Howard wants shot with T-Mac

Updated: June 25, 2004, 3:54 PM ET
Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Dwight Howard believes he's what Tracy McGrady needs to be successful in Orlando.

McGrady has told the Magic he wants a trade to a contender, preferably one with a quality big man. But Howard, the prep sensation selected first in the NBA draft, wants the disgruntled superstar to know that help is on the way.

"Tracy, I hope that you stay and play with me a couple of years," Howard said Thursday night from New York. "I think we'll be a really good combo."

In a draft without a clear No. 1, the Magic went with the promising 18-year-old Howard over the more seasoned Emeka Okafor, who led Connecticut to a national title. Howard became the third high schooler taken first in the NBA draft since 2001.

Jameer could help T-Mac
More help is on the way, Tracy McGrady.

That's the message from the Magic's newest point guard, Jameer Nelson.

"T-Mac is a great player and I could complement his play," said Nelson, who was drafted by Denver with the No. 20 overall pick and then dealt to Orlando on Thursday.

"Just drop me on the court with him. Just by being myself, penetrating and kicking [the ball] to him, I could prevent him from having to work so hard."

— Joe Lago

It may take time for Howard to grow from high school phenom to NBA superstar -- as McGrady did -- but the Magic were willing to wait rather than make the safe pick.

"When you have the first pick, your responsibility is to pick the best player," Magic general manager John Weisbrod said. "Our guys had a lot of conviction that he was the best player."

Orlando then traded a future first-round pick to Denver for the draft rights to St. Joseph's point guard Jameer Nelson. The Nuggets selected Nelson, The Associated Press' college player of the year, with the 20th pick.

The draft is the first major step in rebuilding the woeful Magic, losers of an NBA-worst 61 games last season, their first sub-.500 record in 12 years.

The next step is deciding what to do with McGrady. The two-time scoring champion nearly was dealt to the Houston Rockets earlier this week, according to reports, but the Magic backed off Tuesday to concentrate on the draft.

This was the first time the Magic drafted first since 1993, when they selected Chris Webber then traded him to Golden State for Penny Hardaway and three first-round picks. Hardaway and Shaquille O'Neal, drafted first in 1992, combined to lead Orlando to the NBA Finals in 1995.

Howard averaged 25 points, 18 rebounds, eight blocks and 3.5 assists last year in leading Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy to a state championship.

His combination of athleticism and size is unquestionable -- he jumped 12 feet, 6 inches during his workout in Orlando -- and doctors say he could grow another 2 inches. But his maturity at such a precocious age is what impressed Magic general manager John Weisbrod.

The Magic may have finally decided on Howard because of questions about Okafor's back. Okafor missed two games of the Big East tournament after suffering a stress fracture of the fifth lumbar vertebrae.

Orlando is still paying the price for Grant Hill's bad ankle, and would be leery of committing to another injury risk.

"It did factor in to some degree," Weisbrod said. "But, really, it was the strength of Dwight as a candidate more than any issues with Emeka."

One weakness in Howard's makeup, scouts say, is his lack of toughness.

"What everybody says," Howard said, "they don't know what's going on in my heart."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press