Orlando chooses potential over experience

The move means Tracy McGrady is all but gone.
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- Orlando general manager John Weisbrod asked his assistants the night before the NBA draft why the Magic should not pick Dwight Howard.
The high school senior, with stellar pre-draft interviews, had edged past Connecticut All-America Emeka Okafor atop the Magic's wish list. Now Weisbrod, wary of wasting the No. 1 pick on a mirage, was playing devil's advocate.
Howard, at 6-foot-9, 240 pounds, has impressive physical skills but will he try to get by on those alone? Why won't the glitter and glamour of the NBA lifestyle ruin the 18-year-old? How long will his development take?
But the coaches and scouts never wavered under the questioning, and Thursday night's draft reflected their certainty.
"They picked the best person for the job," a confident Howard said Friday during his post-draft visit to Orlando, after the Magic made him the No. 1 draft pick.
Moment earlier, he was smiling through braces while holding up a jersey bearing No. 12.
Potential over experience
By choosing potential over experience, Weisbrod is taking a risk in trying to rebuild after last season's 21-61 disaster. He acknowledges Okafor will give more help next year to the Charlotte Bobcats, who picked second, than Howard will help the Magic -- but 2004-05 isn't the point.
"There was a national consensus, 'The Magic are so bad, they have to take the guy who's more proven, established and NBA ready,"' Weisbrod said. "I was aware of that, but I really didn't let myself fall into that thinking.
"When you come into a draft you're addressing the needs of your team, but when you have the No. 1 pick your responsibility is to pick the best player."
The Magic traded for another first-round pick Thursday, acquiring Saint Joseph's point guard Jameer Nelson from Denver. Nelson, selected 20th, played four seasons with the Hawks, earning consensus national player of the year honors as a senior.
Orlando coach Johnny Davis speculated that many pundits believe Okafor to be better than Howard simply because of exposure. There were three years of competition in the TV-friendly Big East for Connecticut as well as a lengthy tournament run capped by the national championship.
"Maybe it's the known versus the unknown," Davis said. "But when I sat down with (Howard), when I viewed his tapes and then watched him work out, I came away thinking, 'Wow, this young man has the whole package."'
With the Magic pinning their hopes on a prep phenomenon rather than a polished collegian, it's clearer than ever All-Star Tracy McGrady is gone. Orlando's disgruntled superstar has said he's unwilling to wait out another rebuilding project, and the drafting of Howard is a commitment to the future.
Even more telling is that Weisbrod's first post-draft call was not to McGrady but to Steve Francis -- the Houston guard prominently mentioned in trade talks.
Weisbrod said his conversation with Francis was productive, with each man expressing respect for the other's work. Even Francis' scuffle with Phoenix's Amare Stoudemire in March drew praise.
"I think he's stubborn, I think he's competitive and I think he likes to win," Weisbrod said.
Refernce point
McGrady's history can provide the Magic with a reference point on young players, having successfully made the prodigy-to-pros leap. Yet what of those high school hotshots who were exposed as boys failing at a man's game within three years -- the length of a rookie contract?
Some simply didn't have the maturity to handle their new fortune and fame, while others found their physical skills couldn't make up for a lack of basketball smarts.
"Character has always been in me. They way I am, it's always been like that," Howard said. "I'm not going to change because I've got the money and I'm No. 1."
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