Tuesday , Oct , 19 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

Orlando Magic 2004-05 Season Preview

=== Orlando Magic 2004-05 Season Preview ===

By Brian Gillespie, Contributing NBA Writer

2003-04 FINISH: 21-61

OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: Stacey Augmon (F/G) – Free Agent; Tony Battie (F/C) –
Trade with Cleveland; Michael Bradley (F) – Free Agent; Kelvin Cato (F/C) –
Trade with Houston: Steve Francis (G) – Trade with Houston; Cuttino Mobley (G)
– Trade with Houston; Jameer Nelson (G) – Trade with Denver; Hedo Turkoglu
(F/G) – Free Agent.

OFFSEASON SUBTRACTIONS: Reece Gaines (G) – Traded to Houston; Drew Gooden (F)
– Traded to Cleveland; Juwan Howard (F) – Traded to Houston; Steven Hunter (C)
– Traded to Cleveland; Tyronn Lue (G) – Traded to Houston; Tracy McGrady (G)
– Traded to Houston; Zaza Pachulia (F) – Selected by Charlotte in Expansion
Draft.

RE-SIGNINGS: DeShawn Stevenson (G).

2004 DRAFT PICKS: 1. (1) Dwight Howard (F, Southwest Atlanta Christian HS);
2. (30) Anderson Varejao (F, Brazil) – Traded to Cleveland; 2. (36) Antonio
Burks (G, Memphis) – Traded to Memphis.

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP: PG Steve Francis, SG Cuttino Mobley, SF Grant Hill,
PF Dwight Howard, C Kelvin Cato

COACH: Johnny Davis

(Sports Network) – These aren’t your grandparents’ Orlando Magic. In fact,
they aren’t even your kids’ Magic. Only four players are back from last
season’s roster, including the eternally injured Grant Hill. That may not
be such a bad thing after the squad mustered a league and franchise-low 21
wins.

Most notably, franchise anchor Tracy McGrady forced the team’s hand in the
offseason, leveraging a trade to Houston for Steve Francis. Also dealt to
Houston in the exchange were guard Reece Gaines, forward Juwan Howard and
guard Tyronn Lue.

Along with Francis, guard Cuttino Mobley came to the Magic Kingdom in the
trade. Francis, 27, becomes the center piece of a franchise in a rebuilding
phase. The former Maryland Terrapin is no pushover, as he averaged 16.6 points
and 6.2 assists (9th-NBA) per game last season, helping the Rockets to the
playoffs.

Francis will have to share the spotlight though, as top pick overall Dwight
Howard has joined the fold. Howard, a 6-foot-11 forward straight out of
Atlanta Christian High School, has all the raw talent to lead the Magic to big
things in the future. The versatile youngster will fit nicely in the fast-
paced offense which returning coach Johnny Davis has implemented.

“I think that’s what we’re going to be best at,” Howard said of the fast
break. “We’ve got some guys who can really run, and we’ve got some great
finishers. I think that’s great. I’m glad they picked up Steve Francis.”

Another roster changing deal came late in the Summer, as the Magic acquired
forward/center Tony Battie from Cleveland for forwards Drew Gooden and
Anderson Varejao and center Steven Hunter. Battie, 28, is a solid defensive
force in the middle.

The Magic will need all hands on deck in the paint this year with Shaquille
O’Neal and the Miami Heat patrolling the Sunshine State. Orlando general
manager John Weisbrod understands the importance of having depth in the post.

“I don’t want to get greedy now that things have gone the way we wanted them
to go,” Weisbrod said. “But now that we’ve got that and it’s still early, we
have to keep pushing. We have to shore up our bigs a little more, particularly
with Shaq in the East.”

Another key addition for the Magic in the offseason was swingman Hedo
Turkoglu. The talented 25-year-old provides insurance for Orlando if Hill re-
injures himself. Hill has played in just 47 games since the 1999-00 campaign
due to a bad ankle injury. Orlando will surely control Hill’s minutes early in
the year.

“If we were to monitor or curtail his minutes, it will be something we do
proactively,” Weisbrod said. “Because we know Grant won’t come to us.”

BACKCOURT

Francis and Mobley should be quite comfortable working together in the Orlando
backcourt, considering the duo has played together in Houston for the past
five seasons. Francis is more likely to take opponents off the dribble, while
Mobley is a spot-up shooter. Mobley, a career 17.1 points per game scorer,
drained 164 three-pointers last season.

On the defensive end, both Francis and Mobley are consistent defenders, which
should help Orlando hold opponents to fewer points than last season’s league-
high 101.1 points per contest. Last season, the Magic had no capacity to stop
foes’ guards in crucial spots.

Orlando acquired some depth at the point guard position in the draft, as it
got a terrific leader in Jameer Nelson through a trade with Denver. Nelson,
the Wooden Award winner for college basketball last season, plays with amazing
heart and fortitude while possessing terrific leadership skills. The St.
Joseph’s product has a small, muscular build which many scouts questioned
would translate well to the next level. Look for Nelson to make believers out
of the rest of the league in due time.

While Davis will likely use Francis as his back-up shooting guard, the Magic
have youngsters Keith Bogans and DeShawn Stevenson to provide depth. Bogans
lacks a consistent shooting stroke, but hustled his way into the starting
lineup last season. Meanwhile, Stevenson, acquired from Utah last season,
registered 11.2 points per contest after the deal. At times, Turkoglu with
play the two position, but he’s more suited for the three.

FRONTCOURT

The Magic must have a healthy Hill contributing this year, as he can set a
good example for the young Howard. How soon we forget that Hill registered
25.8 points, 6.6 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game in his last healthy
campaign. Obviously, it is unlikely that Hill can reproduce the past, but even
half of that production would take this team up a notch.

“I’ve never been this excited heading into training camp,” said Hill, who sat
out last season. “I’m just glad to be playing again. Plus, I was running out
of suits.”

Also, with more of the opponents’ defense focused on Hill, it will open
things up for the young Howard. The 18-year-old will make life tough for
defenders once he picks up the subtleties of the NBA game. Howard is capable
of handling the ball on the perimeter, passing, shooting and rebounding
effectively. The youngster must stay out of foul trouble against bigger,
thicker players.

The Magic will utilize three different centers, none of which are known for
their offensive prowess. Battie, Cato and Andrew DeClercq are all big bodies
with little to provide other than defensive threats. The rotation will be a
bit shorthanded early in the year with DeClercq recovering from knee surgery.
At least the group gives them plenty of fouls against Shaq.

Orlando will have a pair of good shooters in Turkoglu and power forward Pat
Garrity off the pine. Turkoglu shot 42 percent (101-of-241) from three-point
range for the Spurs last season, while Garrity is a career 41-percent from
behind the arc. Garrity, who played in just two games last season because of a
hip injury, is a well-known commodity throughout the league.

“I could say he’s the guy on our team that, arguably, draws the most [trade]
interest,” Weisbrod said of Garrity.

When the Magic look for a defensive stop off the bench, Davis will likely turn
to free agent addition Stacey Augmon. The UNLV product is nicknamed “Plastic
Man” for good reason, as his long arms allow him to cover a lot of ground
quickly on the defensive end.

OUTLOOK

Although many weren’t happy to see McGrady escape town, it might have been the
best thing for this team. McGrady became quite selfish in his final days in
Orlando and basically quit practicing hard. With Francis and Howard in town,
things should go much smoother. However, it will take time for this team to
get on the same page. Look for a substantial improvement over last season’s 21
wins, but don’t count on a playoff appearance.

ORL