ORLANDO, Fla. - Orlando general manager John Weisbrod asked his assistants the night before the NBA Draft why the Magic should not pick Dwight Howard.
Howard, the Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy senior, had used stellar pre-draft interviews to edge past Connecticut All-American Emeka Okafor atop the Magic's wish list. Now Weisbrod, wary of wasting the No. 1 pick on a mirage, was playing devil's advocate.
Howard, at 6-foot-9, 240 pounds, has impressive physical skills, but will he try to get by on those alone? Why won't the glitter and glamour of the NBA lifestyle ruin the 18-year-old? How long will his development take?
But the coaches and scouts never wavered under the questioning, and Thursday night's draft reflected their certainty.
"They picked the best person for the job," a confident Howard said Friday during his post-draft visit to Orlando.
By choosing potential over experience, Weisbrod is taking a risk in trying to rebuild after last season's 21-61 disaster. He acknowledges Okafor will give more help next year to the Charlotte Bobcats, who picked second, than Howard will help the Magic - but 2004-05 isn't the point.
"There was a national consensus, 'The Magic are so bad, they have to take the guy who's more proven, established and NBA ready,'" Weisbrod said. "I was aware of that, but I really didn't let myself fall into that thinking.
"When you come into a draft, you're addressing the needs of your team, but when you have the No. 1 pick, your responsibility is to pick the best player."
With the Magic pinning their hopes on a prep phenom rather than a polished collegian, it's clearer than ever All-Star Tracy McGrady is gone. Orlando's disgruntled superstar has said he's unwilling to wait out another rebuilding project, and the drafting of Howard is a commitment to the future.
"I can't conceive of any scenario with Tracy, whether he was staying or not staying, that would've made this different," Weisbrod said. "This is who we were going to pick, regardless of any Tracy factor."
Even more telling is that Weisbrod's first post-draft call was not to McGrady but to Steve Francis - the Houston guard prominently mentioned in trade talks.
McGrady's history can provide the Magic with a reference point on young players, having successfully made the prodigy-to-pros leap.
Yet what of those high school hotshots who were exposed as boys failing at a man's game within three years - the length of a rookie contract?
It didn't matter their bodies were on loan from heaven, with statistics that appeared to have fallen out of a PlayStation. Some simply didn't have the maturity to handle their new fortune and fame, while others found their physical skills couldn't make up for a lack of basketball smarts.
"Aside from basketball, the best thing I bring to the table is my character," Howard said. "I'm not going to change because I've got the money and I'm No. 1."
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