, it goes beyond fright and right into superstition. If you sat home alone wearing one blue sock and Horace Grant goggles for Game 4, then you have to do the exact same thing for Game 6. If your sister texted you at the end of each quarter during Game 5, then she has to do the same thing for Game 6. If you got a Magic star tattoo on your leg before Game 5, then you have to get another tattoo before Game 6. If you drank Fosters during the Game 3 debacle, then you must never drink Fosters again.

The consensus from my Magic buddies is that if I jinx us by insisting on a viewing party for Game 6 and we lose, that I will be unceremoniously placed on my ear by a flying elbow from Captain Forearms himself. You guys might know him as Marc Acres 3:16. So yeah, deathly fear of retribution from the sports gods if a successful routine is altered trumps beer and cheese sticks. And you know what, I’m fine with that! Because I’m still running off of the energy that every attendee got from that building during Game 5.

The place was electric. The place was as loud as I ever remember it being. If this was to be the final game at the O-Rena, then it went out with a bang. But truly, no one could treat this as a last game or even begin to think in those terms. There was too much positive energy. To much determination on the part of the Magic players. Too much belief!

The Celtics fans that were in attendance never got an opportunity to cheer for anything. When the Celtics fans started trickling out of the O-Rena in the fourth quarter, the Magic fans made sure to give them a good solid ribbing on their way out.

Friday’s game is going to be something to watch. I find it hard to believe that Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson will let the Magic get off to a slow start in Boston. Here’s Howard again:

``We knew that we were down 3-0, but we didn’t want to go home. And it all starts with me and Jameer,’’ Howard said. ``We showed leadership by playing harder. It starts with me and him. Really, it was about showing everybody, `Hey, follow us and we’ll lead you.’’

That sounds like a player that has a single goal in mind and believes he will accomplish that goal. So, I’ll be on my couch, believing right along with him. I’m a fan…it’s my job.

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Monday, May 24, 2010, 10 AM

Win One for the O-Rena

Shortly after the numbness from viewing Game 3 had worn off, I started pondering what I could possibly write about in advance of the impending, obligatory Game 4. I had put every last ounce of hope into Game 3, fully expecting that the Magic would throw everything they had at the Celtics on Saturday night. From my viewpoint, that wasn’t the 2009-2010 Orlando Magic on the court. I didn’t see the confidence and effort that we have seen from them all year.

But there is one more game. The Magic players do have to show up and actually play…at least I’m pretty sure! If the clip of Jason Williams asking for space in the visitors’ locker room after Game 3 is any indication, the Magic players are upset at their circumstances. They have one more opportunity to accomplish something this season; something that might actually salvage a bit of grace from this awful series. So, my rallying cry, both for all the dejected, suffering Magic fans, and the Orlando Magic players and coaches themselves, is “win one for the O-Rena!”

As I left the O-Rena after Game 2 last Tuesday night, it did not even cross my mind that I could have been leaving that building for the last time. As much as it may have been on the mind of Magic fans between Game 2 and Game 3, it wasn’t until after Game 3 that we started to focus on this as reality. So, what needs to happen is we need to win Game 4 so that we can come back to Orlando one more time and give the O-Rena a proper sendoff. This building has seen many a Magical moment and yes, many a gut-wrenching collapse. But the building deserves one more moment, one more opportunity for us to squeeze like lemmings into the bathroom line or pick our way through the concourse on our way to our last O-Rena Chicken Tender Basket. We need to walk up those crazy slanted steps one last time. We need to see Stuff tumbling down the steps one last time. We need to hear Paul Porter’s familiar O-Rena voice one more time. After all, who knows what he might sound like with the acoustics of the new, cavernous Amway Center. I want one more chance to squeeze into a seat way to small for a man like myself who has tree trunks for legs. I want one more chance to watch the Magic’s introduction and video montage. I want one more chance to hear the awesome sound the O-Rena makes when a Magic player nails a 3-pointer or when Dwight Howard slams home a dunk. I want one more chance to see Nick Anderson, Otis Smith, or Pat Williams watching the game from their familiar spots just inside the tunnel. I want one more chance to see that crazy old guy in the sweater vest who flails his arms behind the Magic bench.

I have no idea if the Magic organization has anything planned in the event that we do return home for a Game 5. But really, it wouldn’t matter if they did or didn’t. The fans know what to do. We just take one last look around and feel the place. If it is your first visit there, or your 300th, it doesn’t matter. You will realize that everything that the Magic have ever been is tied to that building. No matter how awesome the new building will be – and it will be awesome – it can’t make us forget the first home the Magic ever had. The O-Rena will always be where it all started. The old girl deserves one final game, one final opportunity to welcome us into her confines and say goodbye.

So, I’m asking Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson, Rashard Lewis, Vince Carter, and Stan Van Gundy, please win one for the O-Rena. It may be too late to win this series, but it isn’t too late to win one game. Bring the Magic back home just one more time, so we can all give a proper farewell to a dear old friend.

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Friday, May 21, 2010, 1 PM

Hope to Hold On To

This one was hard to write. The easy move would have been to dig a hole, stick my head in it, and avoid anything related to the Magic. I got as far as picking up the shovel.

After the Game 1 loss, I was talking to some of my buddies who are hard core Magic fans like I am. It was quickly apparent that I am hardly alone in my misery. One of my buddies, who lives downtown, said the losses were harder because he just couldn’t seem to get away from things that reminded him of the Magic. He said that it was great when we were winning, but since we were losing it is tough seeing all the car flags, yard signs, t-shirts, massive banners in the side of buildings, etc. He said it made him realize what is at stake for the community that has gotten behind this team.

This same friend posed a question to a friend of ours stationed in the military in another State far from Florida. He asked him if living far away makes it easier to handle a loss. Our friend’s response was that although he doesn’t see the flags or hear about the Magic on the news, he still has the same problems. All of his military buddies know that he’s a huge Magic fan and therefore send him texts after every game in the playoffs. He said he got about nine different text messages from buddies giving him the business after the Game 1 loss. He said that he also receives in-game texts from his family and that reading them is like riding an emotional rollercoaster. He says he can literally hear them go from anger to joy with every play. He said that even far away, he can never really get the Magic out of his head. It's like a dark cloud that follows him around.

That pretty much sums it up for me as well. All of my co-workers, family members, and friends, many of whom are only casual Magic fans, have been stepping around me as if someone close to me just died. I can’t tell you how many shoulder pats I’ve received, followed by a “what’s up with your Magic?” The funny thing is, prior to Sunday, many of these same casual Magic fans were claiming the team as their own. But now, after a couple of losses, it’s “your” Magic. I got really riled up when friends started suggesting that maybe we shouldn’t have fired Doc Rivers or that we should have resigned Hedo. Guys…you’re my friends, and I love you, but really, you just have no idea what you’re talking about!

It is just hard to believe that only 6 days ago, I was on top of the NBA world, along with thousands and thousands of my fellow Magic fans. But now the overall sentiment seems to be that the Magic have never accomplished anything positive as a franchise. I don’t believe this, but many others do. Judging by what they were writing, it appears many members on the Orlando Magic Message Boards had busted out their emo music and their razor blades. The national media were breaking their ankles from jumping off the Magic’s bandwagon as fast as they could. These same media members previously claimed we were the title favorites. The Boston Celtics went from being gritty, over-achieving veterans to being the best team in the NBA, a title the Magic held on Sunday morning.

The national and local media feed and thrive off of the fans’ emotional nature. The emotional extremes are really fascinating if you think about it. The exhilarating thrill I felt after the Magic won Game 7 against the Celtics last season will most definitely be matched by the devastation I will feel should we lose Game 3 on Saturday. After each win against the Bobcats and Hawks in the previous two rounds this season, I would listen to sports radio during my morning drive, hoping that they would be discussing the Magic. I would peruse the interwebs for articles claiming our championship destiny. But on Monday and Wednesday morning of this week, I avoided the radio and interwebs entirely, not wanting to hear or read all the pundits who had been singing our praises now ripping us apart, never seeing the hypocrisy of their “I told you so” attitudes.

As I drove to work on Wednesday morning, a car up ahead of me was flying an Orlando Magic flag from the car window. As I was watching, the cloth part of the flag ripped off the plastic arm. The flag hovered above the road for a moment and then was quickly run over by several vehicles, including mine. I said to myself: “That’s about right.” When it rains, it pours.

Prior to Game 1, my buddies and I were planning a viewing party at a local sports bar for Saturday’s Game 3. On Tuesday, prior to Game 2, we joked that if we lost Game 2, we may not be in the mood to watch Game 3 out in public. By Wednesday morning, the joke wasn’t all that funny. Wednesday represented the lowest point of the week. Thursday was bad too, but better than Wednesday. Then this morning – Friday morning – I woke up with the smallest trace of pep in my step. I started feeling just a touch of excitement for Saturday’s game. The amount of dread I was feeling had definitely lessened. I even begin discussing that viewing party again!

When the schedule for the Eastern Conference Finals was announced, I was upset to see that there was a huge gap of time between Game 2 in Orlando and Game 3 in Boston. At the time, I felt that this long layoff benefitted Boston because they are the older team and it would give them much needed rest. Of course, I also felt at the time, that the Magic would be up 2-0 at this point! Now, I am thinking that this long layoff may actually be of great benefit to the Magic. I am holding on to the hope that the extra time gives Stan Van Gundy and his staff time to regroup, reassess, and reinforce a new game plan for dealing with the Celtics’ defense. One thing that hasn’t changed is the fact that the Magic’s coaching staff is one of the best prepared in the entire NBA. Regardless of whether we win or lose Game 3, the team will be prepared.

Also giving me hope for this series is the idea that our players are upset with themselves and have taken these losses personally. I know that the players on this team have a tremendous amount of pride. They are not ready to go on vacation yet. They are not ready to give Boston fans something else to act smug and superior about. They see that they are now facing true adversity for the first time in these playoffs and for the first time in about 3 months, dating back to their fantastic end to the regular season.

This is their opportunity to show the championship mentality that everyone claimed they had just a few days ago. They realize they haven’t been blown out. They realize that they had a chance to win both Games 1 and 2 in the final seconds. They realize that the difference in these games has come down to a few missed baskets, a few poor decisions, and maybe even a few bad bounces.

I believe that success breeds confidence, which in turn breeds more success. I think if the Magic can get something good going in Game 3, they will find that it suits them, and the Magic train will continue rolling. As easy as it is for me to imagine that, I am still left with the knowledge that I am living or dying with how this team performs. Whether I watch the game on live television at home, tape it and watch it after the outcome has been decided, or venture out to a viewing party with my Magic buddies, I know that my mind and emotions will be hundreds of miles away in New England. Win or lose, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Friday, May 14, 2010, 9:00 AM

Bringing the Magic Home

Two seasons ago, I took my eldest son to his very first Magic home game. It was an amazing experience for both of us. In addition to his first NBA game, he enjoyed his very first O-Rena Chicken Tender Basket, his first cup of Mountain Dew, and his first autographs. When my son arrived home, he thrilled his younger brother with stories of French fries, caffeine, roaming green dragons, and ice cream!

Soon thereafter, I treated my younger son to a Magic game as well. My first suspicion that he wasn’t interested in the basketball game itself came late in the 1st quarter, right after he had finished devouring his cup of “Dibs” ice cream. As he closed the lid on the empty ice cream container, he looked up at me and asked when we would be going home. I didn’t mind too much…after all, it is hard for a three-year old to sit through an entire game.

Since that time, neither of my sons has been back to a Magic game, primarily because of my duties in attending the games as the “Fan Voice.” However, their interest in the game of basketball itself has definitely increased. My oldest son, who just turned eight, recently completed his first season of organized basketball. My younger son, now five, can’t wait until he is old enough to play as well. Multiple times this season, my sons have asked me to take them back to a Magic game. Each time, I was excited that they were interested and also disappointed that it was never convenient to take them. So, when the playoffs rolled around and both boys were once again asking to go, a great idea started to take root in my mind.

You see, although I was fairly certain that my older son really was interested in the game (after all, he had watched several of the weekend afternoon road games on television with me this season), I was equally certain that my younger son was only interested in the circus atmosphere of the game and those tasty “Dibs” bites. So I got to thinking…”why can’t I recreate that environment right in my own living room?” My plan was to do just that for the Saturday afternoon Game 3 of the opening round series, on the road vs. the Charlotte Bobcats.

So, I set about planning my “Go to the Magic game, at home” day by first starting a list of things I would need. Both boys have plenty of Magic gear (hats, t-shirts, blankets, pillows, noise makers, you name it!). We also had plenty of signs, flags, and placards to place around the living room, making it as “Magic festive” as possible. Both boys would need “tickets” to the game, of course, so I set aside the two media credentials I had received for Games 1 and 2 of the series.

Next, I went to the dollar store to pick up a few small toy items that I could “toss into the crowd” during the breaks between quarters. Since my boys are likely never to catch anything such as a t-shirt at a Magic game, I thought the least I could do is let them experience this thrill in their own home, albeit courtesy of their father, jumping around the living room like a complete idiot.

My next stop was the grocery store to purchase hot dogs, frozen French fries, chicken tenders, and Dibs! Since I wanted to be sure to make an OCTB at home that was as close to the real OCTB as possible, I ended up buying two kinds of tenders and two kinds of fries (after all, the FOTS is awfully particular). I felt that between all of the choices I made, I’d find something close enough to what is served in the O-Rena. Thankfully, I had enough space in my freezer to hold it all.

When Saturday morning came around, I took stock of everything I had gathered and decided that I had everything I needed. As Mrs. LOD and I started decorating the living room, she asked me if I had picked up any Mountain Dew. Ack! It was the one thing I’d forgotten. So, I stopped at the corner 7/11 and grabbed two 20oz Mountain Dew bottles, one was the traditional green color, the other the “Code Red.” The nice lady at the counter informed me that the 20oz Dew bottles were “buy 2, get 1 free” so I went back for a third bottle. I saw a new “blue” colored Mountain Dew and grabbed that, thinking that the boys would like having all the different colors to sample, plus there would be plenty for me to have some as well.

The game was a 2pm tip-off, but I decided that our personal tip-off would be 2:30pm. So, I set the DVR to record the game. I figured that I would have a greater chance of keeping my kids’ attention long after the food and ice cream was gone if I didn’t make them sit through all the commercials. I figured a 30-minute “commercial buffer” would do the trick. Of course, cooking and preparing hot dogs and several OCTBs proved to be a more time consuming task than I had anticipated, so tip-off ended up being closer to 2:45pm.

My boys entered the living room dressed to the nines in Magic gear, both of their faces just beaming with excitement. I asked them if they had their tickets to the Magic game and they looked at each other and then back at me with perplexed expressions on their faces. I commented that they certainly didn’t expect to gain entrance to a Magic game without a ticket, did they! But in the same moment, I pulled my two media credentials, complete with lanyards, from behind my back and placed them around each boy’s head. Now they were official!

The boys took their seats in the living room as I brought out an OCTB and traditional green Mountain Dew for my older son, and a hot dog, French fries, and the new blue Mountain Dew for my younger son. Turns out that I had purchased chicken tenders that were almost identical in look, texture, and taste to what is served with the OCTB. I was very pleased with myself, since this attention to detail was extremely vital to the overall authenticity of my recreation. I mean, you can’t mess around with the OCTB!

The game itself started out quite well, with Dwight Howard managing to stay on the court for most of the first quarter. As the boys started to finish up their food and, more to the point, started finishing up their cups of Mountain Dew, I noticed a change in their mood that was subtle at first, but soon took on Jekyll & Hyde proportions. At first, the boys started cheering just a bit more with every good Magic play. Then, they started banging the noisemaker drums with just a bit more zest. I had poured myself a bit of the green Mountain Dew and thought it tasted funny. So, I went back in the kitchen to look at the bottle, and parents, this is when the cautionary tale begins. It turns out that the traditional green Mountain Dew I purchased was in fact, something called Mountain Dew “Distortion.” Although it looked like regular Dew, it was lime flavored. The bottle of red-flavored “Code Red” Dew was fine, no surprise there. But the bottle of blue Dew gave me an even bigger surprise than the “lime” flavored stuff. The blue bottle was called “Voltage” and in addition to the high amount of caffeine that is typical of Mountain Dew, it also included ginseng! My sons rarely have soda or caffeine of any kind; and now I realize why.

I walked back into the living room to alert Mrs. LOD to the fact that we had just given our children the soda equivalent of jet fuel. The boys were jumping on the sectional couch, up and down as high as they could go, and yelling at the top of their lungs “Let’s go Magic, LET’S GO!” I would have been extremely proud if I weren’t already extremely worried. I sat back down just as my 8 year old began attempting reverse aerial dismounts off the couch and onto the rug while yelling “Look at me, I’m Shaun White!” My five year old was high-stepping along the couch, back and forth, with his Magic hat turned backward. Because he was standing on the couch and I was sitting, we were at eye level. My five year old ran up to me and started repeatedly patting my shoulder while saying “Daddy, daddy, daddy, daddy!” I said “yes, what is it Turbo?” And he responded: “Daddy, I can’t feel my face!” At that point, I had to pause the game; Mrs. LOD and I were both laughing too hard.

At halftime, I brought out the dollar store toys and proceeded to do my best impression of the Magic’s crowd entertainers. My friends, let me assure you that no group of Magic fans in the O-Rena have ever gone after flying items with the same excitement and exuberance as the two caffeine-enriched boys in my living room. The one condition I hadn’t accounted for was the presence of our Golden Retriever. Once the dog realized that items were being tossed for entertainment, she had to get in on the action, much to the delight of the home crowd. I’ll just say that I’m glad I only paid a dollar for the items.

I’d like to say that the highlight of the game, at least from my boys’ perspective, was the game itself, with the Magic going up 3-0 on the Bobcats. I’d even settle for the highlight having been either the food, the Magic theming of the room, or the Mountain Dew. In a pinch, I’d even take the freebies being tossed to two boys and a dog who obviously felt they’d stepped into heaven on earth, complete with cushy sectionals from which to leap with gusto. In the end, the highlight was those tasty Dibs. When, at the start of the 3rd quarter, I entered the living room with those containers of the perfect mix of chocolate, toffee, and vanilla, I was greeted with a crowd reaction to rival Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn coming out of the bullpen in the 9th against the Yanks. To say that the Dibs didn’t last long would be an understatement. They weren’t eaten so much as they were inhaled.

The good thing about all of those stimulants in my sons’ system is that they were the fast-burning kind. By the end of the third quarter, my 5 year old crashed hard and not too long into the 4th quarter, he had fallen asleep on Mrs. LOD’s lap. Too his credit, he watched the game right up until his eyes closed. My 8 year old crashed as well, but he didn’t fall asleep, he ended up sitting next to me, leaning in against me with my arm around him. He watched the rest of the game with me, asking me questions along the way. I was able to use the DVR to rewind and point things out to him as I saw them. For me, this was my highlight: having my son watch the game with me and being able to talk to him about basketball. I’m a Magic fan through and through, but I remember a time when there wasn’t an Orlando Magic. I like the fact that my son is growing up and having the Magic always be a part of his life. Who knows, maybe he will turn out to be an even bigger Orlando Magic fan than I am!

Nothing can ever take the place of attending a Magic home game with your children. The sights, sounds, smells, and just the overall feel of being in that building cannot be duplicated to perfection. I’m sure this unique experience will only be heightened next year in the new arena where there will be even more attractions and options for a family to enjoy. These options are important for a young family, because even though the main point and purpose of attending is to watch your favorite basketball team, a young child is always going to prefer Dibs to dunks. As a child gets older, the game itself will take on more importance, but in the meantime, the Magic are doing families a great service by offering them the best of both. For one afternoon at least, I was able to sufficiently recreate that environment in my own home and treat my sons to a basketball experience I hope they will remember. And the Orlando Magic did their part too.

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Tuesday, May 11, 2010, 5:00 PM

Hurry Up and Wait!

The Orlando Magic just can’t seem to get to their rest periods quick enough, can they? If eight days of rest after a grinding, but thankfully short series against the Bobcats means the Magic have the juice to sweep the Hawks by a margin of 101 points, then here’s hoping that six days rest can lead to a margin of +4 against either the Cavs or Celtics. I guess I should be careful what I wish for…as nice as it would be to see the Magic in the Finals again, I’m not sure I’d survive four games in which the Magic only win by a point!

This is a crucial difference between this year’s Magic team and last year’s Finals squad. The first round against the Sixers had all kinds of drama. We lost the first game at home. We had to play a game without Dwight Howard. We had to rely on a rookie (Courtney Lee) to get us one of our wins. The second round against the Celtics is still too trauma-inducing for me to openly discuss – and we won that series! Between Big Baby eating children courtside and Kevin Garnett finger walking every time Eddie House hit a shot, I have no interest in ever going through that again. Give me a four game sweep against the Atlanta Hawks every year. Sure, it might mean that you have a situation like last night, where I found myself feeling tired of watching the Hawks and ready for the game to be over. But at least I won’t have to keep a defibrillator nearby or have my PCP on speed dial while I’m watching a game.

People seem to forget that there are two halves to this layoff equation. It only works if the next round’s opponent takes a while to dispatch their opponent in the previous round. Had the Hawks taken care of the depleted Bucks in five games like they should have, we wouldn’t have waited eight days to send them on vacation. Likewise, we are waiting at least six days to play the Eastern Conference Finals because Boston and Cleveland are playing an epic series (this one we definitely could have seen coming).

All this rest should still work in our favor, regardless of which team we play. I’m not much for the sentiment that a team coming off a long series is at a disadvantage when playing the next round against a rested opponent (after all, there will still be at least two days rest before a close-out game in the 2nd round, and the start of the ECFs). But I will say that because of the age of some of the major contributors on both the Cavs and Celtics rosters, the lack of rest on their part could be a greater factor than normal. But the lack of rest will have little impact on those teams’ best players – LeBron James and Rajon Rondo.

On a side note, I find it strange that the NBA regular season includes so many back-to-backs and yet there is never a single back-to-back in the playoffs. I’m sure back-to-backs are somewhat necessary in order to have 30 teams play an 82 game schedule within a 5 ½ month period, but it still seems like it isn’t really preparing them for the playoffs, where they may go three days between games 3 and 4 in a series.

I’ve had to stifle an obnoxious laugh every time I’ve read or heard someone mention how the Cavs rolled through the first two rounds last season before getting knocked down by the Magic in the conference finals. Apparently, this fact has some sort of bearing on the Magic’s fate this season. Um, no…actually, it doesn’t. The Magic were the better team last season and presented matchup problems that the Cavs could not overcome. It had nothing to do with the Cavs not being tested, or being too rested. While there is no denying that the Magic did some growing up by winning a Game 7 on the road in Boston before facing the Cavs, that didn’t make us the better team against the Cavs. We already were the better team. Those favorable matchups we exploited against the Cavs existed long before we played Boston.

I’ve also heard mention that the last two teams to sweep the first two rounds went on to lose in the conference finals. The last team to do this prior to the Cavs was the 2005 Miami Heat, coached by Stan Van Gundy. But come on, that Heat team took the defending champion Detroit Pistons to seven games! Trust me, if we get beat by either the Cavs or the Celtics, it will have nothing to do with how many games we played – or didn’t play – in the earlier rounds.

On yet another side note, we swept a better Hawks team than the version the Cavs swept in the 2nd round last season. The Cavs faced a Hawks team that didn’t have Al Horford or Marvin Williams for Game 2. Neither of those players played much of any of the other three games, and ended up averaging 20 (Horford) and 18 (Williams) minutes for the series. Of course, you could also argue that this year the Magic faced a Hawks team that was playing without Joe Johnson, but that might be too low a blow. The point I’m making is that winning our first eight games, regardless of who the opponent is, cannot be viewed as a bad thing.

But what is a bad thing is finding something to do with ourselves during all of these dry spells between rounds. If the Magic were the only team to sweep, we wouldn’t have any issues of boredom. But the Suns and Lakers had to go and sweep as well! So, now we only have one 2nd round series to watch. I’m sure that I will miss these long, relatively stress-free gaps of time once the Eastern Conference Finals begin. It’s funny what heart palpitations can make you long for.

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Thursday, May 6, 2010, 5:30 PM

Owning the Hawks

It wasn’t too long ago that Orlando Magic fans were flustered by the team’s shortcomings every time they played the Detroit Pistons. No matter how much progress we made, whether it be increasing our win total, or acquiring better players, there were the Pistons to put us back in our place. They ended the final playoff appearance of the Tracy McGrady-led Magic teams by coming back from a 3-1 deficit in 2003.

Things didn’t get much better the next time we made the playoffs four seasons later. Dwight Howard’s first trip to the post-season ended much the same way, with the Pistons sweeping us in the first round in 2007. So, we get a new coach, a new high-priced free agent and make a big jump in the standings, only to face and lose to the Pistons in the second round of the 2008. Along the way, the Pistons won nine straight playoff games against us, and 11 of 12. Unfortunately, we will never get revenge against them, since much of that Pistons nucleus is now playing for several different teams.

Considering our plight against that one team that always had our number, it is easy for me to feel empathy toward Hawks fans who might wonder why their steady improvement as a unit has about as much consequence as a Ben Wallace free throw attempt when the Hawks play the Orlando Magic. As good as the Hawks have been this year, even against other great teams, they just don’t seem to match up well, or play well, against the Orlando Magic. The Hawks are lucky in this one respect though, they are only experiencing their first, though likely not last, miserable experience against the Magic in the playoffs.

All of the talk prior to Tuesday night’s Game One was of how rusty the Magic might be after 8 days off. People felt the Hawks might actually have an advantage by having played the Bucks two nights before. If the Hawks were going to steal a game in Orlando, Game 1 was the time to do it. This sentiment existed for exactly one quarter. Then, all you heard was how the Magic benefited from all of the rest and how the Hawks were tired from their seven game series. You know, it is all a bunch of bovine excrement. The Hawks weren’t tired; the Magic weren’t rusty or overly rested. The fact is the Magic are just that much better than the Hawks.

It isn’t even that the Magic are that much more talented. On paper, the Hawks are a very talented team and one of the more athletic teams in the league. They have a great coach in Mike Woodson. It would be too easy to say that the difference begins and ends with Dwight Howard. It’s true that the Hawks haven’t had any answer for him in three seasons, but they do have the personnel to employ an effective strategy against him. But planning and execution are two different things. It really does go beyond Dwight Howard though. Something about the way these two teams match up just goes beyond sheer talent. The Magic just seem to have the Hawks number and once we get them down, they just have no way of getting back up. I do enjoy being on this side of the match up for once. Of course, I sure hope it ends with us having the same hardware the Pistons got!

I was asked prior to Game 7 of the Hawks v. Bucks first round series which team I wanted to win. I chose the Hawks because I thought they would give us a better series, and therefore better prepare us, for the Eastern Conference Finals. I still feel this way, but I do hope the Hawks give us more fight than we got in Game 1. After all, Dwight Howard still hasn’t played 30 minutes!

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Friday, April 30, 2010, 3:30 PM

Random Thoughts – Magic vs. Bobcats, Part 2

• If given the choice between watching a Magic game via the team’s feed (Sunsports or Fox Sports Florida) or TNT/ESPN, I’m going with the team’s feed every time. It’s true that the HD picture quality is much sharper on the bigger networks, but the bigger networks do not have David Steele and Matt Guokas. The mute button is a better alternative than having to listen to TNT’s Reggie Miller attempt to discuss basketball intelligently. Until ESPN can figure out a way to clone Hubie Brown and have him be the game analyst for every NBA game they broadcast, I’ll steer clear of them too.

Listening to Guokas break down aspects of the game is not only thoroughly entertaining, but thoroughly educational. He breaks down the game as objectively as possible but he also seems to relish going all Magic homer on us every now and then. I especially enjoyed this during some of the more egregious foul calls on Dwight Howard throughout the Bobcats series. As for Steele, he has long since replaced Chip Caray as the voice of the Orlando Magic, in my mind at least. Unfortunately, as the Magic go deeper in the playoffs, the big networks will get exclusive broadcast rights to the games, and we’ll have to say farewell to David and Matty until next season.

• Impressed with the conviction of fans of rival teams still in the playoffs (and by fans of rival teams still in the playoffs, I mean Cavaliers fans) that the administration of swift justice laid down by the Magic on the Bobcats was in fact the easiest possible matchup we could have been granted, I now consider the dismantling of Cavs fans hopes and dreams as essential to the happiness of our own fan base, and to the stability of this team, nay, this entire city. In other words, Cavs fans go home!

• Dwight Howard sure seemed frustrated throughout the entire series, huh? I thought for sure that game 4 was going to be different, what with him playing most of the first quarter without picking up a single foul. The first foul was a pretty bad call, and I’m pretty sure he picked up the almost immediately called 2nd foul because of how he complained about the first one! As easy as it is to cry “foul” and think that Stern and the refs have it in for Dwight Howard and the Magic, I can’t help but think that Dwight would have had more floor time if he weren’t helping the refs out by retaliating. It was reported that Stan Van Gundy sat down with Dwight after Game four and showed him where he was being whistled for legitimate foul calls. Here’s hoping that Dwight takes it to heart and starts the 2nd round series with a renewed focus on making sure that he is not the cause of his foul troubles. If at that point, it continues, then at least we know where to direct all the blame!

• Michael Jordan took some heat for some of his antics during the series, especially games 3 and 4 in Charlotte. People felt that it wasn’t appropriate for an owner to be sitting on the bench, right next to the players. He also rubbed Magic fans the wrong way when he gave the “get out of here” thumb hook gesture when Dwight fouled out of Game 3. I admit I didn’t particularly care for that one either. But I keep thinking that Jordan is not your typical owner. He is the first former NBA player to own a team. He isn’t just any former player either; he is arguably the greatest NBA player ever and certainly the most competitive. So, sitting on the bench with the players likely is quite natural and comfortable for him and also speaks to his renewed involvement with the team.

Remember, Jordan was criticized for his absentee status when he was running the Wizards. Now that he has a greater financial stake, it only makes sense that he will be hands on and involved, especially if we are talking about the city’s first playoff game in years and the franchise’s first playoff appearance, period!

• I’ve never seen two teammates playing a road game draw such complete polar opposite reactions from the crowd as Vince Carter and JJ Redick did in Games 3 and 4 in Charlotte. Carter is still loved for his time with the North Carolina Tar Heels while Redick is still derided for his days with the Duke Blue Devils. Carter received plenty of cheers while Redick was booed at every opportunity. I started paying attention to the crowd shots immediately after a made shot by Carter. Guess what, many people in the crowd were cheering! They likely weren’t Magic fans, which means they were Bobcats fans who were just as happy to cheer a Magic made shot by a beloved Tar Heel. So, I did the same thing – watched the crowd reactions when JJ made a basket (all three of them in Charlotte!) and I saw people cheering! I give up on trying to figure out Carolina fans.

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Tuesday, April 27, 2010, 1:37 PM

Random Thoughts – Magic vs. Bobcats, Part 1

First off, I just really have to get this off my chest, right from the start. I really do not like Tyson Chandler. It seems like just yesterday he was taking alley-oops from Chris Paul left and right and averaging double-digit rebounds. Now he is relegated to third string big man with six fouls who’s only remaining skill is his ability to attach his face to Dwight Howard’s elbows. Of all the Bobcats players, he is the only one who really drew my ire during the series. I didn’t care for the way he outwardly celebrated any foul called on Howard as if he had just made some big basket or a key defensive stop. Congratulations Tyson, you’re tall!

Seems strange that the Magic swept the series and still never really dominated a game for four quarters, at least not in the way we are used to seeing them dominate. The way the Bobcats slowed everything down, it was as if the Magic were playing basketball in a pool. Every movement seemed just a bit slower, requiring just a bit more effort (Jameer Nelson being the exception.) With Dwight Howard off the court for so long, you’d have thought it would change how the Magic played. But the 3-pointer was still the weapon of choice. The Magic averaged 30 three-point attempts per game for the series, averaging 11 makes a game. The 37.5% for the series is made even more impressive if you remove Vince Carter’s 1 for 17 performance from beyond the arc, leaving the rest of the team to shoot 43%.

Jameer Nelson didn’t bother announcing it, but it appears as though he has decided to become Chauncey Billups in this series. Sure, he may not have the size or put up the assist totals of Billups, but he is exuding that same confidence and that same knack for knowing when to take that big dagger of a shot. More than any other player on either team, he had his way in this series. Look at his totals: 36 minutes per game, 48% shooting (43% from 3), 89% FTs, 2.5 steals per game, 4.5 assists per game, and 23.8 points per game. As impressive as all of that is, you cannot discount his lowly 5 turnovers for the entire series. Nelson just isn’t making mistakes.

My favorite Nelson play of the series isn’t a quick drive to the basket or a big three. In the early moments of game 4, Raymond Felton got around Nelson for a layup. Nelson got the inbound and immediately streaked up court, forcing all five Bobcats to hurry up and try to catch him. He drove under the basket and back out the left baseline and to the corner. Twice during this sequence, Nelson had three defenders (three!!) on him. Because the Bobcats rushed to follow Nelson to the basket, the trailing Rashard Lewis had 20 feet of open space around him at the top of the arc. Nelson fired the pass out to Lewis for the easy three. The play took all of six seconds and happened much more seamlessly than I have described above, but this play typifies why Nelson’s shoot-first reputation is a weapon. Teams must account for Nelson’s quickness and his ability to get into the lane whenever he wants. If multiple defenders follow Nelson in transition, it opens up at least one player – Lewis, Barnes, Carter, Pietrus, Redick, pick one – for a wide-open three. Frankly, if Nelson weren’t so effective and explosive an offensive player, he wouldn’t be as effective a playmaker. After Nelson’s big Game One, we were making jokes on the official Magic Message Boards that Jameer was trying to make up for his poor 2009 NBA Finals performance in one game. But it does appear that he is out to show that the Magic are a better team with him in the lineup, going full speed. I already feel sorry for whichever point guard, Mike Bibby or Brandon Jennings – Nelson faces in the next round. They are already quite overmatched.

This series is where playoff experience really kicked in for Rashard Lewis. After an up and down season, he turned rock steady against the Bobcats. He had several playoff runs with the Sonics, including one deep run to the Western Conference Finals. Add to that what he has done in seven playoff series with the Magic, and the dude is definitely tested. With Howard on the bench and Carter struggling with his shot, we needed Lewis to join Nelson as the heavy lifters for the series. It seems like as long as two of our four all-stars have big games, we can win. This statement might hold true for the next round, but we will likely need everyone to join the party if we are to knock off the Cavs.

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Sunday, April 25, 2010, 10:00 PM

Coaching Criteria

Watching Stan Van Gundy match wits with Larry Brown in the Orlando Magic’s first round series against the Charlotte Bobcats has been fascinating to me. Seeing Stan win the first three games against an all-time great coach like Brown, even when Stan doesn’t have his best player on the floor for long stretches, makes me think back to the times when Stan’s coaching ability has been questioned. I find it increasingly hilarious that Stan Van Gundy continues to be referred to as a “master of panic,” particularly by one Shaquille O’Neal. Not only should Stan have shed that negative distinction, but he should never have had it ascribed to him in the first place. Although the phrase has not seen print in recent weeks, it will most certainly get play should the Magic meet the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. O’Neal will feel the need to unburden his soul and spout the phrase, or something akin to it, to the first beat writer or blogger he sees.

O’Neal’s point is to say that he doesn’t think Van Gundy is a good coach. Let’s not build it up to be any more substantial a point than that. It is almost as if O’Neal thinks that you are only a good coach if you win a championship. Using that logic, there are only three good coaches in the NBA right now: Phil Jackson of the Lakers, Gregg Popovich of the Spurs, and Larry Brown of the Bobcats. That means that only ten percent of the active NBA coaches have achieved what their owners, players, and fans expected of them when they were hired. But if coaches are only judged on whether or not they won a championship, then the vast majority of NBA coaches, current or former, would fall well short. Going back to the late 1980s, nearly 25 years, only six coaches have won championships, the three already mentioned, and Pat Riley (Lakers/Heat), Chuck Daly (Pistons), and Rudy Tomjanovich (Rockets). Considering how many coaches have been hired by NBA teams during that time, it is an astonishingly low percentage (Don’t worry, I didn’t forget Doc Rivers, but if I am making the case that you don’t have to win a title to be a good coach, then I must also believe that winning a title doesn’t mean you’re a good coach either. Frankly, Doc Rivers doesn’t belong in the same category as the other six coaches mentioned.).

So, if only six coaches have won titles, where does that leave the rest that didn’t? Is Rick Carlisle not a good coach? How about Don Nelson and all of those wins? Rick Adelman, did he just continue to panic during all of those close calls he had with Portland and Sacramento? How about Mike Woodson and the steady improvement he has gotten out of the Hawks? Too bad, no ring! George Karl, I guess he isn’t a good coach either. Don’t forget Avery Johnson and his 73 percent career winning percentage. And don’t even get me started on Jerry Sloan. See, it really is rather ridiculous, isn’t it? In a league where Doug Collins can be viewed as a favorable candidate to coach Chris Paul in New Orleans, how can we possibly use so stringent a criterion as championships to judge a coach of Stan Van Gundy’s quality?

Is Shaq just that spoiled? Did playing for Phil Jackson and Pat Riley cause him to unfairly hold all other coaches to the same high standard? If Mike Brown bests Stan Van Gundy in the ECF, does that automatically make him the better coach? If Stan should win the title this season after beating Shaq’s Cavs and Phil Jackson’s Lakers, will Shaq suddenly feel differently about Stan? Of course not! This is Shaquille O’Neal we are talking about! He takes everything personal and he never apologizes. Stan could win three titles with the Magic and Shaq would still stubbornly refer to him as the master of panic. This is the same guy who whined when another NBA big man was referred to as Superman. Kind of makes you wonder why we all were so upset by it, huh?

In the meantime, we can continue to enjoy a coach who has our team averaging 56 wins a year since he got here and has created a style of play that is both entertaining and effective. As much as Magic fans want and even need Stan to win a title for us, he doesn’t need the ring to prove that he is a fantastic coach.

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Friday, March 26, 2010, 3:00 PM

For Love of Basketball

Have any of you ever stopped to wonder why you love the game of basketball? My guess is that it did not start with love of the Orlando Magic. Most likely, you were introduced to basketball before you even knew the Magic existed, or in the case of the old-timers, before the team existed at all.

I can think of many reasons why I love the game of basketball, but the one reason I’d like to discuss here is this one: the game of basketball is inclusive. More than any other sport, it can easily be played, with minimal equipment, money, or even people required. Want to play baseball? Even if you had the ball, glove and bat, you’d still need a baseball diamond or a field big enough to play in, plus at least two other people to pitch and retrieve balls. Want to play football? Sure, you really only need just the football, but you also need at least one other person for a game of catch, and at least two other people to play any kind of game, unless you wanted to do three people with one as the “all time QB.” Oh, and if you’re wanting to play tackle without pads, better make sure you have medical insurance. How about soccer? It requires a big enough field and at least four people (if not more) to make a decent game. Other sports like golf, tennis, racquetball, and even bowling are readily available to the general public but require membership, money, or expensive, specialized equipment in order to play them. And don’t even get me started on hockey and auto racing.

But the beauty of basketball is that you just need one person, one ball, and one hoop. Many houses have a hoop right in their driveway. Most cities in the US have multiple public parks with multiple basketball hoops; free for anyone to use. Many churches build gyms with basketball courts. Even the smallest of public or private elementary schools have outdoor basketball courts. So, the sport of basketball is truly the most accessible sport in the country, if not the world. I could personally spend hours out on my driveway, just shooting baskets by myself. To play a game, I’d really only need to add one more buddy.

In addition, basketball can be enjoyed by people of all ages, all sizes, and both genders. In fact, many of us are introduced to basketball at a very early age. A three-year old can learn how to shoot on an adjustable driveway hoop. An 80-year old grandmother can play a game of “HORSE” with her grandson.

I won’t argue that football isn’t the undisputed king when it comes to sports broadcasting and sports fans. Between the NFL and college football, you will always find more people following that sport than any other. But the problem is that it is difficult to emulate or mimic your NFL heroes. Let’s say you just watched a great football game and there was a really great catch, throw, or run made by your favorite player. You couldn’t easily go outside and re-create it, could you? But raise your hands if at some point in your life, you’ve been watching a basketball game – with or without family members or friends – and you saw a really great play and then you went out to the driveway to recreate it.

My friends and I used to love to pretend to shoot like certain players and then have the others guess who we were shooting like. I’m still working on my “Dreamshake” impression, but I can shoot free throws like Bill Cartwright, even better than he could! You can’t easily do this with any other sport.

Basketball is a sport that doesn’t require you to have a ton of athletic ability or to be in the best of shape. Plenty of people who have never stepped foot in a gym, never played an organized sport in their life, or can’t get up a flight of stairs without being winded can still enjoy shooting hoops on a basket. In fact, as with any practiced motion, the ability to shoot a basketball effectively can be picked up by just about anyone with enough time, practice, and patience. Sure, playing a game of five-on-five full-court basketball at the local playground might be a recipe for pain and potential injury if you aren’t in shape, but it doesn’t stop thousands and thousands of people from playing it anyway, and loving every minute of it. And if you didn’t want to get too winded, you could still enjoy a game of half-court two-on-two or three-on-three. If you needed to get some exercise but didn’t want to simply go on a run, then playing basketball would be a great, and fun, alternative!

Even people fortunate enough to play basketball at the college or professional level do not have to truly give up their sport once they retire. I was lucky to have played basketball for my high school’s basketball team, but I had just as much fun playing intramural basketball in college, and I still love to play pick-up basketball now, as often as I am able. The same cannot be said for those who play football, baseball, or hockey. A retired NBA player can continue to enjoy his sport so long as he can stand and move his arms. In fact, there was a time that these retired “Legends” staged a friendly game during the NBA all-star weekend. Can you imagine a similar event during the NFL’s pro-bowl?

Basketball is one of the few sports that are just as much fun to play as it is to watch. So, let’s hear it for Dr. James Naismith and his brilliant idea of throwing a soccer ball into a peach basket.

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Wednesday, March 17, 2010, 6:00 PM

Fearless Forecast

There are 14 games remaining in the regular season, seven of them are at home and seven are away. At 47-21, it appears unlikely that the Magic will be able to catch the Cleveland Cavaliers for the top seed in the East. So, their focus must be on keeping their tenuous hold on the 2-spot. The Atlanta Hawks and the Boston Celtics are only three and four games back respectively, of the Magic and will not be going away any time soon. The Magic will not be able to lose any of the easy games left on their schedule, nor can they afford to lose against too many of the contenting teams left on their schedule if they want to ensure two rounds of home court advantage in the playoffs.

So, with the luck of St. Patrick’s Day as my inspiration, and since I’m always here to help my fellow Magic fans, I’ve done you the favor of laying out for you exactly how the final 14 games will go. Of course, feel free to tune into the games anyway, you know, just for kicks.

March 17th – vs. San Antonio Spurs
This is the one and only visit by the aging and fading San Antonio Spurs. The trade for Richard Jefferson was supposed to infuse some youth and speed to the Spurs offense, but as my fantasy team can attest, Jefferson is not playing as advertised. Meanwhile, Tony Parker has missed the past five games and will miss quite a few more. Still, the Spurs have been on a tear lately, winning 8 of 10 and four in a row. Even though they aren’t a contender anymore and are only 7th in the West, they still are a team of champions and this will be a great test for the Magic. Of course, the Magic are still chafing from the loss to the Bobcats on Sunday and will most certainly take it out on the Spurs. Magic WIN

March 18th – @ Miami Heat
The Magic ran roughshod over the Heat on February 28th after losing the first two matchups this season in different but equally irritating ways. This game allows the Magic to reestablish, for the Heat’s benefit, just where the Heat stand in the Southeast’s pecking order. Magic WIN

March 22nd – @ Philadelphia 76ers
The two victories over the 76ers this season have been very similar, with the Magic scoring over 120 points and winning by double digits both times. Considering that the 76ers have lost five straight and 10 of the last 11, I can’t imagine why this matchup will be any different. Hopefully, Jameer Nelson will enjoy another homecoming performance and match his 22 and 10 from earlier this month. This is the first of several “gimme” games down the home stretch that the Magic MUST win, and this time, they do. Magic WIN

March 24th – @ Atlanta Hawks
Well well well, look who is still hanging around! Unlike last season, the Hawks have not faded away as the Magic made their push. Who’d have thought that adding Jamal Crawford could turn the Hawks from upstarts to legit playoff threat? This is the team in the best position to spoil the Magic’s playoff seeding hopes. The Hawks better enjoy whatever run they make this season, because it won’t be nearly as easy to do next season when Joe Johnson departs. The Magic have absolutely owned the Hawks the last few seasons, including three double-digit victories already this season. But hey, even a blind pig finds a truffle every now and then, so I suppose the Hawks were due for a squeaker win on a night when the Magic can’t find the basket, despite a requisite big Atlanta night from Dwight Howard. Magic LOSE

March 26th – vs. Minnesota Timberwolves
The Magic lose a close one on the road to the Hawks and then come home to face the Timberwolves two nights later. Considering that the Wolves are on a 10 game losing streak, which is likely to be 14 by the time this game rolls around, I feel it is safe to say that the Magic’s starters will be sitting by the 3rd quarter. Magic WIN

March 28th – vs. Denver Nuggets
That darn Chauncey Billups. He never seems to have an off night when playing us and, in fact, seems to thrive against us as much as any team in the league. Combine that with the fact that the Nuggets have enough big men – Nene, Chris Andersen, and Kenyon Martin (assuming he has returned by then) – to throw at Dwight Howard, and it is easy to see why the Magic were trounced in Denver in January and will struggle again against the Nuggets at Amway. I didn’t even need to mention Carmelo Anthony…whoops. Magic LOSE

April 1st – @ Dallas Mavericks
This past Saturday, the New York Knicks beat the Dallas Mavericks, in Dallas, 128-94. This is significant because the Knicks are 23-43 and the Mavericks had won their previous 13 games. This is exhibit A for the argument that the dominant, contending teams in this league cannot sleep on the doormats. The Mavericks have benefitted greatly from a trade deadline overhaul that brought in Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood, both of whom have contributed mightily. The Mavericks play eight games between today and this matchup with the Magic and are likely to win all of them. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this will make 9 in a row. The TNT broadcast team begin shoveling dirt on Orlando’s title hopes, with Reggie Miller’s brother once again chiding Dwight Howard in an interview after the game. Magic LOSE

April 2nd – @ San Antonio Spurs
Two losses in a row to two of the best teams in the West leads to drama in the media and amongst the Magic fanbase. Thankfully, the Magic have two things going for them: they are away from Orlando and therefore have a buffer, and they only have one night to wait to get back on the court again and take out some frustration on a very surprised and embarrassed Spurs team. Magic WIN

April 4th – vs. Memphis Grizzlies
Don’t look now, but the 9th best team in the West has as many wins as the 5th best team in the East. The surprise is that it is the Memphis Grizzlies. The young core of Zach Randolph, Rudy Gay, OJ Mayo, Marc Gasol, and Mike Conley have figured out how to play effectively together, winning 7 of their last 10. Although they aren’t in the playoff picture like they were when they beat the Magic in January, the result is the same and Magic Land heads for the ledges! Magic LOSE

April 7th – vs. Washington Wizards
The Magic had absolutely no business losing two games to the Wizards earlier this season. They finally figured out how to put away a bad team when they whipped the Wizards by 14 points just four days ago. The Wizards have lost their last 9 games and should put up little-to-no challenge to a Magic team that is tired of losing. Magic WIN

April 9th – vs. New York Knicks
The great part about losing three of their past five games prior to this matchup is that the Magic come into this game pretending that David Lee and the New York Knicks are Larry Bird and the Celtics. Taking no chances, the Magic treat the Orlando home crowd to a fun and easy victory. The chants for Adonal Foyle begin in the 3rd quarter, and coach Stan Van Gundy puts him in! Magic WIN

April 11th – @ Cleveland Cavaliers
So here we are at the last big game of the season. The 60+ win Cavaliers come into the game having locked up home court advantage through the Finals. The Cavs have gotten along just fine without Shaquille O’Neal, and Antawn Jamison has slid in comfortably as the number 2 option under LeBron James. Coming into this matchup, the Magic haven’t beaten a title contender since the Lakers well over a month before. The Magic don’t really care much for the Cavs, even if Shaquille O’Neal isn’t on the floor. On this night, the Magic decide to show the Cavaliers who the best team in the East really is. To make the victory even sweeter, this is the Cavaliers’ last home game, giving the Cleveland faithful something to ponder when looking ahead to a potential Conference Finals rematch. Magic WIN

April 12th – @ Indiana Pacers
You might think that the Magic would be caught still enjoying their win over the Cavaliers when they arrive in Indianapolis the next night. But Stan and the guys are locked in, and this final road game of the regular season is treated as if it is a playoff game. The win over the Pacers also secures the Southeast division title and the #2 playoff seed in the East for the Magic. Magic WIN

April 14th – vs. Philadelphia 76ers
With the division title and playoff seeding already secured, Stan tells his starters that he’d really like to play them for 20 minutes or less and therefore he’d appreciate it if they could get out to a big lead early because what he really wants to hear is chants for Adonal Foyle in the first half. The Magic starters accommodate him with a 40 point first quarter against the outmanned and outclassed 76ers. Magic WIN.

So, the Magic go 10-4 in their final 14 games and more importantly, finish with a five game winning streak. A final regular season record of 57-25 secures them the #2 seed in the East and keeps the Cavaliers, and the Celtics and Hawks for that matter, from feeling too comfortable about their playoff fortunes.

I hope you don’t mind me spoiling the rest of the regular season for you, but you at least should have enjoyed the way it turned out!


This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Wednesday, March 3, 2010, 5:00 PM

Star Power or Balance?

I was reading a very interesting article from’s Gene Wojciechowski the other day. In the article, he poses the possibility of soon-to-be free agents LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh all choosing to take less than the maximum salary to sign with the New York Knicks together this Summer. His angle is that if the three stars place championship dreams over dollar signs, they can start a dynasty together in New York. He further argues that they can more than make back the loss in salary by playing in the product endorsement magnet of the Big Apple.

Picturing James, Wade, and Bosh on the same team was rather exciting, from an NBA fan’s perspective. But it got me wondering if there was a trio of players that could rival those three and make a playoff matchup interesting, hypothetically speaking of course. I came up with three players who I feel would be provide better team balance, and therefore a greater chance at a dynasty, than the three players who may or may not be headed to New York. Those players are Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwight Howard.

For the sake of this hypothetical fantasy, we are going to assume that all of these players are completely healthy (Bosh, Anthony, Wade, and Paul have all missed a game or three to injuries over the last couple of seasons). It is worth noting that all six of the players being discussed were drafted in the talent-rich period from 2003 to 2005.

Even though the set of James, Wade, and Bosh clearly provides more star power and sheer talent (not to mention the love of the NBA referees), I feel that Paul, Anthony, and Howard provide better balance across the positions and offers a much greater defensive presence. Chris Paul, when healthy, is the best combination of scorer and distributor at the point guard position and he has previously led the league in steals. Combine that with Dwight Howard leading the league in blocks and rebounds two seasons in a row, and it is easy to envision a team that rarely has a problem keeping its opponent in check.

There is also the adage that the point guard and center positions are the hardest to fill. Well, with Paul and Howard, you’re getting these traditional building blocks while also getting the best in the NBA at their positions. In Carmelo Anthony, you have a small forward that can score from anywhere on the court. It should not go unnoticed that Anthony has prospered from playing with a point guard that knows how to get him the ball (Chauncey Billups).

As for the sheer talent and star power of James, Wade and Bosh…well, what does that matter if the players can’t play together? Which of those three are willing to give up their shots? James and Wade are better players when they have the ball in their hands, not hanging out on the wing waiting to receive it from someone else. Those two could barely play together in the all-star game last month. It is also worth noting that on the US Men’s National Team, Coach K did not always play James and Wade together, instead choosing to bring Wade off the bench. Poor Chris Bosh…would anyone even remember that he is there?

I think that Howard and Anthony, combined with a talented point guard like Jameer Nelson or Chauncey Billups, could give James, Wade, and Bosh fits in a seven game series. But when you add Chris Paul, it makes that trio the clear favorite.

I have a sinking feeling that the average NBA fan would still likely choose to have James, Wade and Bosh over Paul, Anthony and Howard. But as we’ve learned over the years, star power doesn’t always get it done. You still have to have the right players at the right positions, and you still have to have players willing to defer to others. I think Chris Paul would absolutely love to distribute the ball to players like Anthony and Howard. I think that Paul and Howard would have no problem letting Anthony take the last-second shot. Finally, Anthony and Paul will love all the open looks that Howard gets for them by him being dominant in the paint.

Of course, it is highly unlikely that either of these two sets of players ever play together on the same team. Still, it is nice to fantasize about this type of thing, as I’m sure that New York Knicks fans will continue doing for the next few months. The problem with fantasy is that it can make reality look all the more mundane in comparison, but remember that as Orlando Magic fans, we have quite the fantasy roster already! I would like to thank my friends and fellow Orlando Magic Message Board members for joining with me in a lively discussion on this topic. Many of your thoughts made it into this blog.

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Thursday, February 18, 2010, 5:00 PM

Dwight is Right

I know this is slightly dated news, but I just have to give my take on the recent back-and-forth between Dwight Howard and Shaquille O'Neal. I fail to understand why Shaquille O'Neal – with all that he has accomplished – feels the need to send childish barbs in the direction of a much younger and, at present, less accomplished player. Even though the source of the spat is a nickname, I think it goes much deeper. In fact, the only reason that makes sense is that Shaq must be envious of Dwight Howard's current role as "best big man in the NBA" and the fact that Howard is on his way to having a greater legacy, if not in the NBA, then most certainly in Shaq's adopted hometown of Orlando.

I find it highly comical that Shaq feels offended by comparisons to Dwight Howard and by Dwight's use of the "Superman" nickname. Is anyone even justified in dictating who has the right to use a nickname from a fictional character? And if there is anyone, shouldn't it be Jerry Seigel? Or even George Reeves? Or even Christopher Reeve? Unfortunately, none of these gentlemen are around anymore to provide their opinions, but I am fairly certain that they would tell Shaq that having a "man of steel" tattoo does not give him the right to claim the Superman nickname.

The funny thing about this is that Superman is known primarily for flying, and flying is something that Dwight Howard does infinitely better than Shaq! We are talking about a player who quite possibly can jump higher than any NBA player…ever. Shaq cannot compete with Howard's aerial arsenal, even if he was with the Blue Angels. Howard actually went so far as to MAKE USE of the Superman character in an NBA event, which undoubtedly ties him to the moniker much more firmly than anything Shaq has done.

Howard didn't exactly stump for the nickname. In fact, it was Jameer Nelson who famously suggested that Howard put on the "S" and cape for the dunk contest two years ago. The Orlando Magic quickly jumped on the marketing angle by creating Superman t-shirts with Howard's name and number on the back and playing the Superman theme song whenever he dunks in a game. The point being, while Howard has embraced it, it almost seems like he has just grabbed a hold and enjoyed the ride as opposed to driving it.

Dwight has done us proud by taking the high road and not striking back at Shaq with barbs of his own. When he was first asked about it on national television during last Friday's NBA All-Star Weekend events, he politely explained that he didn't want to get into it. But later, on Sunday, he was more forthcoming:

"It didn't sit well with me personally," he said. "I'm a young player trying to get to where he's at. I felt it would be better if he tried to help me instead of trying to put me down."

Howard went on to tell TNT:

"I don't have any problems against him. The whole Superman thing, there's no battle of nicknames. I mean, if he wants to be Superman, he can be Superman. But I never tried to steal that title from him or take away anything that he's done for the game of basketball. I would like, instead of people fighting over a nickname, for us to be able to talk about what it's like to win a championship. Just little things that him being who he is can help me. But I never tried to do anything to be like him. I'm my own person. I just love to have fun, and I have a lot of respect for him and what he's brought to the game of basketball, and I would just ask that somebody like Shaquille O'Neal to help me become a better basketball player and a better person."

I love this!

What a way to very diplomatically put Shaq in his place! I am so proud of Howard and how he is stating the real issue here: that Shaq appears too egotistical to give back to the game and help with the heritage of the league by fostering a relationship with a younger center, the only other center in the NBA who appears capable of living up to Shaq's legacy.

It is too bad that Howard's request for help from Shaq will only be responded to with a sneer. Even back during Shaq's prime, he was inexplicably selective with his respect for other players, especially other centers. He respected Hakeem but dissed Ewing; respected Duncan, but dissed Robinson. It seems like Shaq has his own methods for determining who is deserving of respect but he is not about to explain it to anyone else. Shaq is not likely to ever give Howard his due, regardless of what Howard accomplishes. He has not aged gracefully, NBA-wise, and he has yet to leave a team on good terms. The guy is starting to make Michael Jordan look magnanimous.

You guys remember Shaq's rookie year? He was in a commercial that featured Bill Walton, Kareem, Wilt, and Bill Russell, all indoctrinating him into the pantheon of great big men, and he hadn't even done anything yet. He didn't seem to have any problem with that kind of premature praise at the time. Now that he sits front and center among the greats, wouldn't it be great if he could acknowledge the closest thing to himself that is likely to come along? It would be a positive, beneficial thing for Dwight, and even Shaq himself, if a relationship between the two could be brokered. Right now though, Shaq is just sounding like a bitter, aging old man. Think of the goodwill that Shaq could foster with the city of Orlando by helping Dwight instead of insulting him. With every word Shaq utters, he only makes Magic fans like him less, if that's even possible. Seems to me that Dwight has the right idea, stop talking and just keep playing basketball.

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Friday, February 5, 2010, 5:30 PM

Vince Carter: Decoy

The local and national media have spent an abundance of time and print on the decline and fall of Vince Carter. Since his slump began in late-December, it has been the most discussed topic related to Magic basketball. It isn't just the media; its the fans as well. It hasn't helped that Vince's slump has coincided with a stretch of Magic losses last month. Even though the Magic seem to have righted themselves and are back to winning ballgames, Carter's slump continues, with the latest trend being that he doesn't play in the fourth quarter. Yes, it is fair to point out that Vince not playing in the fourth quarter is humorous in an unfunny way, considering he was brought in to be the go-to scorer in the 4th quarter of close games. But I'm not intending to recap what has already been written or to provide some form of a retort to those who have provided Carter with a bright, blazing spotlight these past few weeks. In fact, I'd like to thank them.

Let Vince Carter be the story. Let him be the focus. If he's not going to make the shots, let him take the shots. Vince is becoming the Magic's decoy both on and off the court. Let everyone around the league be so focused on Vince and his struggles that it lessens the glare on the more intriguing Magic stories that are developing as the Magic hit their stride. Dwight Howard's renewed energy, focus, and his ability to stay on the floor for big minutes instead of being in foul trouble. The exploding confidence of JJ Redick and Ryan Anderson. The steady "glue" contributions of Jason Williams and Matt Barnes. The quiet cool of Sweet Lew and his rock solid play of late. In fact, Rashard Lewis has flourished as much as any Magic player during Vince's period of struggle. In his last 10 games – the time period showcasing the Magic's upturn – Lewis is averaging 17.1 points per game, 5.5 rebounds per game, 46% shooting from the field (including 43% from the arc), and one awesome game winner to beat the Boston Celtics, which was dubiously set up by the decoy himself! That layup by Lewis with Kevin Garnett guarding him is my favorite play of the year so far. During that same 10-game span, Lewis has averaged 34.6 minutes a game (a significant amount for anyone not named Dwight Howard on this deep team!), showing how valuable and dependable he is as a steady contributor.

As far this fan is concerned, Vince Carter can continue to be less than half-amazing if it means the rest of his teammates continue to flourish and the team continues to rack up wins. If Vince's poor shooting, or absence in 4th quarters means that he is the center of scrutiny, I don't think that Dwight Howard will mind having a shorter time answering questions in the Magic locker room.

Vince drawing this much attention off the court is just a bonus to what he was meant to do on the court. Regardless of whether Vince scores 20 points or two points, opposing teams must still plan for him and in many cases, double team him. The other team can never know if THIS is the night that Vince busts out his "A" game and puts up 35 points. In spite of the recent trend, Vince's reputation remains the same, an offensive player for whom you must account. Considering that he is sharing the court with Rashard Lewis, Jameer Nelson, and Dwight Howard, then it becomes apparent that splitting that focus up among so many threats makes prepping for the Magic a grueling process for the other NBA coaches. Magic GM Otis Smith summed up this sentiment when speaking to the Orlando Sentinel:

"I didn't bring Vince Carter here to score 25 points a night." "What you have to do is guard him every night and when you guard him, somebody else is open," Smith said. "I don't care if we have 12 guys averaging 10 points a night. It's not centered around one guy."

If Vince's slump should continue as the playoffs draw nearer, more will be made of the fact that the guy brought in to replace and improve upon our previous "Mr. 4th Quarter," Hedo Turkoglu, is barely even playing in the 4th quarter. This is highly unlikely; however, because ultimately, Vince Carter will adjust and figure out how to be effective late in close games. As the pace of the game slows down in the playoffs, his ability to isolate and go one-on-one to the basket, with a good chance of a foul call, will be more pronounced. I truly believe that this is simply a time of adjustment for him, a time when he is still finding his place on the most talented roster he's ever been on. But in the meantime, acting as the decoy for the rest of his talented teammates seems to be working just fine, even if this isn't quite the way that he, or the Magic, had envisioned his role on this team.

Oh and guess what? Vince Carter played 40 minutes in Tuesday's win over the Bucks, shot 7 of 15, scored 17 points, dished out 7 assists and snagged 10 boards. It's only one game, so I'm not saying his decoy days are over, but a player as naturally talented as Vince Carter could certainly manage to carry a team while occasionally running interference. After all, isn't that what a decoy is for?

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Friday, January 15, 2010, 5:30 PM

Reflecting and Relating

After reading and/or listening to multiple reports and comments about the New York Knicks attempt to lure LeBron James away from the Cleveland Cavaliers this coming offseason, I couldn't help but think back to the Summer of 1996 when the Los Angeles Lakers were able to pry Shaquille O'Neal from us. At the risk of stirring up old hurt feelings, I thought I'd provide my thoughts on the matter and also provide you with some insight I was fortunate to get from two individuals with more knowledge than I.

First off, I'm curious if it bothers anyone else that various sectors of the media and even a large number of fans are expressing anger toward the New York Knicks and their rather transparent attempt to create salary cap space to sign LeBron? Actually, I'm not bothered by their anger, but I do find it odd this same anger, at least from a league-wide perspective, was not present back during the 1995-1996 season when the Los Angeles Lakers were doing the same thing, if a little more discreetly. It was gut-wrenching and franchise-devastating when the Orlando Magic lost O'Neal back then, and in my mind, Cleveland losing LeBron to the Knicks, or any other team, is the only event that could possibly equal or trump it. At least the Cavaliers have had several years to prepare for the possibility, and at least they got to resign James once already. The Magic had less than a season to prepare for Shaq's departure and up until he had announced that he had signed with the Los Angeles Lakers, no Magic fan dared to consider the terrible scenario.

So why is it that everyone seems to dislike the idea of the Knicks trading for expiring contracts, signing their own free agents to one year deals, and generally putting an inferior product on the floor, on purpose? Why are people clamoring for change now? Where were these people 14 years ago? Why is it different?

Could the difference between sentiment now and sentiment then be partly because we've been through this before? Is the reaction to the Knicks' actions due to the NBA fan base and the media already seeing this situation play out one too many times? Do I dare consider the thought that those that follow the NBA actually learned something from all the time spent by the Orlando Magic franchise in the sports abyss? Yeah, I'm not buying it either. Sports fans tend to place the needs and desires of their own favorite team(s) above the needs of all other teams, or even the league as a whole. So, I'm not thinking that the NBA fan base wants a pity party for Cleveland, let alone a retroactive one for the Magic.

More likely, the reason for the difference is because now, in 2010, the way the game is covered has evolved far beyond how it was covered in 1996. The way that the media makes information available to the fans, and the way that the fans access both the media's information, and the league's product itself, has changed drastically. Back then, there weren't any blogs or tweets, and really, there were very few websites at all, in comparison to today or even to 10 years ago. For most NBA fans, your NBA news came from Sportscenter and your local newspaper. So, even if there were an equivalent uproar back then, there were not as many outlets for that uproar to be disseminated.

At a recent Magic home game, I spoke with former Magic GM John Gabriel. Gabriel has an interesting view of all of this. In 1996, he was part of the Magic's front office who so desperately tried to sign Shaq to an extension. Today, he is a scout for, yep, you guessed it, the New York Knicks. John agreed with my opinion that the way the NBA is covered now is a major factor in the difference in perception. As for 1996, Gabriel did hint that the Magic were aware of the history between Shaq and his LA-based agent Leonard Armato, and that Armato was pushing Shaq to leave all along. Regarding his being on the other side of the situation now, he did make sure to point out that everything that Knicks GM Donnie Walsh has done has been up-front and above board. In other words, Walsh is not trying to break any NBA tampering rules. I will go to my grave firmly believing that Armato and then-Lakers president Jerry West were taking tampering to a new level back in 1996.

I was also able to speak with Orlando Magic executive Pat Williams about the differences and similarities between the Magic/Lakers situation with Shaquille O'Neal back in 1996 and the Cavaliers/Knicks situation with LeBron James this season. Williams, like Gabriel, was part of the Magic's front office in 1996 and so he also had an interesting perspective on the situation. Williams feels that it ultimately came down to the Magic getting burned by a loophole in the NBA's collective bargaining agreement that allowed a player to become an unrestricted free agent within the framework of his rookie contract.

This loophole sounds completely ludicrous by today's NBA standards. To put it in perspective, consider the Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant or the Portland Trailblazers' Brandon Roy. Both players are irreplaceable to their teams and their cities. Imagine if this offseason, Roy was able to leave Portland, after completing his fourth season, and the Trailblazers received no compensation and had no recourse. It would be even worse if in the summer of 2011, after completing his fourth season, Durant left the Thunder dark and cloudy (yes, I went there.). Both teams, and both teams' fan bases, can breathe a sigh of relief because neither of them can lose these players in quite that manner. Shortly after the Magic lost Shaq, the NBA closed this little "loophole" that allowed players to easily become unrestricted free agents during their rookie contracts. Today, a rookie's contract value is predetermined by his draft position. A player drafted in the first round will receive a standard 5-year contract, with the final two years being option years. Because the team has the option of extending the contract, it allows the player to become a restricted free-agent in year four. So, even if the two sides cannot reach agreement on an extension, the team at least can consider trade options to avoid losing the player for nothing. No such options were available to the Magic in 1996.

There is one crucial difference between the Magic/Shaq situation and the Cavaliers/LeBron situation: the current rookie contract setup allowed the Cavaliers to successfully resign LeBron James once already. Granted, James did choose to sign a shorter deal, but the team has still managed to keep his services for seven seasons (three seasons longer than the Magic has Shaq). This same rookie contract setup also prevented lightning striking twice here in Orlando, as the Magic were able to extend Dwight Howard past his rookie contract. So, the system does work in this sense.

Of course, nothing can stop an elite player from leaving a team once he has reached unrestricted free agent status. At that point, it truly comes down to whether the player wants to stay with that team or not. Money still plays a factor, as the current team can still sign the player for more money and more years, but if the player wants a change, there is really nothing the team can do except hope and pray for a sign and trade. The Magic sure would have liked a sign and trade back in 1996. I think it is worth pointing out that the three major free agent signings the Magic have made since then – Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill in 2000, and Rashard Lewis in 2007 – were sign and trades, not unrestricted free agents signings. So, no matter how unbalanced the trades might have been, at least those players' former teams didn't come away empty handed. Sure, the sign and trades benefitted the players, but I choose to believe that, at the very least, the Magic front office also showed some consideration to their trade partners.

So, getting back to today's perception of the New York Knicks…even if coverage and access to information is more widespread, the sentiment and the principle should be the same, right? Time period or environment shouldn't matter when considering whether the Knicks deserve the ire of the NBA fan base. I believe that teams should be permitted to improve themselves, in whatever manner they can, provided they are operating within the NBA framework. But there are problems with dumping salary, acquiring expiring contracts, or signing short term deals. This plan typically translates to a bad record ('99-'00 Magic being an exception) in the present, with no guarantee that your efforts will be rewarded. It takes a very open-minded fan base to deal with going from bad to worse. In the case of the Knicks, you are asking fans who are paying more for tickets than any other franchise to pay those same rates while also acknowledging that the team is purposely performing actions that lead to a less-competitive product. So, yeah, one could argue that this transparency has a direct impact on the integrity of the game.

By the way, I find it absolutely hilarious – but not in a funny way – that Shaq has a connection to both the Magic's situation in 1996 and the Cavaliers situation now. I mean, what were the Cavs thinking bringing in the most disloyal superstar in the history of the NBA to be around their franchise player during his free agent season? Is Shaq really the player you want whispering free agent advice into LeBron's ear? For all we know, Shaq may already have a nice little package deal worked out with Knicks GM Donnie Walsh! If the Knicks end up with both LeBron James and Shaq this offseason, the league should just implode right on top of David Stern's office.

So, give me your thoughts. How do you feel about what the Knicks are doing? Do the recent accusations by former Cavaliers coach John Lucas that the Cavs tanked the 2002-2003 season in order to better position themselves to draft LeBron change your perceptions of this whole situation? What are your thoughts on the differences between now and 1996?

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Tuesday, January 12, 2010, 12:41 PM

What, Me Worry??

Last week's visit by the Toronto Raptors may have been played in the Amway Arena, but it was difficult to tell if it was the home team or the away team that was playing like the Orlando Magic. The inside-outside game being used by Chris Bosh and his teammates looked rather familiar. It was a distorted mirror image of the last visit by the Raptors in December, save for the Magic's valiant, but ill-fated push in the 4th quarter. With the loss to the Raptors, the Magic stood at 7-7 in their previous 14 games. Then, when they followed that loss up with a curious 4th quarter meltdown against the normally hapless Washington Wizards, it signaled the first four game losing streak of Coach Stan Van Gundy's tenure. As any proud Magic fan knows, the worst part wasn't the losses, but who the losses came against: four straight sub-500 teams beat the Magic.

I find myself looking for but not finding any quick, obvious answers that quickly explained the reasons for the slump. A good friend of mine, who is also a passionate Magic fan and fellow Orlando Magic Message Board member, described the problem as a lack of good, consistent point guard play, combined with lapses in Dwight Howard's playing level. That is as good an explanation as anything I can come up with.

But regardless of any slump or any easy answers, what time and again amazes me is the extreme, knee jerk reactions from Magic Fan. When the team is on a roll, he thinks the players should get sized for rings. When the team starts a skid, the club should fold or move to Seattle, if the city will even have them. It's true that the Magic are struggling of late and have had trouble on the road. What was once perceived as a strength has now become a weakness at worst, and an uncertainty at best. As we sit poised for the first of a four-game road trip out West, I choose to view it as an uncertainty.

Although chemistry is truly not an issue with this team, familiarity with all the moving parts might be. We can't seem to get healthy. "Healthy" for the Magic might have to be redefined as "any time the Magic can employ any three of the four all-stars on the roster." So, the fact is, nearly halfway through the season, the team is still getting comfortable playing together. And in light of all of these factors, is 25-11 all that bad? It may not be the pace of an elite 60-win team, but we certainly shouldn't be filling out our wills. The goal for the season shouldn't be a specific win plateau but instead should be to finish with as many wins as possible and to finish as high in the standings as possible. For all we know, 55 wins might get it done! But really, it is just way too early to even predict where the Magic will finish. For now, it is sufficient to say that the Magic sit in a good position amongst their peers, namely, the Boston Celtics and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Home court advantage is very important, but we cannot forget that this advantage did not help the Celtics and Cavaliers last season. The Celtics have their own injury issues, and over the course of the next month, the Magic may be in a position to take advantage of it (especially if we can figure out a way to schedule the Atlanta Hawks a few more time, amirite!). The Cavaliers are more of an unknown factor. Frankly, I am still waiting for them to falter and I still don't think they match up well against us in a series. But they have LeBron James, so…

So explain it to me Magic Fan. How can a fan base become so spoiled after only one season of true playoff success? It seems impossible for Magic Fan to just come along for the ride. I still remember how up and down, crazy insane last season was, but it was so much fun! By early June my buddies and I had agreed to get Magic tattoos if we won the title. Never mind that my tattoo would have been somewhere well-hidden, like, I don't know…on my foot, maybe. The point is, we were excited, the Magic were world beaters, and we were prepared to promise anything – within reason – while basking in the euphoria of the Magic glow. It is much easier to enjoy this kind of team, and this kind of season, if you just acknowledge that there will be ups and downs, but many many more ups than downs! Let go of the wheel Magic Fan, buckle up, and relax!

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Thursday, December 17, 2009, 12:41 PM

Booing Turk? Take off, eh!

I was especially excited to attend last night's Orlando Magic game vs. the Toronto Raptors because it was the first time that Hedo Turkoglu would be visiting the O-Rena since he departed the team last Summer. It warmed my heart to see him before the game, exchanging hugs with his former teammates and greeting various Magic staffers, arena workers, and media members that he had gotten to know over the past five seasons. You could tell he was genuinely happy to be back here to a place that was his home.

During the player introductions, Hedo received what sounded like a nice, warm reception from the Magic crowd. I was very pleased to hear it.

But then, once the game started, I was astonished to hear rather loud booing every time Hedo touched the ball. I was incredulous! How can anyone boo Hedo Turkoglu! This isn't Shaquille O'Neal we are talking about. This isn't Grant Hill and seven years of salary cap purgatory. This isn't even Tracy McGrady leaving and having a few choice words on the way out.

Hedo Turkoglu was a model player while he was here and his personal development coincided with the Magic's rise to prominence. This is a player who chose to sign with the Magic back in 2004 and was our most versatile offensive player during his five seasons with us. Even if you care to take issue with some of the deficiencies in his game, or if you feel that the Magic are better off with Vince Carter instead of Hedo, you cannot take issue with how well Hedo represented the Orlando Magic and how great a teammate he was while he was here.

Perhaps the Magic fans that were booing him weren't aware that he did not exactly bull rush out of here and head up to the Great White North to hang with the McKenzie brothers.

For several months before the 2008-2009 season ended, there was speculation that Orlando Magic GM Otis Smith was not going to break the bank to sign Hedo Turkoglu. You could make a very valid argument that once the Magic traded for Vince Carter, signing Hedo Turkoglu was no longer a possibility.

My point is that if you have to pick a party that should feel slighted, it is hard to point to the Magic. Under this assumption, how can those that were booing last night possibly think that Hedo deserved it? Considering how poorly the Toronto Raptors are playing so far this season – last night they basically played the role of the Washington Generals to the Magic's Globetrotters – Hedo should be getting our sympathy, not our disdain.

If you really want to get down to the essentials of this whole booing business, and why it was wrong, just read what Coach Stan Van Gundy had to say about it:

"I thought he got a good reception, I don't know. Once the game starts I don't know what happens. I thought before the game he got a nice reception. Anybody who's booing him in my mind really can't be a Magic fan. I don't understand how you're a Magic fan and you're booing him. He did a great job for this organization for a number of years. We wouldn't have gotten to where we got to last year without him. He deserves nothing but the respect and gratitude of the fans. Plus he's a good guy. This is not a guy who ever caused any problems. I can't imagine how you can be sitting in that arena and boo Hedo Turkoglu. I didn't hear it and I don't understand how anybody could do that."

After Stan's press conference ended, I went over to the visitors' locker room and spoke with Hedo Turkoglu. I explained to him that Stan was asked about the booing and told Turk what Stan had to say about it. This was Turk's response:

"It was nice of him...I still have a good relationship with him. He always showed respect and supported his players and today I appreciate his comments. You know, this is business...and fans, some of whom boo and some cheer...and you can't get on to the whole of Magic fans for what some of them do."

See there Magic fans...Hedo is not holding it against you. For the love of Mookie Blaylock, why are you holding it against him?

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Wednesday, December 2, 2009, 4:55 PM

A Preferable Problem

The Orlando Magic's roster depth will be a point of discussion all season long. We won't know until the end of the season if the depth is of a quality to place us above the rest of the elite teams in the NBA. For the moment, it is sufficient to state that the depth of talent on the roster is what should allow the Magic to successfully weather the early stages of what is shaping up to be an even more interesting season than we anticipated.

The team has already seen plenty of injuries and illnesses (and suspensions!) throughout the roster. We lose Rashard Lewis for the first 10 games, then get him back, only to then lose Jameer Nelson for a minimum of four weeks, but likely for longer! Ryan Anderson and Vince Carter both tweaked ankles, while Mickael Pietrus and Marcin Gortat got the flu.

Despite all of this, the Magic have still been able to send out at least eight players for each game who have meshed and performed well enough to achieve a 14-4 record. It has also left some of the bench players with some uncertainty. Brandon Bass can't seem to get any playing time all of a sudden, Marcin Gortat is never sure how much he will play and JJ Redick is never sure if he will get six minutes or 20 minutes. My point isn't to criticize, in fact, I don't envy Coach Stan Van Gundy and his rotation decisions each game. But I'm sure he prefers this to the alternative: having to look beyond his own bench to find a piece to plug into the hole.

Sure on a night like the game against the Thunder, it meant that Brandon Bass and Matt Barnes didn't see action until the fourth quarter. Considering how integral both players were to the Magic's success so far, it was surprising to see them sitting so long. Of course, its not like the Magic didn't have 9 other players more than capable of putting away an improved team like the OK Thunder! It is also a bench that has us with the Eastern Conference's best record after 18 games.

Ultimately, Stan will have to tighten up his rotation. I don't see him playing 11 players deep into April. But it will be almost impossible for him to get it down to the typical 8-man playoff rotation. In fact, depending on matchups, Stan may be hard pressed to avoid playing 10 players a night. With Nelson proving to be injury-prone, Stan will likely keep his minutes down once he returns. Considering how well Jason Williams has played in the starting role, he will likely continue to see at least 20 minutes a night.

Dwight Howard has shaken off his foul troubles the last three games, allowing him to play over 40 minutes each game (for the first time all season!) and get back to the kind of scoring, rebounding, and blocks numbers that we have come to expect from him. Should Howard continue to struggle with foul trouble all season (especially against opponents with all-star caliber post players), it will mean that Marcin Gortat will continue to be an important part of the mix. Seriously, how could GM Otis Smith even consider trading Gortat during the season if Howard continues to have issues with fouls?

As I've mentioned previously, I feel that J.J. Redick will be in the rotation as long as he is in Magic pinstripes. Matt Barnes has shown his versatility, on the court and in the stat sheet, so he is likely to see time at multiple positions throughout the season.

Which bring us to our two back-up power forwards. Who would have thought that the energetic, rugged Brandon Bass, signed as a free agent out from under the Dallas Mavericks, would be the odd man out. It appears that Ryan Anderson, the "throw in," is going to be the player getting the minutes behind Rashard Lewis. Granted, Stan did throw a curve ball the other night against Milwaukee when Bass suddenly played again after racking up 4 consecutive DNP-CDs. But then the very next night against the Knicks, it was Anderson getting the minutes again. It looks like Stan will attempt to keep both of these players from getting too rusty on the bench, but clearly, Anderson, with his long-range shooting ability, will be the favorite to get the most minutes. As much as I like Anderson, it is a shame that we can't figure out how to use both players. I mean, it has been a while since we have seen a player like Bass on the roster. Even in limited minutes, he seems to deliver. But then, that is the whole point of this roster! A very talented player (or players) will be left sitting on the bench because we just have too much of a good thing. We managed to beat good teams with physical presences like Atlanta, Boston, and Toronto without Bass playing at all.

You know it has reached comical levels when Magic fans have taken to the message boards with their debates over whether Jason Williams should keep the starter's job once Nelson returns. Who'd have expected that possibility a month ago? You think that's preposterous? Try this one...someone posted a thread on the Magic message boards saying that Ryan Anderson should start at power forward, even after Rashard Lewis returns! Jubilant, hyper-intense fans of any team in any sport use the open access medium of the interwebs to voice their opinions, regardless of how outlandish they might sound. But it is a symptom of the make-up of the current roster that these types of outlandish claims are even possible. I say we just enjoy the ride. After all, we aren't the ones having to scratch our heads and stroke our mustaches before each game, wondering how best to divvy up the minutes. Let's leave the hard work to Stan and his staff.

Point To Ponder

In researching some stats on the bench's minutes played for this piece, I couldn't help noticing Dwight Howard's stats over the last three games - all road wins. The last three games represent the first games of the season in which Dwight Howard has played 40 minutes or more. A direct correlation to this fact is his low number of fouls in those games. It needs to be stated that all three wins were close games, at least going into the fourth quarter, therefore the starters played more minutes. Howard also was not having to guard an all-star in the post in any of these games, making it easier to stay out of foul trouble. Still, it is nice to see that when Howard avoids foul trouble and gets bigger minutes, he can put up the numbers we expect. I think that Dwight's increased focus of late - especially on defense - has contributed to the better numbers. Stan has also made it a bigger priority to establish Howard in the post. The only knock is that he shot 50% from the stripe in those three games. Here are his numbers (averages) for the last three games: 40.7 mins; 71% FG; 3.3 Bpg; 17.7 rbpg; 23.7 ppg; 3 fouls per game. That, my friends, is straight-up stellar.

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Thursday, November 12, 2009, 1:05 PM

The Arrival of Redick

In a relatively quiet manner, with no one noticing save those setting out to notice it, J.J. Redick has transformed himself into a solid NBA basketball player. Over the course of the past 12 months, and specifically the past 12 days, JJ has proven to this Magic fan that he is just as important to our depth as Brandon Bass, Matt Barnes, and Marcin Gortat.

Consider that JJ has survived Maurice Evans, Keith Bogans, and Courtney Lee as former Magic shooting guards who have come and gone during his tenure. Now, despite the signing of Mickael Pietrus and the trade for Vince Carter, here's JJ, averaging 30 minutes per game with 6 starts in 9 games this season. Sure, we have been hit hard with injuries so far this season, but even last night, with both Carter and Pietrus in the lineup, JJ still played 20 minutes and again got into double figure points. Take a further look, and you'll see that it appears he is the only shooting guard on the roster who can stay consistently healthy.

J.J. Redick remains one of the most discussed players the Magic have ever drafted. Whether you liked him in college or hated him, everyone assumed he would be the type of player in the pros that he was at Duke. We've spent over three seasons now making this unrealistic and unfair comparison. Perhaps even JJ spent some time struggling with the assumption that his NBA career would be as smooth and successful as his college career. While records and accolades have not followed Redick to the pros, on thing remains constant: he plays for a hard nosed coach who preaches defense, discipline, and individual sacrifice.

As much as any player on the roster, Redick has been molded to Stan Van Gundy's image of what an NBA player should be. His incomparably sweet shooting stroke aside, JJ's game has all the attributes of Stan Van Gundy basketball. On offense he is constantly moving, looking for space, and taking the open jumper when he has it. Gone is the hesitation he showed during his first couple of seasons. It was maddening to watch JJ then. He'd have three-to-five feet of space to put up a shot – ample space for a quick, rhythm shooter – but more often he would simply pump fake and then look to pass. Now, if JJ pump fakes, it is intended, and it can just as easily be followed by a move toward the lane as by an effortless 3-pointer. He is comfortable driving to the basket or utilizing back door cuts to catch interior passes and get easy layups. He has also demonstrated the knack for the timely extra pass. All of this is basketball "know how" that he already possessed, but now he appears comfortable using this knowledge at this level. In fact, you could actually argue that he has learned to turn his brain off and just allow his basketball instincts to take over.

On defense, he stays with his man as best he can and is ready to offer help defense when needed. JJ may never be a lock down defender and may always struggle with both size and speed when defending opposing shooting guards. But as Stan Van Gundy will tell you, defense, and especially team defense, is primarily about effort. Teams may not be able to avoid a bad shooting night on occasion, but there isn't much excuse for a lack of effort on defense. Effort on defense is one area that Redick excels as much as any other Magic player. Even though Stan was not yet here when we drafted JJ, it almost seems that JJ is one of Stan's guys. Redick listens to Coach Van Gundy and it appears that Van Gundy has complete confidence that when Redick is on the floor, he will give Stan exactly what he expects. I have to wonder if even Stan expected Redick to be averaging 12 points per game and 42% from beyond the arc (actually, he probably WAS expecting that second part).

It was very appropriate that after a horrible defensive performance last night against the Cavaliers, Stan Van Gundy singled out JJ Redick in his post-game press conference. He didn't single out JJ for a great shooting night or for stellar play, but for his willingness to be the first player to stand up and admit to his teammates and coaches that the Magic are just not a very good team right now. This is a sentiment that Stan has been sharing with anyone that will listen for at least a full week now. See, now Stan and JJ are even starting to think alike!

The fact that JJ is willing to speak up in a locker room filled with all-stars is a testament to his character and how good a teammate he can be on the court and in the locker room. Remember that supposedly brash, almost egotistical, player we drafted out of Duke? Where is he now? Redick's comfort and familiarity with his teammates is also evidenced by his ability to work just as effectively with the starting unit as with the second unit. He no longer has any issues with getting into the flow of the game. One argument made for his earlier struggles was that he was used to starting and playing bigger minutes and did not have the consistent playing time needed to get comfortable and loose. While that argument might have had some merit at the time, Redick now appears comfortable and "in the flow" from the minute he steps on the court, whether that's at the start of the 1st quarter or the start of the 2nd.

I submit to you this assumption: Redick will still be an integral part of the rotation this season, even once the Magic are fully loaded. The average Magic fan has taken it as fact that the Magic will allow Redick to walk after this season as a restricted free agent or be included in some mid-season trade. While both are realistic possibilities, I think that the Magic, and Coach Stan Van Gundy in particular, like who JJ has become and see him as being an integral part of this championship caliber team for many seasons to come.

I mentioned earlier that it was unfair to assume that JJ would be the same type of player for the Magic that he was in college. I think maybe I should qualify that statement. JJ may not be as prolific a player for the Magic as he was at Duke. But he actually is still the same type of player. A player who can shoot "lights out", a player who will play exactly as his coach demands, a player who shows leadership both on and off the court, and a player who can be and wants to be, the best teammate possible.

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Friday, October 30, 2009, 9:09 AM

Opening Night Observations

· I always like to get to the O-Rena early enough to see the festivities outside the building. There is always a plethora of activities going on for the fans. Last night I was very pleased to see the final steel beam that will be placed inside the new events center. The Magic had displayed this beam outside the O-Rena so that Magic fans could sign the beam for posterity. The beam was on its side and so most people were writing on the top. I looked underneath and saw that the underside was pretty much empty. So, I had all kinds of space to sign! It will be interesting to see where the beam is placed and whether or not it will ever be visible again.

· Got to speak to the Sixers Asst. GM and former head coach Tony DiLeo in the media food line. After exchanging greetings, I couldn't think of anything else appropriate to say but in my head I was wondering if it felt odd for him to not be coaching the team, considering it was their first regular season game since he stepped down.

· The banner raising ceremony, and the '09 playoffs recap video was epic. I got goose bumps watching it. I have to say, it did seem odd that the video recap, which conveniently ended at the Eastern Conference Finals, didn't include any highlights from any player not currently on this season's roster. So, no highlights from Hedo Turkoglu, Courtney Lee, or Rafer Alston. And to be fair, all three of those players had a ton of highlight-worthy moments during the playoffs. I was sitting next to a member of the Magic's web development team and I brought this point up. It was explained to me that the reason those players are missing is because the Magic can't promote another team's product. I am quite satisfied with this answer as I'm sure it is a league wide practice in these situations.

· I was lamenting not having an actual game ticket when I saw that the Magic were giving out mini versions of the ECF Championship banners. Undeterred, I ventured out to the concourse and scored one from an unnamed worker at the turnstiles. Hey, I'm still a fan, right!?

· One thing that really stood out for me was how healthy – and FAST – Mickael Pietrus looks. Seriously, he makes Vince Carter look slow by comparison, which is saying something!

· I've been hearing a few Ryan Anderson / Pat Garrity comparisons lately. The problem with these comparisons is that they pit the current Ryan Anderson against the most recent Pat Garrity. To be fair, we should be comparing second-year Anderson to second-year Garrity, which incidentally, leads us to the most appropriate comparison. See, Garrity was also sent to us as a "throw-in" (Penny Hardaway to the Suns in 1999 for multiple draft picks) and came to us during his second year. During that 2nd year, he was a solid contributor on the "Heart and Hustle" squad, only starting one game, but playing solid minutes (18 min.) in all of them. He hit 40% from the arc and averaged 8.2 ppg. If we get that kind of production out of Ryan Anderson this season, I'll be very happy. Of course, the main reason that I don't think the comparison has merit is because Ryan Anderson seems to have a more physical game than Garrity did. Sure he is obviously a shooting threat, but in the nine games we've seen so far (including preseason) he is spending as much time inside the point as outside the paint.

· I am continuously amazed at the size of Dwight Howard's shoulders. It almost looks like he has a bowling ball at the top of each of his arms. The maximum weight of a bowling ball is 16 pounds. I have no idea what the average weight of the human shoulder is, but would any of you be at all surprised to learn that Howard's shoulders weigh 16 pounds each?

· Can someone please explain to me why the Sixers dumped Andre Miller?

· Funniest moment of the night: So, you know the Magic are trying this courtesy initiative in which they ask you to wait for a stop in play for you to return to your seat. This way, you do not disrupt your fellow fans who are in their seats enjoying the game. In theory, it is a great idea, and I hope it works. But in practice, it leads to unintentional comedy. I observed a group of people being asked to wait at the top of the concourse until there was a stop in play. One of the fans waiting - a pretty woman with long red hair - heard me make a comment about how long the policy might last. She responded "Two games! Cuz after that, I'm going red-head on them!" Stay tuned!

· I was absolutely amazed at how completely and efficiently the Magic 2nd unit WORKED the Sixers 2nd unit in the 2nd quarter. The lineup of Marcin Gortat, Matt Barnes, Brandon Bass, JJ Redick, and Jason Williams might win 20 games as a starting unit, which is saying something considering that most NBA benches are lucky to go three deep. Regardless, our 2nd unit will easily compete and surpass most, if not all, of the 2nd units in the league. Sure, its one game, but come on, Jason Williams had 11 points, 4 assts, and a board in just 11 first half minutes!

· Speaking of Jason Williams...I loved seeing him get fouled on a last-second heave to end the half. He went to the line for three with a 70 point first half on the line and he didn't disappoint. · My one and only feeling of disappointment with Dwight Howard on the night was his technical foul. I mean, the 1st half of the 1st game of the year and Howard already has a tech? Of course, Stan went and did the same thing later in the game, so there you go. · The Magic pretty much hit the brakes after the third quarter and Stan basically said as much in his post-game press conference. Still, I want to cut the guys a bit of slack considering they put up 100 points in three quarters. But Stan has a point, we can afford to only play 36 minutes when we are shooting lights out and playing teams like the Sixers. But we will need all 48 minutes and zero defensive lapses when we're playing the elite teams of the league. · As if the first night of the season wasn't special and satisfying enough, on my way out of the O-Rena, Nick Anderson, my favorite player of all time, stops me, shakes my hand, and asks me how I'm doing! I'm doing just great Nick, and thanks for asking!

Final Point to Ponder
I'm not totally sure what the best NBA regular season record is for a team without a 20 points-per-game scorer. I feel pretty confident that it is the 2007-2008 Boston Celtics who won 66 games with Paul Pierce leading the way with 19.6 ppg. The reason I bring the point up is that I would not be surprised if our team depth is such that our leading scorer – most likely Dwight – dips below the 20 points-per-game threshold for the season. Now, the real question is whether or not we have the talent, drive, and yes, luck, to make a run at 67 wins. It will be fun to watch them try!

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.

By Live or Die Magic, Friday, October 23, 2009, 10:10 AM

No Uncertainty Here!

To me, it seems uncommon for a team coming off of so successful a campaign to enter the following season with so much uncertainty. But there it is. Whether this is simply a perception shared by the media and the fans, or whether it is something the coaches and players feel as well, it is apparent that the 2009-2010 Orlando Magic have many questions to ponder and answer as they move toward the start of the new season.

After winning 59 games and losing in the Finals in June, the Magic still bring back their franchise player, their highest paid player, their starting point guard, and their top-flight coach. For most successful teams, that would seem like enough – enough at least, for most observers to feel that the team should be ready to duplicate the success of the previous season. But the Magic didn't stop there – no, they added a 20 point scorer and finisher in Vince Carter, and they reinforced an already good bench with starting quality players such as Brandon Bass, Jason Williams, Matt Barnes, and Ryan Anderson.

You would think that this influx of new talent would only serve to strengthen the argument that the Magic should continue on the path to a championship. But instead, we hear that the loss of Hedo Turkoglu eliminates any mismatch edge we had against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Magic's ability to surround Dwight Howard with several different combinations of slashers, shooters, and scorers makes the current roster an opposing coach's headache. But instead, we hear how Rashard Lewis missing the first 10 games is going to cause us to lose ground against Boston in the race for home court advantage.

The Magic chose to make a surprising move when they matched the large contract of their back-up center. Marcin Gortat could easily start for a significant number of NBA teams. Instead, he will continue to back up the best center in the league. Instead of marveling at what a luxury it is, what a great potential advantage it is, to be able to call on such a good player, if needed, we hear how the Magic's chemistry issues will be a disadvantage all season long against the other elite teams in the league.

I sometimes wonder if the people making these observations are watching the same NBA that I am. Was chemistry an issue for the 2007-2008 Boston Celtics? How 'bout for the 2007-2008 LA Lakers when they brought Pau Gasol in? How about any other NBA Finalist over the last decade who has made tweaks and changes each year? The fact is, chemistry is always going to be something that NBA teams deal with, even when rosters don't change this dramatically. But we are talking about professionals here. Otis Smith and Stan Van Gundy are on the same page with this team. They know what to expect from everyone on the roster. The locker room is under control thanks to players like Rashard Lewis, Dwight Howard, and especially Jameer Nelson. The players we have brought in as additions to this team are either veterans eager for the chance to be on a successful team and playing with a dominating center (Vince Carter, Matt Barnes, Jason Williams), or are young, promising players itching for the chance to establish themselves even further (Brandon Bass, Ryan Anderson). We have not added head cases or potential malcontents such as Ron Artest or Rasheed Wallace onto this roster. Everyone wearing Magic blue and white this season will be more than willing to sacrifice themselves for the other players on this team. So, I would argue that chemistry will be a major strength this season, not a weakness.

For me, I have appreciated watching my team have such an amazingly eventful off season, coming off such an amazingly eventful 2008-2009 campaign. I never expected to be more excited to watch the 2009-2010 Magic roster than I was to watch last season's version. And maybe this is the very simple place to stop all the uncertainty and just focus on this one certain fact: this Magic season is going to be fantastic!

This message was not subject of approval by the NBA or the Orlando Magic. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Orlando Magic or the NBA, but solely the writer.