If anything, Rivers is concerned that his team plays too hard. The first time he rewarded his minions with a day off—a Doc holiday, as it were—Rivers arrived at his office and was distracted by the thump of a bouncing basketball. When he opened the shades of his window and peered down at the team's practice floor, he saw that 11 of his players had shown up to scrimmage. Furious, he threatened to levy a $100 fine the next time he caught them disregarding a mandated day of rest. (Unbeknownst to the coach, the players now congregate at another gym.) "We're an energy team, and we need to conserve it sometimes," says Rivers, who lives in Winter Park, Fla., with his wife, Kris, and their four kids. "On the other hand, how can you not love guys who have made it to the NBA and are still just a bunch of gym rats?"
All of this bonhomie creates a dilemma for the summer. In addition to holding the Nuggets' and the Golden State Warriors' first-round picks—both lottery choices—the Magic could have as much as $18 million in cap room to lavish on a free agent, assuming it chooses not to re-sign Mercer. Yes, the future smells sweet. But will the team's chemistry be destroyed when, say, 20-year-old Tracy McGrady, who recently built a mansion a jump shot from the O-Rena, struts into town making more money than the rest of his teammates combined? Even Rivers, who had a clause inserted in his contract guaranteeing that the team would pursue free agents this summer, is ambivalent. "If we don't sign a single one of those [high-profile free agents], I won't be upset," he says. "The way I look at it, I already have 12 great guys."
Gabriel, though, isn't about to depart from the blueprint. As he sees it, beyond the balmy weather, the Magic's unsurpassed training facilities and the lack of a state income tax, he has an additional inducement for luring the likes of McGrady, Tim Duncan, Grant Hill, Eddie Jones or Maurice Taylor. "Our play this season only helps us," says Gabriel. "A free agent can say, 'If they're overachieving now, just think what they can do if I'm there.' " Amaechi, for one, believes that Duncan, San Antonio's soft-spoken 7-footer, would be the ideal fit. "I really hope he comes here," he says. "Sure, it would boot me out the door, but this team deserves him."
Should Doc's troops hang on to their playoff spot, it's tough to imagine them prevailing against a team with a go-to scorer or two. Still, that this irrepressible band and its rookie coach have seen such success—well, it's been rather splendid.
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