Even the harshest critics of the return Orlando got in the Dwight Howard deal had to concede this: The Magic’s own horrid play would land them at least one really good shot at the no. 1 pick, the most valuable commodity in the sport. Even if the mid-tier players and mid-tier picks the Magic received from Denver and Philadelphia didn’t work out as hoped, they’d at least have their own stockpile of lottery deliciousness.
But after a 5-10 start that featured some ugly blowouts and a key injury to Jameer Nelson, the Magic have moved to 12-13 and injected themselves into the playoff race. John Hollinger gives the Magic a 71 percent chance of snagging a playoff spot, even though a relatively easy early-season schedule has helped fuel this solid start. It’s a fair question now: Could the Magic actually make the playoffs? Three trends suggest it might not be so crazy, even if executives and scouts around the league are almost universally skeptical — for reasons both of talent and motivation as we approach the trade deadline.
This summer, after he was fired by the Orlando Magic, Stan Van Gundy, a man who’d spent the previous three decades keeping a basketball coach’s long hours, suddenly found himself with a lot of time on his hands.
After his Orlando exit, Van Gundy and his wife didn't want to leave Florida, where three of their kids were still in school and the fourth and oldest had just transferred to go to college. But coaching for the Miami Heat, which he'd left in 2007 2005, or the Magic was obviously out of the question.
Having the time to shuttle his kids to and from baseball games and horseback riding lessons was nice. But he still wasn't filling his days. Until, that is, he found the Seminole County public school system.
The Magic have just beaten the Knicks, and Dwight Howard’s in a good mood. Most of the Orlando players in MSG’s petite visitors’ locker room are strategically maneuvering orange towels while silently changing; meanwhile, Dwight’s riffing. The first target is Jameer Nelson, who just polished off a postgame Styrofoam platter of wings and fries and now can’t find his shower shoes. Howard offers a hand, ducking his head up to the top shelf of the 6-foot Nelson’s locker: “Oh, you can’t see 'em? Y'all got an apple box?” The assembled media scrum titters, and Howard moves on to one of the refs: “They need to send him to the D-League. He didn’t know what three seconds was. It’s when you’re in the paint for three seconds!” Then he spots ESPN’s news-breaking specialist Chris Broussard and rattles off an impersonation: “I talked to LeBron James … inside sources tell me … I just talked to Jesus and he said …"