- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 22, 2010

ORLANDO, FLA. (AP) - Stan Van Gundy has never been one to preach patience.

These days, he doesn’t really have a choice.

The sobering state of the reconstructed Orlando Magic has forced the coach who lives and dies with every possession to face reality: After two blockbuster trades brought on by a midseason slide, the Magic are back in training-camp mode.

“It’s not even a matter of taking a couple of steps back. We’re literally starting at square one,” Van Gundy said. “Nobody wants to be there 28 games into the season. But I’m just telling you, realistically, that’s where we are.”

Talk about a reality check.

In the span of about three weeks, the Magic (16-12) have gone from legitimate championship contenders to a team tied for fifth in the Eastern Conference that would do anything for a victory. Even just one.

They were free falling even before they orchestrated two trades that brought Gilbert Arenas from Washington and Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson and Earl Clark from Phoenix. They gave up Rashard Lewis, Vince Carter, Mickael Pietrus and Marcin Gortat, plus a 2011 first-round draft pick and cash, in the deals.

After dropping the first two games since the trade, Orlando has lost eight of its last nine games and will have to find a way to come together in the most difficult part of its schedule or things could get even worse. The Magic host the NBA’s top two teams next: San Antonio on Thursday and Boston on Saturday.

“I was hoping I came in on the Bobcats, you know, Sacramento or something,” Arenas said, laughing. “But it’s not about now. It’s about four months from now.”

The Magic are no longer playing for home-court advantage or a high-playoff seed.

Not that they aren’t hoping to win every game _ they just realize the goal has changed. A franchise that started the year believing it had all the pieces for its first title quickly learned it wasn’t good enough to compete with Miami’s LeBron James-Dwyane Wade combo or Boston’s championship pedigree.

Incorporating new parts is never easy, even in the summer. Remolding a roster in December is even tougher. So the Magic are going all-in that this makeover will show results in May and June, even if that means taking their lumps now.

“It’s the second day of training camp. This is the best that it is now,” Van Gundy said. “We’ve got a long, long way to go. I’d like to get it going sooner rather than later. I don’t want to drop too low down in the standings. But I don’t know how long it’s going to take. It’s going to take as long as it takes. This is a whole new situation. It’s a whole new team, and the last three weeks here have been not a lot of things working in our favor, to be quite honest.”

How it all is supposed to work is the great unknown.

The Magic are hoping Turkoglu, perhaps the most important player other than Dwight Howard in Orlando’s 2009 NBA finals run, can find his finals form again after poor stops in Toronto and Phoenix. Arenas gives Orlando another ball-handler who can create and Richardson another outside shooter, but the Magic _ for the time being _ are also without a true backup center.

The three biggest newcomers have so far been unspectacular. In their home debuts, Arenas had two points (1 for 6), Turkoglu nine points (2 for 11) and Richardson 10 points (4 for 13).

Staying patient isn’t easy with that kind of output. The problems have only been magnified with Boston beginning Wednesday on a 13-game winning streak and Miami just ending a streak of 12 straight wins.

“We’re just in a tough stretch right now, but it’s December. It can’t get any worse,” Howard said. “One thing I tell the guys is, ‘Don’t get frustrated with what’s going on right now. We all hate losing. But you know, we’ve got to learn from our mistakes and we have to stay together. We can’t allow games we lose to take us off our goal and keep us from each other.’”