11:20 PM EST, December 26, 2012
The Magic have completed a calendar year of basketball (thanks to the lockout) that has gone from being the weirdest and wildest to the calmest and most composed.
Six months of utter chaos, followed by six months of sheer order.
These are the two faces of the franchise.
Jekyll and Howard.
The Magic began it with the turmoil of the Dwightmare. They are finishing it holding hands and singing kumbaya.
Eat play love.
This is the way they've designed it, acquired it, promoted it. While they are remaking the team, they are refurbishing their image. They have been determined to drain all the drama and remove any controversy after a regrettable soap opera.
They get points for restoring class to the organization, but few for wins.
Amazingly, it's about basketball. Just basketball. The players are hard-working and civil, a good thing, because this project could take some time.
The rebuild is not yet a full-blown rebuild. Not when you still have a corps of veterans who are doing the heavy lifting. They are the bridge to the next era. Some of these players have to go to make room for new stars.
Thus the interlude, and the music from "Swan Lake" while you wait.
We're seeing just the first of the many changes since the Dwight circus was replaced by a peace march.
Howard, the franchise's most endearing superstar, was replaced by a quiet center who is a household name … in the households of Montenegro. If Nik Vucevic ever requests a trade, don't be surprised if it's on a post-it.
The Magic are working to forget the past, although Wednesday night it was funny that a caption from a press-room TV feed mistakenly read "Dwight Howard" while Vucevic was at the free-throw line. Nik made both free throws, so it really was a mix-up.
Stan Van Gundy, the franchise's best and edgiest coach, was replaced by a rookie who won't share secrets or even his starting lineup. If Stan came off as The Grinch, Jacque Vaughn is Coach Gumdrops and would never say that Vucevic tried to get him fired even if Vaughn was wearing a flame retardant jumpsuit.
Otis Smith, the franchise's riverboat gambler of a general manager, was replaced by a systems analyst. Rob Hennigan still looks like a junior partner in a law firm and does the job as if he's undercover.
Bob Vander Weide, the son-in-law CEO of the franchise's owner, was replaced by Alex Martins, and I'll bet you my 401 he will never drunk-dial Vucevic.
Ryan Anderson, who was back facing the Magic on Wednesday night, was replaced at power forward by somebody who looks an awful lot like Glen "Big Baby" Davis.
It's surely not the old Big Baby. If you want to know how much the Magic have changed their personality, all you have to see is how Davis has stopped acting like "The Chief" from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
Yes, it's the kinder, gentler, quieter Magic embarking in another direction.
Now, instead of signs in the stands reading, "STAY DWIGHT," signs appeared during the Hornets' game that read, "KEEP J.J." They were being held by free-agent-to-be J.J.'s wife and rooting section.
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