The Orlando Magic will be bad this season. As in, really bad. As in, "possibly finish with the worst record in the league for second straight year" bad.
The morale among basketball fans in the City Beautiful has never been lower ahead of the home opener tonight against the New Orleans
This is a dreadful state of the Magic and their fans, as the team moves into the second year of its painful rebuilding process. There are no expectations for this team, no buzz, no reason at all to get excited about this year's team.
Ironically, the one man who can reconnect the basketball fans in Orlando to their home team will be in the arena tonight, sitting on the Pelicans bench.
* * *Austin Rivers is a revered figure in Florida basketball folklore, arguably the best athlete this state has ever produced. He carried Winter Park HS to two state championships, earning the same mythical status as Tim Tebow, his football counterpart. With each win, his recruiting stock rose, and his legend grew exponentially. When he won his first state title, then his second, he sealed his place in Florida history for all eternity.
He proceeded to take his talents to Durham, NC, joining Coach K's basketball machine on the campus of Duke University, deep in the heart of ACC territory. Baby Doc dominated from the get-go, not skipping a single beat as he torched the best college basketball league in America. Without a shadow of a doubt, his finest moment as a Blue Devil was his game-winning shot against their deadly rivals North Carolina, as he calmly sank a three-pointer in enemy territory to hand his team a famous, dramatic victory:
At that moment, he didn't just write his own name into the Duke basketball folklore. He also put Winter Park, Florida on the map. No longer was WP just a glitzy suburban town outside of Orlando... no, it was now a place that gave birth to Austin River's prodigious talents.
* * *So, in the context of his meteoric rise to the top of amateur basketball, and his subsequent struggles during his rookie year with the
Anybody who has watched Austin Rivers in high school and college would tell you that he is a player who inspires confidence, who works harder at his craft than most. Most importantly, one only needs to look to his two state championships and his game-winner against UNC to realize that all this man does is win basketball games. Everyone realizes that the Magic have set their team up to lose as many games as humanly possible, but they are risking the possibility of alienating their remaining fanbase by engaging in such tankitude.
Losing begets losing fans, particularly in a fair-weather and transient sports town like Orlando. The fans will only support a losing team to the extent that the product on the court is still at least marginally watchable; at this point, anybody who says this current Magic squad fits that description ought to be lobotomized, Randle McMurphy-style. Having a local basketball deity like Rivers on the roster, however, would make for an infinitely more entertaining show on the Amway Center floor, at a bare minimum.
Just imagine the scene... Rivers with the ball in his hand, down one with a few seconds remaining, in a tight game against the hated Miami Heat featuring the archvillain of basketball, LeBron James... picture him going mano a mano against LeBron, peering directly above his receding dome at the shot clock, assessing the situation... and then, with only a nanosecond left on the game clock, hoisting a shot just inches over the reigning MVP's hands, the ball gliding into the air and rotating ever-so gracefully as the horn sounds...
...and then witness that shot splash into the net. The hometown hero comes back to Orlando, and promptly beats the Magic's most hated rivals in the most dramatic way possible. Just visualize that scenario for a second. This wouldn't just be a win for the Magic. It would be nothing short of a spiritual reawakening for all of Orlando, not just basketball fans.
The Orlando sports scene has never before been presented with such a blatantly obvious win-win situation. There is only so much that the Magic's current roster can do to lift the organization, its fans, and indeed, the entire city, out of its doldrums. There is only one man who can do exactly that, and then some.
Do the right thing, Rob Hennigan. Do Orlando right, Magic. Bring Austin Rivers home, where he belongs.