Orlando Magic NBA Finals Rooting Guide: Who or what you should be cheering for

Dwight Howard will be playing in his second NBA Finals as he returns to Orlando with the Los Angeles Lakers. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)
Dwight Howard will be playing in his second NBA Finals as he returns to Orlando with the Los Angeles Lakers. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic will be watching the NBA Finals with their noses plugged. With two hated teams playing for the title, here is who you should root for.

This year’s NBA Finals is going to hurt Orlando Magic fans.

There is no other way to say it. Fans are stuck between a rock and a hard place trying to figure out who or what to root for as the NBA Finals gets set to begin Wednesday to wrap up a unique and challenging NBA season — this week was supposed to be the first week of training camp for the 2021 season!

On one hand, there is the Los Angeles Lakers.

That Lakers franchise has only seduced and stolen the franchise’s two best players in Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard, ending the Magic’s best chances to win a championship. Oh yeah, they were also the first team to win a championship on the Magic’s home court, defeating the Magic in five games in the 2009 Finals and celebrating on the Amway Arena floor.

Then there is the Miami Heat.

The Heat are the Magic’s closest geographical rival. There are not a lot of great playoff battles and the two teams have rarely been competitive at the same time.

But there is still a fair amount of jealousy. The Magic burned brighter faster, but the Heat have turned into the envy of the league. They won three titles and have become a championship contender overnight.

Many frustrated Magic fans have lamented how the Heat seemed to “start” their rebuild later than the Magic and yet have found a superstar in a trade and reached the NBA Finals, the doorstep of a championship.

Miami has had more sustained success, winning seven of the past 10 Southeast Division titles. The Magic got one last year, keeping the Heat out of the playoffs in the process. But that is a pyrrhic victory it seems with how quickly the Heat zoomed out of their tier.

The Magic throughout their rebuild had several frustrating defeats to the Heat. It is easy to see how much defeating the Heat means to this team still.

And in both teams’ case, their fans fill the Amway Center and turn their home into a road game. There is always a special buzz when the Lakers or Heat are in town. And their fans make sure they are heard.

To say the least, the Lakers and Heat are probably the two most despised teams by hardcore Magic fans. They represent everything the Magic are not.

Watching these Finals are going to be difficult for Magic fans.

But we are all basketball fans. We all want to be invested in the Finals. And we all want someone or something to cheer for. Here is your guide in Magic fan rooting interests for this series:

Dwight Howard

Everything in this Finals for Orlando Magic fans starts with trying to figure out how you feel about Dwight Howard.

Like Shaquille O’Neal before him, who also absconded to Los Angeles to close a championship window, Dwight Howard casts a large shadow over the franchise still. The team is just peeking its head above water for the first time since Howard left eight years ago.

A lot of fans have not forgiven Howard yet for leaving and dragging the franchise through the dirt in his will-he, won’t-he Dwightmare season. Any thoughts of honoring Howard for eight incredible years are usually dismissed.

That will change at some point. But not until after he retires.

Howard has gone through is own journey to figure out his place in the league. He struggled in his lone year with the Los Angeles Lakers, leaving in free agency for the Houston Rockets. But there, he never could recapture the dominance that made him a Hall of Famer in Orlando.

Injuries slowly deteriorated his athleticism. Perhaps some attitude or ego prevented him from accepting a more supporting rule.

Los Angeles Lakers
Los Angeles Lakers /

Los Angeles Lakers

But returning to the Lakers showed incredible growth. Howard has been willing to come off the bench and play a role. A role that he frankly hated as a starter. He has been a valuable contributor to getting the Lakers to the Finals and he will play a big role in this series.

It is somewhat ironic Howard will be competing for a championship on a floor in Orlando. He has certainly recognized how his career has come full circle as he plays for his second championship.

For Magic fans ready to forgive, they will be eager to see Howard get a deserved title. For those not ready to forgive, this title — especially winning it with LeBron James and the Lakers — will be a knife twisting in their gut.

Frank Vogel

Another former member of the Orlando Magic’s failed rebuild has gotten a second life outside of the organization. Like Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris and so many others, Frank Vogel left the Magic and found his footing to compete for something real. The Magic certainly have to regret all the talent they have let go.

That includes Vogel.

When the Magic hired Vogel in 2016, they were hoping he could continue to the progress the team made in a 35-win 2015 season. Vogel had a reputation as a strong defensive coach who could help playoff teams reach the next level.

Of course, the Magic sabotaged him before he could get started.

The team traded Victor Oladipo to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Serge Ibaka. Then they used the cap room from the disastrous Tobias Harris trade to sign D.J. Augustin (a good signing, it turned out), Bismack Biyombo (not so good) and Jeff Green.

Vogel has and still prefers lineups with two bigger post players. But the Magic trying to play Nikola Vucevic, Bismack Biyombo and Serge Ibaka was a mess that everyone saw coming.

The Magic’s season was a disaster, ending with 29 wins. The team had to reset completely — firing Rob Hennigan as a start. And things got worse the following year with the Magic bottoming out against at 25 wins.

Vogel was gone within two years.

True, Vogel was a bit inflexible in his coaching with the Magic. He was trying to engage a young team that had no clue how to win, using film study and a laid-back approach to try to get the most out of them. That is probably not what that team needed — as both Scott Skiles and Steve Clifford have proven, a more structured, disciplined approach has gotten the most out of the team.

But Vogel never really had a chance. He came to Orlando when the franchise had outsized expectations for what its team could do immediately. And then the organization handcuffed him with a roster that made no sense.

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Personally, if there is anyone I am happy for in all this it is Vogel. He was always personable and open with the media. And by the end of his time with Orlando, you could tell the losing was wearing on him.

This rebirth in Los Angeles has been refreshing to see. And Vogel has done a good job adjusting quickly to matchups. He is a big part of how the Lakers have dominated these playoffs. I may not cheer for the Lakers, but I am cheering for Vogel.

Bonus shoutout: In this house, we stan Miles Simon. The Lakers assistant coach was the 42nd overall pick in the 1999 Draft by the Magic, playing in five games that season.

A victory for winning from the middle?

There is not a lot to be happy about with the Miami Heat being in the NBA Finals. They have no connections to the Orlando Magic. And the fact the Heat are in the Finals and potentially could get cap room to sign Giannis Antetokounmpo or Victor Oladipo in 2021, this team is not going anywhere anytime soon.

If the Magic want to compete for a title at some point, they are going to have to go through the Heat. This Heat team is not going anywhere.

But Orlando is watching how Miami built. It is watching the process by which Miami won the title.

And a year after the Toronto Raptors won the title without going deep into the Lottery, a new way to build is becoming viable around the league — the Los Angeles Lakers are their own animal when it comes to building a title team.

The idea that the only way to win a championship is to be bad for a few years to collect a couple of high draft picks and that is how a team secures its stars is getting thrown on its head. The last three top overall picks to win a championship with the team that drafted them are Kyrie Irving and LeBron James (after leaving and returning) with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Tim Duncan with the San Antonio Spurs.

Championships can be won from the middle. They can be won without tanking or getting a high lottery pick. It is tricky and requires some incredible scouting and drafting along with the right all-in move.

But this is a path the Magic are walking. They want to improve and advance up the standings without resorting to angling for better lottery odds. The Heat have proven that this method is successful. The last two Eastern Conference champions followed this path.

Next. Orlando Magic's offense still the team's biggest problem. dark

But they are still the Heat. Nobody wants them to win. Especially Magic fans.