"There were no agendas out there, no distractions," said Magic guard J.J. Redick after his 21-point performance. "It's kind of nice to play basketball and that be the focus."
Said forward Glen "Big Baby" Davis, who led the team with 29 points and 10 rebounds: "Everything is more wholesome and pure now. When you've got guys who don't want to be here, it's funky. You can sense it. It's just better when guys want to be here and buy into the culture."
In a league built around coddled superstars, the Magic are preaching the name on the front of the jersey, not on the back of it. Of course, it's not like they have a choice. Howard, the greatest player in franchise history, forced a trade and took down the greatest coach in franchise history — Stan Van Gundy — on his way out of town.
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And so now the Magic are trying to pick up the pieces once again. Just like after Shaq — and T-Mac — left. This time, under new whiz-kid general manager Rob Hennigan, they are trying to rebuild differently and more prudently — by clearing salary-cap space and acquiring draft picks.
The Magic's new mantra is "We Will" although nobody truly knows exactly what that means. We will … what? Make the playoffs or win the lottery?
Those are questions for another day.
On opening night, hard-core fans came to cheer loudly and proudly for die-hard players they can trust.
"It feels good to have all of the uncertainty behind us," said Alex Hernandez, an English teacher at Colonial High School. "As fans, we want to root for players who are loyal and who want to be here."