"I would have to include Grant Hill in there. He's as classy of a human being as you'll ever meet. He gets a bad rap here in Orlando, fans boo him, which I really think is just absurd. The guy could have taken his money and quit, but he kept trying to come back. He almost died on an operating table, I mean, his fever went up to 107 degrees, his body was going through convulsions, he could have easily taken his money and walked away. People forget it, but he kept trying to come back. I believe him when he tells me that Orlando was giving him all the signals that they didn't want him back, a lot of people were mad that he went to Phoenix and I can understand that. They were giving him signals that they didn't want him to come back so all that overshadows the fact that there's not a classier athlete in the NBA than Grant Hill. Just one of those fluky things that happen."
-- John Denton, UCF
It's been a while since I've conducted an "old-fashioned" interview on behalf of Third Quarter Collapse, which is why I reached out to pal John Denton (formerly of the Florida Today) over the phone yesterday to conduct a Q/A with him. Denton was kind enough to chat with me about his career as a journalist, his time covering the Orlando Magic (over 12 years!), his relationship with Dwight Howard, and more.
Denton is one of the nicest members in the media you'll meet but unfortunately, was a victim of layoffs at the Florida Today a few months ago. Such is the stark reality of the newspaper business, which has been steadily dying and eroding the past few years. Luckily, because Denton is a talented individual, he was picked up by UCF and joined the athletics communications staff in August as a staff writer.
You can check out his Knights Insider stories every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
That should do it for the pleasantries.
Click after the jump for the full transcript.
Before you stopped writing for the Florida Today, how long were you working there for?
I came to Florida at the end of '97, October '97, through July 2009 so about 12 years. I covered the NFL for the first three years I was here and then I switched over. I started covering the Magic ... it was the end of Chuck Daly's first year, so I guess at the end of '98 was when I started covering the Magic.
In terms of covering the team for a while, is there anything that stood out to you in particular during the time that you've been writing about the Orlando Magic?
I've had to cover some great moments. Tracy McGrady was one of my favorite guys to cover, he was always so good to me. Nick Anderson ... I saw Nick Anderson at the end of his run here in Orlando. Penny Hardaway was a guy I covered in high school, he played high school in Memphis, I covered him at Memphis State and then I came to Orlando and got to cover him at the tail end of his run in Orlando.
Now, watching Dwight mature ... I was with Dwight at the pre-draft camp in Chicago and with him before the [2004 NBA] Draft, watching him go from a skinny little kid from Atlanta to the dominating player that he is now is pretty cool.
I know you seem to have a pretty good relationship with Dwight that you've developed over the years.
Yeah, I mean, it's become one of those familiarity type of things. I've been there when he was starting off as a high school kid who didn't know much about the game and now I've kind of watching him growing up into a man. He went from a 18 year old, 235 pound kid to a 265 pound monster. He really knows how to play the game now. It's almost like watching one of your kids grow up. Watching him grow into a man has been pretty cool.
I know that you've covered a lot of players over the years, is there any one in particular that was your favorite to cover?
I would have to include Grant Hill in there. He's as classy of a human being as you'll ever meet. He gets a bad rap here in Orlando, fans boo him, which I really think is just absurd. The guy could have taken his money and quit, but he kept trying to come back. He almost died on an operating table, I mean, his fever went up to 107 degrees, his body was going through convulsions, he could have easily taken his money and walked away. People forget it, but he kept trying to come back. I believe him when he tells me that Orlando was giving me all the signals that they didn't want me back, a lot of people were mad that he went to Phoenix and I can understand that. They were giving him signals that they didn't want him to come back so all that overshadows the fact that there's not a classier athlete in the NBA than Grant Hill. Just one of those fluky things that happen.
I know that journalism is at a bit of a crossroads, so to speak, with the respective entities of print and online. I know that you're a victim of being laid off by the Florida Today. What's your opinion on where journalism is now and where do you think it's going to be heading in the future?
It's just a shame that there are a lot of good writers who are out of work right now and have been victims of a dying industry. There's no other way to put it. We're in big-time trouble, we didn't adapt when the internet came along, we give our product away for free, and now papers are charging more and slashing the product. I mean, what kind of business model successfully gives their product away for free and survives? We've got to come up with some sort of iTunes-type of thing where you pay a quarter to read a story online, or you pay eight bucks a month to subscribe to that website. You can't give away your product away for free and expect to survive.
I know that advertising funds a lot of newspapers, do you think that's still a viable option or do you think they have to go with a different route?
Well, yeah, you're probably never going to it all on subscriptions alone, it has to be advertising and subscriptions but they have to figure out a way to convince advertisers that more eyes are seeing copy online than they are in print. I mean, I really believe newspapers want the print product to go away eventually, that way they save the liberty costs, save up the paper costs, the print costs, they want it to go to an online product but they can't figure how to make money on it. They have to convince advertisers that eyeballs are seeing their ads online just the same as they are on a newspaper.
Do you think that newspapers will fully integrate to online?
I think in 3 to 5 years, you're going to get your morning newspaper in your e-mail, in an attachment, and that's going to be your e-mail. I really believe in 5 years the printing product will be totally gone. That's just my opinion, but I really believe that. I think the people that matter in newspapers want the printing product to go away to save on all that cost. Sadly, the older people, the older generation that doesn't want to see that happen may still would like the Sunday morning paper in their hand but I really think that's the direction we're heading.
I know that you're working for UCF now, how's that been going?
Oh, it's been great. It's been absolutely great. They came to me within two weeks of UCF finding that I was out of work. Joe Hornstein reached out to me, he offered me a position with UCF, and I love dealing with college athletes. I'm a basketball guy at heart, I know that this is a football state, but I prefer to be around basketball so I'm doing a lot of UCF, but I'm also trying to keep my foot in basketball, in the NBA. It's what I think I do the best and I'm going to be covering all the Magic home games for NBA.com so I look forward to that, to say close to the team.
Going back to the NBA, what is your personal prediction for the season? I know on HoopsWorld you stated that you were picking the Los Angeles Lakers and Orlando Magic to meet in the NBA Finals, again. Is that your prediction at this point?
Not very exciting, I'm not really going out on a limb but yeah, I really do think that's the case. I think the Magic made themselves a better team. They've never been deeper. I think that Dwight is going to take "the leap" this year, I mean, he's going to take another jump. He has a lot of talent around him. I do think they're really going to miss [Hedo] Turkoglu's playmaking abilities but Vince [Carter] gives them another scorer. Matt Barnes, I thought that was a great addition for them because he's a guy who gives them some toughness, Brandon Bass gives them some toughness. I think they're a better team.
I don't like Rasheed Wallace in Boston, I don't like Shaq in Cleveland, so I think they're better and I think their two biggest rivals got worse.
I know that a lot of "experts" are picking the Cavaliers, again, to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals and even the Celtics are picked by some but the Magic have been rarely represented in any form or fashion by predictors.
Yeah, that's always a sticking point of Dwight and Rashard. Orlando is never going to get the respect they think they deserve. I mean, how many more times does Orlando have to beat Cleveland for people to believe that Orlando is a better team? They've destroyed them for 3 years now. If LeBron doesn't make that shot, it's a sweep. How many more times does Orlando have to beat Cleveland before people realize Orlando is the better team?
Do you think the players are bothered by that? The continued disrespect?
Oh yeah. Jameer Nelson is a chip on the shoulder, Philly guy who's been told his whole life he's too short so don't tell me it doesn't motivate him. Rashard is one of those below-the-radar guys so don't tell me it doesn't motivate him. Dwight has always felt like Orlando has gotten the shaft in terms of national respect. I mean, they made it to the Finals for goodness sake and here we come Christmas Day, yes, they are playing Boston but the prime-time game is the Lakers and Cavaliers. They use all that stuff for motivation but you go to do it on the court, it's not like the respect matters if you don't win so if they win, they'll get all the respect they deserve.
I know that fans are starting to look a little bit ahead to 2012, when Dwight Howard has the option of opting out of his contract. It seems like some people are a little paranoid at what he's been doing during the off-season, with the movies and what not, because it reminds them of Shaquille O'Neal. I've always said that they're two completely different people with two completely different motivations in life. Do you agree?
I think it's a valid concern, but I think it's a slim, slim if any possibility [of Howard leaving]. I think that Dwight enjoys being the big fish around here. Every decision the franchise makes is about him, they don't get that new arena going up without Dwight Howard. They spent Rashard Lewis for Dwight Howard. They drafted J.J. Redick so he can shoot the ball and create some room for Dwight Howard. Every decision that franchise makes is about Dwight Howard and I think he enjoys being the man here. In this day and age, he would have to take a $30 million hit if he went to another team. I think he enjoys it here too much, he knows that it's all about him, and he's not going to leave that.
Do you think that Dwight is really, really, really motivated to win a title for the city of Orlando?
Being around him during the summer, if you saw how hard he worked ... he was in the gym at 5:00 in the morning much of the summer. On the days he was traveling abroad, he was in the gym. When he went to Africa, he was working out with Chris Bosh and Carlos Boozer. I mean, he's put in the time, there's no doubt about that. People are kind of worried that he shot a couple of movies, but he was working out in L.A. every day, his trainers were with him every day, so it wouldn't have mattered if he worked out in Orlando or L.A. so yeah, he got his work in and I think he remembers how much it hurt to lose last year. I think that motivates him.
Given the new look, is this the best Magic team ever?
Yeah, I think it's the deepest team. I think it's the best bench that they've had. They can go 9-10 deep really strong, I think their second team could beat some of the worst teams in the league. We'll know in about six months whether or not it was the best Magic team or not, but I think it's definitely the deepest.
I know that part of the reason Orlando is so deep is that ownership finally decided to enter the luxury tax, spend that money, so they can bring a title to this town and do it for owner Rich DeVos. How long do you think the team will be able to support that large payroll?
I don't think it's a long-term thing but I think the success that they had this past season really opened their eyes. I mean, their season ticket sales went from 4,500 to almost 13,000. That many season ticket sales, they got all that profit from the post-season, so I think the success and the fans reaction and how they gobbled up tickets really opened the eyes of the franchise and going into the new building, they know that they're going to make more money and Bob Vander Weide really wants to win this thing for Rich DeVos. We don't know how many more seasons he has, so they want to try to take a shot now, to try to win it. Can they keep spending like this for 10 years? I doubt it, but they're at least spending the money now and trying and that's all you want as a fan, you want your ownership to really, legitimately trying to win a championship.
I like to thank John for taking the time to speak with me during his free time.