One year ago, things were a little different at the start of the Orlando Magic’s training camp. When the players talked about the NBA Finals at Media Day last season — and all of them certainly did — it felt like they were talking about a dream, a long-term goal that could present itself down the road if all the breaks went Orlando’s way. Maybe the players believed it, maybe the coaches and the Magic dancers believed it — but the media sure didn’t.
A squad anchored by an undeveloped center, an undersized point guard, an overpaid and undersized power forward and an unproven supporting cast couldn’t seriously be talking about the NBA Finals, could it? You know how it turned out.
Last season’s Magic team gave Orlando its most memorable ride in more than a decade. The Magic made this city rally around its only professional sports team like never before — humongous banners draped over hotels, Magic drink specials at every sports bar, “Go Magic!” written on storefronts.
All of the players, coaches and front office staff enjoyed an unprecedented run that got everyone excited about basketball in a region dominated by football, and that two-month stretch implored the Magic’s owner to go over the salary cap for the first time ever.
Today — one year later — when the Orlando Magic talk openly about the NBA Finals on Media Day, no one will bat an eye. It’s expected that an NBA Finals victory is the only goal for this team. No one cares about 50 wins, no one cares about those Southeast Division banners adorning the rafters at Amway Arena, and no one even cares about winning the Eastern Conference.
The entire organization is after one thing: The Larry O’Brien Trophy. And that’s a scary thing.
With great successes come great expectations. Stan Van Gundy and the players will downplay the impact of those expectations when talking to the media today, especially after being asked about it 200 times.
But it’s impossible to doubt that high expectations from exterior sources can have an effect on a team. Those effects may be small, but they’re there — and that’s something, of course, that we’ll get into as the season approaches.
The Magic had a lot of turnover this summer — a lot more than most up-and-coming NBA Finals teams have — but I believe they’re better off than they were a year ago. The players and coaches will say the same thing today.
We’ll get into that as the season approaches. And we’ll also get into all of the not-so-obvious-and-boring storylines over the next month. Most of the questions today will revolve around those expectations, chemistry, how to get the new players involved, etc.; the standard Media Day stuff.
Regardless, it will be great to see everyone back in their basketball gear. No more costumes or wigs for Dwight Howard — it’s Magic, No. 12, Howard. Just the way it should be.