ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - When the Magic take the floor for their first preseason practice Tuesday it will officially mark the beginning of Year 1 A.D. - After Dwight.
It was less than two months ago that Orlando traded all-star center Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers, in a franchise-altering deal that was part of the most tumultuous seasons in team history.
Now with a new general manager, head coach and a roster that features more fresh faces than returning players, a team that was in the NBA finals just four seasons ago begins anew.
Veteran guard Jameer Nelson, one of just seven players returning from last year's team, said Monday he doesn't fear the unknown.
"I think we can be better than people think because they don't know, nobody knows what's gonna happen," he said Monday during the team's media day. "So for people to count us out automatically, that's just people writing things. It's up to us to go out there and work hard, make ourselves better and establish an identity.
"Every year you put the uniform on for the first day, it's gonna be a challenge."
Entering his first head coaching job, 37-year-old Jacques Vaughn will be the chief architect of bringing together a current roster that features 10 players that have never put on a Magic jersey.
The former NBA player said that journey starts with making "rebuilding" a dirty word in the locker room.
"I think the fact that I haven't said those words will be the most consistent thing," Vaughn said. "And that'll be my approach going forward. Those words won't come out of my mouth and I'll expect them to carry themselves that way also."
Several Magic players have attended voluntary workouts in recent weeks, which Vaughn said was encouraging regarding their commitment. He said they all "start with a clean slate" regardless of their individual histories.
He was planning to address the team as a whole late Monday, but his anti-rebuilding mantra has clearly already begun to circulate.
"It's just another season," said guard Arron Afflalo, who came over from Denver in the Howard deal. "When you throw in the term 'rebuilding,' it implies almost that you're willing to lose. I don't think there's a guy in the locker room or the coaching staff or in management who's willing to lose.
"It's a transition more than a rebuilding I would say."
The one thing that is clear is that that this season will be the first of several seasons the Magic's front office envisions it will take to remake the Magic into championship contender.
To do that first-time GM Rob Hennigan made sure the team was loaded up with draft picks in the Howard deal over the next few seasons. He also has very valuable $17 million trade exception to play with that the Magic picked up as well.
He also acknowledged that his pool of veterans could themselves be part of potential deals this going forward as the Magic position themselves to become players in future free-agent markets.
Nelson is beginning a new three-year contract, Hedo Turkoglu has two more years left and J.J. Redick is in the final year of his deal.
"I think continuity is something that we've gotta build," Hennigan said. "I think Jacques is gonna do a good job of gelling this team together. In terms of the roster we like roster, it comes back to opportunities. We'll certainly explore opportunities to make the team better. And we're gonna see how it all unfolds."
CEO Alex Martins is optimistic with a plan that he acknowledges may not pay huge dividends in the short-term. Still, he said he believes having gone through a very similar adjustment period following the departure of Shaquille O'Neal to the Lakers in 1996 does help.
"What we're trying to do here is create a sustainable model, whereas over time when we do have to make the change it's only tweaks," Martins said. "And year in and year out over the course of a decade we'll have a model in which we can be competitive year in and year out so we don't have to take those valleys...I think a lot of the experiences we've been through have led us to that."
Whatever happens this season Nelson said he doesn't plan to focus on who isn't on the floor for the Magic this season.
"It's hard to win with a superstar or without one," Nelson said. "Every game you play is gonna be hard, no matter who you have on your team. But I know this; we all have to lace them up the same way. And we all put our shirts on the same way. Nobody puts their shirts on upside down."
Redick also feels like this team has the potential to surprise people.
"I'd love for us to be a team other teams don't like to play, because we grind it out, play extremely hard and play together," he said. "There's a chance for this to be a fun group to watch and a fun group to play with. It's fresh and it's new, and there's some nervous excitement and energy.
"It'll be different, but it doesn't necessarily have to be bad."
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