Two years ago following their NBA Finals loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Orlando Magic looked like a team on the brink.
With center Dwight Howard quickly emerging as one of the NBA's biggest talents, it seemed like the Magic needed just some minor tweaking to hoist their first NBA title.
"We won 59 games two years in a row," Magic guard J.J. Redick recalled recently. "The year before that, we only won 52 games, but we won or tied the season series with every team in the NBA. So, we were a team that was very competitive."
But two seasons later, the team that in the past four seasons trails only the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers in regular season wins may need a miracle just to keep the guy most responsible for that run from leaving town.
Howard's preseason request to be traded not only has dominated the Magic's shortened regular season preparations, but will certainly nag them until the situation is resolved. If he stays, the Magic could be a threat this season, while his departure could usher in the first of several rebuilding seasons.
Howard has said that if certain roster moves could be engineered, his preference would be to remain in Orlando. Though, he is adamant his trade request stands entering the season.
"The back and forth for me is based on the people here, the talent that's here," he said. "I'm at peace (with the trade request), but I know a lot of other people are going to be upset and not at peace with it. I've gotten every message you can think of, from Twitter to Facebook, to this and that and I'm this kind of guy.
"But nothing has changed me. I've been the same person from Day 1 since I've been in the NBA."
And that stated goal since the Magic selected him with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 draft has been to win a championship.
Magic general manager Otis Smith has given Howard's agent, Dan Fegan, permission to explore potential trades with Dallas, New Jersey and the Los Angeles. But Smith said recently that any trade discussions involving Howard could go until the end of the season.
The Magic have made moderate attempts to show Howard they are trying to improve the talent around him during the brisk free agency period following the end of the lockout. They acquired some much-needed toughness and help for him in the paint by trading big man Brandon Bass in exchange for Boston's Glen Davis and guard Von Wafer.
They also re-signed starting shooting guard Jason Richardson, who has promised to be more assertive offensively than when he came over in a midseason trade from Phoenix. Forward Hedo Turkoglu and Earl Clark — who was re-signed — also were a part of that deal with the Suns.
Redick, expected to maintain his sixth-man role, said the team is trudging largely into the unknown this season, but having dealt with recent roster shakeups should be a plus.
"It's difficult. And it can be a distraction," Redick said. "…For the guys who've been here, we've seen the trades the last couple of years. So we're used to the circus and frenzy. And obviously it's only going to be amplified more this season with what's going on with No. 12."