1. Archive


ORLANDO - Dwight Howard wants to be Superman not just one day a year.

Howard, the talented Magic center who wore a red cape and S on his chest in winning the 2008 NBA slam dunk competition, doesn't want to just be the NBA's best big man. He wants to be the best player.

The tools are there.

The 6-foot-10 Howard can bench press 225 pounds 25 times; has a 38-inch vertical leap; is the third-fastest player on the team; and has 6.6 percent body fat and a 7-5 wingspan. Add to that instinct, court awareness and improving maturity.

"When they talk about most valuable players to their team, I can't think of one more valuable than him," Charlotte coach Larry Brown said.

Howard, in earning first-team All-NBA and second-team all-defense honors, led the Magic to 52 wins and the Eastern semifinals, where it lost to Detroit in five games. He was more of a role player than star in the USA's Olympic gold-medal run, but that's only fueled more hunger.

"Got a gold medal now," Howard said. "Time to win a championship."

Said point guard Jameer Nelson, "He's come back a lot more mature, and he is holding us all to a standard now."

Howard, who wears specially designed shoes that have Superman logos on the tongue and heel, dominates games, but he will need more help from his teammates. The Magic has a strong scoring frontline with Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu, but it remains to be seen if the offseason moves can strengthen the supporting cast.

The Magic lost guards Keyon Dooling, Carlos Arroya and scorer Maurice Evans. Nelson is a serviceable point guard. Free-agent signee Mickael Pietrus has been solid defensively, but hasn't brought the offense the Magic needs from him.

Then there is Howard's personal Kryptonite.

In the past few seasons, that drawback has been free throws and turnovers.

Among the things on Howard's to-do list is challenging the Celtics, Cavaliers and Pistons for the top spot in the East. "This moment never comes for too many people like this," Howard said. "Not many people win a championship. We have the right opportunity, the right players, the right coaching staff. We're in a great position to do that."


Orlando Magic

What: 20th anniversary season

When:7 p.m. Wednesday, vs. Atlanta, season opener, Amway Arena, Orlando

Last season: 52-30, lost to Detroit 4-1 in Eastern Conference semifinals

Starting five: G Jameer Nelson (10.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 5.6 apg), G Mickael Pietrus (7.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 0.7 apg), F Hedo Turkoglu (19.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 5.0 apg), F Rashard Lewis (18.2 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.4 apg), Dwight Howard (20.7 ppg, 14.2 rpg, 2.2 bpg)

Key additions: G Pietrus (free agent, Warriors); G Anthony Johnson (free agent, Kings)

Key loses: G Maurice Evans (free agent, Hawks); G Carlos Arroyo (free agent, Europe), G Keyon Dooling (trade, Nets), F Pat Garrity (retired)

Coach: Stan Van Gundy, second season with Magic, fifth season overall; 164-103

Outlook: With Howard developing into the best center in the East - maybe the NBA - and plenty of excellent perimeter shooters, the Magic has all the firepower it needs to repeat as champion in a weak division.