The Orlando Magic don't need nationally televised games to draw in viewers.
Well, that's not entirely true, but their lack of appearances on the national stage (four) doesn't make them uninteresting.
By the looks of it, there is no title or playoff berth to be had in Orlando. Dwight Howard's departure tasked the Magic with rebuilding, and unless you're the 2010 Miami Heat, that doesn't happen overnight or even in one season.
Still, there are plenty of games worth making note of. Orlando may not be contending for a postseason spot, but there are a number of young players whose development alone are generating hype.
Then there's always the opponent. He-who-we-can't-help-but-name will be visiting once again, as will a number of other superstars and superteams. Welcoming in the biggest of names and most prominent of teams is pretty much the definition of anticipation at the NBA level anyway.
That holds true for every team. Title contender, fringe-playoff team, bottom feeder—all of them.
Postseason bound or not, there are always reasons to watch.
First games of the season always need to be circled in red ink.
When the Magic travel to meet the Indiana Pacers, it will be the first time fans get a real look at how ready the assembled roster is.
Victor Oladipo will presumably be making his regular-season debut, Tobias Harris will look to prolong his Florida honeymoon and the rest of this young team will try to make a statement against one of the Eastern Conference's elite.
Hardly anyone who has a hold on the league's power structure expects the Magic to do much next year. They're young, inexperienced and a ways off from returning to the playoffs.
But if we're to believe they have a talented core in place—and it seems like they do—hoping to see them put up a hard-nosed fight against a stingy Pacers team isn't too much to ask.
Opening contests don't always have season-defining implications, but for an Orlando fanbase anxiously awaiting the team's revival, they can be useful barometers for how the year will unfold.
You're curious. Just admit it.
No hate-infused rivalry exists between the Brooklyn Nets and Magic, and it's going to stay that away. Neither team is competing toward a common goal next season, after all. The Nets would like to believe they're playing for a championship and the Magic are likely playing for additional ping-pong balls.
More than anything, this has to do with the new look of the Nets. Brooklyn added Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry and Andrei Kirilenko to the equation, in addition to naming the recently retired Jason Kidd their head coach.
Then there's still All-Stars like Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson to consider. Some of you might even be enraptured by the offensively limited talents of one Reggie Evans (I'm not here to judge).
The Nets have so many names, they can't be considered anything other than fascinating, even to their opponents. You want to see this (I think), Magic fans included. You want to see how good or disappointing they are.
You just want to see this, a luxury-tax living team like you've never seen them before.
And come early November, you will.
This is one return Magic fans won't abhor.
When J.J. Redick makes his (second) return to the Amway Center as an opposing player (first with the Los Angeles Clippers), the Orlando faithful won't throw things or call him names or imply that he's an oversized coward.
Because he's not Howard.
Redick left the Magic under different circumstances. He didn't necessarily want to leave, and they didn't want to trade him, but seven years deep into his career it was time.
Orlando won't be contending for a title anytime soon, so Redick seemed fated to leave via free agency anyway. For their part, the Magic were also better off giving his minutes to someone younger, someone better fitted for withstanding a rebuild.
Still, Redick was a fan favorite in Orlando for close to seven years. Seeing him in a different jersey (again) is going to be an emotional occasion, another indication of how much has changed the last two seasons.
Hosting the Milwaukee Bucks wouldn't normally generate any interest, but this is a special occasion.
Orlando stole Harris from Milwaukee in the Redick trade. That's right, I said "stole."
The Magic dealt Redick and a handful of spare parts to the Bucks in exchange for Harris, Beno Udrih and Doron Lamb. Udrih is now with the New York Knicks, which doesn't matter in the slightest.
All they really lost was a serviceable sixth man who was going to leave at season's end anyway. Redick could've professed his desire to stay until he was blue or purple in the face, but he wasn't going to return.
Less than a year away from 30, he wouldn't have wanted to play for a cellar-dweller. And even if he did, the Magic weren't going to give him the four-years, $27 million he received from the Clippers.
So they stole Harris, turning a couple nothings (Gustavo Ayon, Ish Smith) and an inevitable departure into 17.3 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in the final 27 games of the season. Which makes this one of the rare instances when the Magic can brandish a coveted weapon in the face of a foe and laugh hysterically.
Milwaukee didn't know what it had in Harris, plain and simple. Midway through November, the Magic are sure hoping the Bucks will have a regrettable sense of what they lost.
Anytime LeBron James comes to town, it's a big deal. When it's the first time he's visiting since he won his fourth MVP award and the Miami Heat secured their second straight title, it's an even bigger deal.
While I might be alone on this, I look forward to seeing how Oladipo and Harris fare against LeBron. Chances are he'll be defending one of them (maybe both) at some point. How they operate under his defensive assault will be a matchup worth watching.
Also, there's never any shortage of interest surrounding two inner-state rivals, even when one is markedly better than the other. If anything, that kind of adds to the narrative.
Orlando is in a completely different stage of its development; it's the new kid on the block, looking to advance its reputation as it starts from scratch. There's no better way to earn some street cred than by giving the reigning champs a reality check.
Miami took all four meetings last year, the first two of which were determined by a combined three points. For a team like the Magic, winning isn't always everything in these situations. Sometimes measuring up can be just as important.
Though yeah, unseating the champs even once would be cool.
You knew this was coming.
Howard will be more than a year removed from his time in Orlando when the Magic square off against the Houston Rockets for the first time, but this contest is not without its impassioned turbulence.
Superman essentially forced his way out of Orlando for Houston. He wanted to play for a different team and after a stint with the Lakers, the Rockets were his organization of choice. This will then be the first time he sees the Magic as a member of the team he plans to build a future with.
Orlando spoiled the first game Howard played against it as a member of the Lakers last season, and now it will look to do the same in Houston.
Paper comparisons suggest that the Magic won't have a chance, but the Rockets will be only a few weeks into their tenure together. Chemistry takes time to develop, so perhaps they can roll into H-Town and steal one.
Win or lose, though, this is really about the Magic facing Howard and his new team. Again.
People outside of Chicago care about Derrick Rose too.
Few people want to see Rose torch their team, but I'd hazard most fans would the love opportunity to see him play in person. No fanbase in the NBA has had that opportunity since April 2012. The Magic fans specifically won't have that chance until January of 2014.
The Rose-led Chicago Bulls make the trip to Disney World on January 15 for the first time since March 2012, almost two years ago. That's a long time, and a lot's changed since then.
Superman no longer calls Orlando (or Los Angeles) home, or definitive decisions necessary, and the future of this team now rests in the hands of players like Oladipo, Harris, Nikola Vucevic and Andrew Wiggins.
Scratch that last one. I'm getting ahead of myself.
Every game Rose plays is going to be a spectacle next season and his excursion to Orlando is no exception.
Words of advice: If you rip off the "2" from your No. 12 Howard jersey and sew on/remove a couple letters, you'll have your very own Rose Magic jersey. Something to consider as January inches closer.
The Dwight Howard-less meet the Dwight Howard-less in what will either be a battle of wills or display of commiserating.
Both the Lakers and Magic are no stranger to having a certain someone who has been the butt of many a joke in this slideshow alter the direction they're headed in. Difference is, the Magic actually won the Superman Abandoned Us competition.
Los Angeles has next to nothing to show for its Howard exploits. He's gone, Earl Clark is gone and then there's Andrew Bynum, he's still gone.
Mounds of cap space await the Lakers next summer, but even so, they don't have a double-double machine like Vucevic patrolling their front line as a result of what went down last summer.
Barring any setbacks or additional injuries, he should be in uniform, ready to shoot. Games he plays in are always highly anticipated, next year more so than ever.
His latest injury was the most recent shred of evidence that he, in fact, isn't an alien who was sent to Earth to play basketball until forever. He is human.
Nothing Kobe has said would make us think next year is his last, but either way, the end is near. With the clock winding down on his career, Magic peeps must get their Kobe fix whilst they can.
Oladipo vs. Kobe. Vucevic vs. Gasol. Nick Young vs. the rim. Mike D'Antoni vs. Mike D'Antoni's mustache. End-of-January expeditions don't get much better.
When Brandon Jennings comes to town, you must be prepared to
replace the rims tune in.
I'm kidding—about the tuning in part.
To be honest, there's nothing incredibly special about this game. Sure, the Magic have a chance to prove that Joe Dumars assembled an overrated—and in some cases, overpaid—version of a fringe playoff team, but every other organization has that same opportunity.
This is a date you must circle and make quaint little hearts around for other reasons, mainly because it's Orlando's lone appearance on ESPN all season. That I'm not kidding about.
Three of the Magic's four nationally televised contests will be seen on NBA TV. And I'm going to be Kobe Bryant real with you right now, that's not even a foregone conclusion. NBA TV's schedules are more fluid; they're subject to change if a more compelling encounter presents itself.
So if you are planning on purchasing tickets to this one, make sure you dress to impress by wearing your absolute best (yeah, I just did that). Because if you're caught on camera, this is slated to be one of the only first impressions the country-wide audience will have of you.
Your team too. Can't forget about them, though the NBA and ESPN sure did.
You knew this one was coming too.
What's more intriguing than the Magic facing Howard the Rocket for the first time is the
smirking traitor prodigal son's return to Orlando as James Harden's sidekick for the first time.
Howard was unrelentingly booed during his first ever return to Orlando and there's no reason to expect anything different this time around. There will likely even be some Lakers and beard jokes hurled his way as well.
Oh, and a basketball game will be played too. Beneath the jeering and Howard's smirking, there is a contest to be won.
This far into the season, the Magic may not have the most glamorous of records, but they have the opportunity to do what they couldn't last season—spoil Howard's return to the sunshine state.
At the very least, watching Nikola Vucevic notch a double-double in the face of the man he succeeded is a must, or something like that. Anything that allows the Magic to tell Daryl Morey "keep him, we don't need him" would suffice, really.