It's hard to know exactly when it happened, but at some point, the Orlando Magic knew that the Dwight Howard era had come to an end, and a full-scale rebuild was at hand.
Howard, the 6-foot-11, six-time All-Star, and three-time Defensive Player of the Year, began his career with the Magic and was the franchise cornerstone for eight seasons. But his on-again, off-again trade demands, and his strained relationship with then-coach Stan Van Gundy, made it clear the team needed a fresh start.
Howard was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, and in his place the Magic got Josh McRoberts, Christian Eyenga, Maurice Harkless, Nikola Vucevic, Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington and draft picks. They hired a new, young coach, 37-year-old Jacque Vaughn, and set out as a team without a star but with a firm grasp of playing as a team.
"When they're doing well, I pat them on the back," Vaughn said on the team's website. "When we aren't, we'll try to get it corrected together."
Point guard Jameer Nelson, shooting guards J.J. Redick and Afflalo and center Glen "Big Baby" Davis now serve as the team's foundation. In one bit of irony, at the quarter point of the season, the Magic (11-13) have almost the same record as Howard's new team, the Lakers (11-14).
The Wizards will face the Magic in the first of four meetings this season Wednesday at Amway Center. Washington, 3-18 before Tuesday's home game against Atlanta, is in the midst of aseries of four games in five nights for the second straight week.
Granted, it's still early in the season, but a quick look at the Magic and the Wizards reveals two franchises without a lot of similarities.
While Washington seems rudderless without point guard John Wall, who hasn't played this season because of a stress injury to his left knee, Orlando's puzzle pieces seem to fit better than Washington's.
Whatever Vaughn and team president Alex Martins did to begin reshaping this team, it seems to be working. Vaughn's philosophy sounds simple enough.
"We have to share the ball, we have to create for each other, we have to be sound defensively, and then most importantly, we have to take care of the basketball," Vaughn said. "The approach always predicates whether or not you have a desire to fulfill the needs of the team."
Vaughn described that approach as a commitment that every player must have. The Magic have won three straight and six of 10. The Wizards, before Tuesday night, had won just three games.
After the Wizards' 102-72 loss to Miami on Saturday, coach Randy Wittman lamented his team's lack of direction, among other things.
One thing is certain: At the moment, the Wizards and the Magic are heading in opposite directions.
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