The Orlando Magic couldn’t care less about identity this season.
They just want to play together after finishing with the worst record in the NBA a year ago.
Following a league-worst 21-61 finish— the team’s worst since 1989-90 when it went 18-64 in its inaugural season— Orlando overhauled its roster, trading McGrady to Houston for three-time All-Star Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley and center Kelvin Cato. McGrady, who averaged a NBA-high 28 points, became the first player since Bob McAdoo in 1976 to be traded in the year after he won the scoring title.
The Magic, 9-6 all-time in season openers, expect to get more balanced scoring this season.
“I’m definitely excited about our identity being different,” Orlando general manager John Weisbrod said. “Our identity was Tracy and supporting cast. I definitely would like the identity of our teams going forward to be about team. It’s a team sport.”
Orlando signed Hedo Turkoglu, traded for Tony Battie and selected Dwight Howard with the No. 1 overall pick and Jameer Nelson, last season’s consensus college basketball player of the year, at No. 20. Howard, who averaged 12.9 points and 8.9 rebounds in the preseason, will start at power forward while Nelson will be subbing for Francis at point guard.
The Magic are counting on a healthy Grant Hill after the five-time All-Star missed all of last season with an ankle injury. Hill, who has averaged 21 points for his nine-year career, has played a total of 57 games since being acquired in a sign-and-trade deal with Detroit on Aug. 3, 2000. He showed promised in the preseason, playing nearly 25 minutes a game in six preseason contests and averaging 10 points and 4.3 rebounds.
“I feel great,” Hill said. “It feels good not to talk about how I feel.”
The Magic will play in the NBA’s new Southeast Division, which includes the Shaquille O’Neal-led Miami Heat, expansion franchise Charlotte along with Washington and Atlanta— two teams that haven’t had winning seasons since the late 1990s.
“In this division, hopefully we can make some noise,” Francis said. “We’re not going to act like we’re chasing anybody.”
The Bucks, who remain in the Central Division, made the playoffs with a 41-41 record last season, losing to eventual champion Detroit in the first round.
“I think we’re ahead of where we were last year, absolutely,” said Redd, who averaged 27.3 points against the Magic last season. “I’m confident about our chances.”
The Bucks, however, aren’t sure when T.J. Ford will return. The second-year point guard from Texas is still recovering from a spinal cord operation in May. Ford went down with a frightening fall in a game Feb. 24 against Minnesota at the Bradley Center and team went on to lose 15 of its final 27 games.
“T.J. can change a game by himself with his speed by breaking opponents down, making the defense collapse and giving his teammates wide-open shots and the opportunity to get easy baskets,” Bucks coach Terry Porter said. “We didn’t get easy shots after T.J. went out.”
Ford was leading all rookies in assists and ranked ninth in the NBA in that category before he was hurt. He averaged 7.1 points, 3.2 rebounds and 6.5 assists while sharing point guard duties with Damon Jones, who signed with the Heat in the offseason.
“I think we put together a nice crew that will make up for his loss, but at the same time, he (Ford) brought some different things to the table last year that some of those guys may not bring.
“But we’ve got a totally different team, a totally different year.”
2003-04 STANDINGS: Bucks - 3rd place, 20 GB, Central Division. Magic - 7th place, 26 GB, Atlantic Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Bucks - Redd, 21.7 ppg; Smith, 8.5 rpg; T.J. Ford, 6.5 apg. Magic - DeShawn Stevenson, 11.4 ppg, 6.5 rpg and 2.0 apg.
2003-04 SEASON SERIES: Bucks, 3-1.
LAST MEETING: March 3; Bucks, 105-97. At Orlando, Keith Van Horn led with 25 points and Redd added 24 for Milwaukee, which shot 51 percent. McGrady, who averaged 31.5 points in the series against the Bucks, led Orlando with 31. Milwaukee won at Orlando for the sixth time in the last nine trips.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Bucks - 14-27 on the road. Magic - 11-30 at home.