Before the first dribble of training camp, the Magic suffered the first of many bizarre events surrounding their tumultuous season with the sudden departure of CEO Bob Vander Weide. With Alex Martins at the helm, the Magic charted their course through a turbulent season marked by the free agency saga of their tempestuous super star Dwight Howard, with whom the future of the franchise lies in the wake of his decision to remain with the Magic, or pursue his elusive championship somewhere else.
Before signing a contract to stay another year with the Magic, Howard flirted with the idea of joining fellow superstar Deron Williams in New Jersey, or possibly following in the footsteps of his nemesis Shaquille ONeal to L.A. Weeks before Howard announced his decision to keep his talents in Orlando, even if briefly, the Magic played host to the NBAs marquee All-Star game at the newly built Amway Center in downtown Orlando. The honeymoon didn't last long however, as Magic skipper Stan Van Gundy soon exposed Howard for demanding he be fired. In the interim, Big Baby Davis and Chris Duhon were suspended for behavior detrimental to the team, while forward Ryan Anderson was morphing into the most-improved player in the NBA, with lights out three-point shooting.
With a sixty-six game season crammed into a little over five months, injuries plagued almost every team in the league. Needing to make a deep playoff run to appease their contentious big man only added to the stresses of an abnormal season, before Howard went out with a herniated disk following their matchup against the NBA champion Dallas Mavericks. The Magic stammered into their first round playoff series against the Indiana Pacers with some kind of injury to nearly all of their starters. Hedo Turkoglu literally broke his face. Glen Davis sprained his ankle. Rhino, J-Rich, Q, and Jameer all suffered injuries along the way of their drama filled season.
While Howard recovered from back surgery in the perpetual purgatory of Beverly Hills, the Magic put up a courageous, dogged fight against the deeper, bigger, and more talented Pacers. Despite losing the series four games to one, game four provided a 19-point comeback by the Magic in the final eight minutes of regulation to force an eventual loss in overtime in one of the most heart-stopping, impressive performances of the year. The Magic had every reason to book their vacations after the crushing defeat, but came out fighting for one last-ditch effort to stave off elimination before succumbing to the inevitable in Indianapolis this past Monday.
CEO Alex Martins reiterated Wednesday that he and Magic Chairman Dan DeVos will sit down and discuss all aspects of basketball operations after cooling off for a few days, before making any immediate decisions regarding the future of the franchise. The drama is likely to continue throughout the summer with the future of Stan Van Gundy, Otis Smith and Dwight Howard all in question. Common sentiment is that Howard and Van Gundy cannot coexist. Even if they do somehow agree to continue working together, the Larry OBrien trophy seems far off on the horizon.
Photographing Dwight Howard over the past eight seasons has been nothing short of extraordinary. I can think of no other player in the league as gregarious and genteel as Howard when the Magic are winning and the eyes of the world are upon him. For selfish reasons, I hope Howard remains in Orlando for years to come. It is indeed a rare opportunity to document the journey of a Hall of Famer from start to finish. If Howard stays and brings a championship to the City Beautiful, he will be revered forever, even if he runs Van Gundy out of town along the way. Either way, a happy Howard makes better pictures. I'm hoping for harmony.
Gary W. Green can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow the Sentinel photo staff on Twitter @OSPhoto. Like us on Facebook: Orlando Sentinel Photography.