ORLANDO — The Orlando Magic needs help.
It needs to do something — anything — to make star players in the NBA realize the City Beautiful is an amazing place to be.
Don't laugh, but I'm suggesting a marketing campaign that targets free agents throughout the league, much like VisitOrlando targets tourists throughout the world.
Maybe we could start with the quote from newly acquired Magic free-agent signee Marreese Speights, who grew up in St. Petersburg rooting for the Magic.
"This is my dream team," Speights said last week. "I've been dreaming of coming here since I started watching basketball."
Or what about Arron Afflalo, who also signed last week and is back for his second tour of duty in Orlando. He was here when old GM Rob Hennigan started the Magic's original post-Dwight rebuild and now he's back for new basketball boss Jeff Weltman's rebuild of the rebuild.
"You have to be happy, and this is by far the happiest place I've been," said Afflalo, who has made seven different stops in his 11-year NBA career. "… I just think there's a combination of so many things here that just really fulfilled me as a person. And when you're happy as a person, I think it brings the best out of you as a professional."
Granted, it would be nice if Kevin Durant had grown up wearing a Penny Hardaway Magic jersey as Speights did or if LeBron James had been born in Central Florida instead of Northeast Ohio, but the point is this: Speights and Afflalo affirm what most every athlete who's ever called Orlando home will tell you, "It's a great place to play and a better place to live."
Just ask Orlando City's recently acquired Dom Dwyer, the MLS superstar who played minor-league soccer here for a relatively short time a few years ago and couldn't wait to come back. It's not just coincidence that almost everybody who has ever played here wishes he'd stayed here.
Dwight Howard recently admitted on Twitter that he was trying to find a way to get back here before he signed with the Hawks last offseason.
Shaq still lives in Orlando and has gone on record as saying, "Knowing what I know now, I would've stayed in Orlando (instead of signing with the Lakers in 1996)."
Penny Hardaway has said he has regrets about leaving Orlando. And I'm sure Tracy McGrady sometimes wonders if he would have a ring today if he had stuck it out in Orlando and played with a young, dominant Howard.
And do you ever wonder why just about every former Magic coach — Matt Guokas, Brian Hill, Scott Skiles and Doc Rivers — still live here? You can probably add Stan Van Gundy to that list. He still has a house in Seminole County and will probably move back here someday, too.
Why? Because, well, "Orlando is a Magical place to be."
This is my suggestion for a catchy marketing mantra that captures the attention of a 2018 free-agent class that includes LeBron, K.D., Chris Paul, Paul George, Russell Westbrook, DeMarcus Cousins, DeAndre Jordan, Isaiah Thomas, etc.
The Magic's new management team obviously can't sell the team's roster or performance, which is why they must pull out all the stops and actually market themselves shamelessly. I'm talking newspaper, TV and radio ads in every NBA market. I'm talking buying national advertising on ESPN, NBA TV, TNT and all of the major sports websites.
I can just see the basketball purists rolling their eyes now and saying it would be embarrassing for an NBA team to actually advertise themselves in such a public way to NBA free agents. But when you have nothing, you have nothing to lose. I defer to the Temptations, who once sang a song we can all relate to: "Ain't too proud to beg."