Monday, December 20, 2010

Voila! It's Magic, Orlando remakes team

By John McMullen

Philadelphia, PA - The Orlando Magic have a complex, the roots of which sprouted 200 miles to the south in Miami.

When the Heat convinced LeBron James and Chris Bosh to join Dwyane Wade in South Beach this offseason, the Magic, despite three straight Southeast Division crowns, two consecutive Eastern Conference finals appearances and a trip to the 2008-09 NBA Finals, felt like a bit of an afterthought.

Early on coach Stan Van Gundy played dumb, trumpeting up his own team's successes while downplaying what was going on in Miami.

"I think the best thing you can probably say is that our organization has come far enough and we have reached a level that going to Game 6 of the conference finals is not a success," Van Gundy said before the 2010-11 campaign started.

Early on Van Gundy's brashness seemed on the mark. Orlando raced out to a 16-4 record while the Heat struggled with chemistry issues and were just 9-8 as the vultures started circling, wondering when Erik Spoelstra would find himself on the unemployment line.

Then a funny thing happened. The Magic found themselves in Milwaukee in early December when a "stomach virus" ravaged the team. Since then, Orlando has managed just one win in seven games, and lost by double-digits to Portland, Utah and Denver. Meanwhile, with the embarrassing specter of .500 looming, James and Company finally found their sea legs and have gone on a 12-game run.

Like two ships passing in the night off the coast of the Sunshine State, Miami and Orlando have shifted positions, with the Heat now comfortably atop the Southeast Division.

Already concerned that his Magic and superstar center Dwight Howard are become eerily similar to Cleveland and James, Orlando general manager Otis Smith watched the last three weeks and handled his team's hiccup like the virus had invaded his laptop. It was time to hit Ctrl+Alt+Delete and reboot.

Smith drastically revamped his club Saturday by acquiring former All-Star Gilbert Arenas, the sharp-shooting Hedo Turkoglu and the athletic Jason Richardson in separate trades involving three teams, eight players, a first- round draft pick and cash.

First, Orlando dealt former All-Star forward Rashard Lewis to Washington in exchange for Arenas, a three-time All Star himself whose eight years with the Wizards were marked by controversy.

The Magic then reacquired Turkoglu along with Richardson and the little-used Earl Clark from the Phoenix Suns in exchange for eight-time All-Star Vince Carter, highly-regarded backup center Marcin Gortat, swingman Mickael Pietrus, a first- round draft pick and cash considerations.

On the floor Smith's intentions were clear. He was hell-bent on acquiring a "go-to-guy" for the closing minutes of tight games, something Orlando really hasn't had since Turkoglu bolted for Toronto after the '08-09 campaign.

Carter failed in that role and Turkoglu and Arenas both have the resumes to handle it, although the Turkish star hasn't been the same since leaving central Florida and the former Agent Zero hasn't played a full season since 2006-07.

The off the floor considerations were even more evident, however. Smith is doing everything he can to keep Howard happy in an effort to make sure he doesn't look at James' free agent forays and play copycat in 2012.

While tearing away Chris Paul from New Orleans or Carmelo Anthony from Denver would have been option No. 1 for both Howard and the Magic, those players were just fantasies. Howard wanted Arenas and Smith got him.

Arenas has shown flashes this year but the embattled former face of the Wizards franchise saw the writing on the wall in Washington, even admitting the rebuilding Wizards were no longer his team and the city belonged to No. 1 draft pick John Wall. Now, he's needed again by a solid team with a chance to make a deep run.

Whether Arenas still has the skills and more importantly the durability to deliver will determine not only the fate of Orlando's season but also the long-term future of the franchise's cornerstone, Howard.

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