Tuesday, when Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard won the Defensive Player of the Year award, GM Otis Smith said something that caught my attention:
"We like other trophies, but especially the gold one, and he’s promised in the not-so-distant future that that would happen here in Orlando."
"The gold one," of course, referring to the Larry O'Brien trophy. The Magic, under Smith's guidance, are focused on just one goal right now: bringing one of those home to Orlando. And that's been their approach for the last several seasons. Here's Smith again, this time from the news conference introducing Stan Van Gundy when Smith hired him in 2007:
[T]he goal at the end of it is to win a championship, and anything else is a failure. We are at the same place we let off last week. The goal is to win an NBA championship. You want to give yourself the best opportunity to do that, and with that said, you are going to have some rocky roads, and you are going to have some good times. But you have to give yourself an opportunity to do that.
Now, any team can say its goal is to win a championship, or at the very least to win at any cost. Plenty of teams indeed make that promise, and don't deliver; the Toronto Raptors are one recent example. But what we're seeing in Orlando is a top-down focus on that championship goal. And it's creating a positive mindset. Mike Bianchi quoted Howard on that subject in a recent column:
"Those guys are willing to go the extra mile to be successful," Howard says. "Everything here is built with a championship mentality. The championship brand we're trying to build here in Orlando starts with the organization. If you want to be a champion, you have to act like a champion, think like a champion, walk like a champion. The guys in charge of our organization have instilled that."
It's important to bear all these things in mind as the playoffs continue, and as the team heads into the summer. Regardless of whether or not it wins a championship, Orlando will need to sign a free agent or two this summer, though not necessarily a top-dollar one. The mindset in Orlando, when considered with its contender status and Florida's no income tax, will make it an attractive destination. Magic fans really ought to credit management for its willingness to spend and, more importantly, commitment to winning a championship. Plenty of teams throw money around, but few take the pursuit of a title as seriously as Orlando does.