I'm not exactly sure how the marketing plan went for a small group of prospective season-ticket buyers at Amway Center on Saturday morning.
Cue sales pitch: "Hello, Magic fans! We're looking forward to a great season, and we're certainly creating quite a buzz as tipoff approaches. Our charismatic CEO just quit unexpectedly. We're paying a guy $62 million not to play. Our superstar center has just asked to be traded.
Oh, and we'll host a fabulous all-star game here in February. By that time Dwight Howard may already be playing for another team, having finagled his way out of Central Florida. Who knows, with any luck, he just might avoid the holiday rush."
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas chaos for the Orlando Magic.
Dwight Howard may likely never play for this team again. We could see him in Los Angeles sometime soon. Or New Jersey. Or Dallas. Anywhere but here.
Hopefully, Magic general manager Otis Smith will personally pick up every phone call from a disgruntled fan. Cue the complaints:
Overpaying Rashard Lewis. Messing with the mojo of a team that advanced to the NBA Finals in 2009 by trading for Vince Carter. Blowing up that lineup a year ago, too: going for a redo on Hedo Turkoglu, moving your biggest asset in center Marcin Gortat and trading for Gilbert Arenas, Smith's buddy with the wobbly, arthritic knees.
Arenas is now officially the $62 million dollar mistake that Smith can hang on his résumé. Yes, it's very easy to Monday-morning quarterback this thing, and play the should've/could've game. But it was obvious way back when that bringing in Vince Carter was a gamble. So was letting go of Gortat, a solid big man. And the biggest whiff was trading for Arenas — a guy who had played in only 15 games during the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons because of knee injuries.
Smith is the answer man on all of this. And I can't think of anything else he can say but "my bad."
"I think we've made too many bad moves, and that's why we are here today," said Shailesh Rajguru, who has traveled from Lakeland to Magic games eight years as a season-ticket holder with court-level "superstar" seats.
"It's all on Otis. It doesn't make sense."
At least Rajguru isn't bailing. He will still commute from Lakeland to Orlando for Magic games, while in the short term still holding out hope for a move that will keep Howard here. The Magic organization will ask everyone to remain loyal to the jerseys and not the guys wearing them. Who else is pumped up over the "Big Baby Era"?
Howard is going to take a lot of grief by forcing a trade. But in a sport where there are short windows of opportunities to make a championship run, it does not behoove Howard to stay here. He can certainly become a richer man, by about $30 million if he stays. But he will not be hoisting any NBA championship trophies in Orlando.
Howard has led Magic to the third-best record in the NBA during the past four years, and the third-best post-season record during that span, but the bottom line is that the Magic have regressed since advancing to the Finals in 2009. They didn't even make it past the first round last year.
Other teams have better players, and the superstar cliques are about to expand with Howard in the mix.
Smith and the organization took his chances on some long-shot odds and lost. They will pay dearly: Howard wants out, and the Magic are looking at a number of mediocre deals just to get some value in return.
The Magic now face the embarrassing prospect of staging the biggest bash of the NBA season in February without the party favors.
What's the fun if you don't have a larger-than-life superstar greeting everybody coming in?
If Dwight's not available, maybe the organization can ask Arenas to be the door man. It's the least he can do to earn back on few bucks on the $62 million he's stealing.
firstname.lastname@example.org Read George Diaz's En Fuego blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/enfuego