Magic management says team needs improvement

The Orlando Sentinel/March 13, 2004
By Mike Bianchi

Orlando, Fla. -- There's this manic Magic fan who's been e-mailing me for a couple of years now, and every e-mail has had the same basic message:

  1. John Gabriel needs to be fired.
  2. Magic ownership is cheap.
  3. Magic players are a bunch of wimps.

Just goes to show that there are fans out there who know more about the team than the owners do. The Magic held a major news conference Friday, and here's what management told us:

  1. John Gabriel is fired.
  2. Magic ownership is cheap.
  3. Magic players are a bunch of wimps.

If you don't believe me, listen to these quotes:

New GM John Weisbrod on the team's character and toughness: "We need to be tougher. The character we want has got to be sports character, the kind of character that winds up on the winning side of a fight. We want people whose aspirations are to be great, ... not people who look at road trips as traveling parties."

Team President Bob Vander Weide on ownership's "prudent" spending: "I think we realize that though you don't have to spend the most, you do have to spend to put talent on the floor and win in this league."

Vander Weide went on to say that the DeVos family has recommitted itself to winning: "Ownership is focused and we mean business."

Question: If ownership is now committed to giving us this new, improved product, does this mean they were content before with an old, sorry product?

It became clear Friday that ownership lost interest in the Magic over the last four years - maybe because of Grant Hill's injury; maybe because the city shot down the team's request for a new arena. Whatever the reason, the DeVos family hasn't been paying attention. How else do you explain some fan out in cyberspace being able to run the team from his computer better than ownership itself has run it from the family compound in Michigan? How else do you explain Vander Weide admitting Friday that he's going to "put my heart back into this thing on a daily basis"?

It makes you wonder where this franchise might be if ownership had put its heart and hard cash into this thing over the last four years. Maybe the Magic would have been able to overcome Hill's injury if the team had spent some money to put quality depth around Tracy McGrady instead of giving Doc Rivers $5 million a year right out of the TV booth.

Look at Sacramento, one of the smallest markets in the league. The Kings' best player, Chris Webber, has been out nearly all season and they're still one of the best teams in the NBA. Why? Because they're about a zillion dollars over the luxury tax.

Look at Memphis, the absolute smallest market in the league. The Grizzlies have become Western Conference steamrollers, winning seven in a row and 16 of their last 19. Why? Because Jerry West spends money - and spends it wisely.

Memo to the DeVos family: Professional sports is not like the Amway pyramid. You can't put in a little bit and take out a lot.

Magic ownership has told us that we should be excited about this brand-new start, even though the brand-new start includes a GM and a head coach who were part of the same old guard. The fans are being asked to get on board and back a foundering franchise being run by Weisbrod and coached by Johnny Davis.

But as my Magic e-mail buddy so aptly puts it:

"It's not going to do any good for me to invest my heart and money in this team until ownership starts doing the same."

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