It was about this time last year when I tried to find a place for the 2010 Magic in the pantheon of great Magic teams. That pantheon of course consists of four teams, but that is besides the point.
We were all pretty upset at that time. Try to remember with me, the Magic completed a stellar regular season run and a dominating run through the first two rounds only to lay an egg in the first three games against the Celtics. Orlando salvaged two wins before bowing out. Everyone was disappointed in how that team performed. When you stepped back and looked at what the team accomplished statistically, it really makes you upset the team did not win the title.
It was clear, despite that disappointment, the 2010 team was one of the greatest in Magic history. The 2011 version was supposed to build on that. Except it didn’t.
Instead, Orlando was the most consistent it has been in the Stan Van Gundy era and the team failed to reach the second round of the Playoffs for the first time since 2007 — quite a long time in Orlando history. It was the most disappointing way to end what turned out to be a pretty disappointing season. The Magic had high aspirations for the 2010-11 season. They failed to come anywhere near meeting them.
On another day we can argue whether the 2011 season was the most disappointing in team history — between 2011, the lockout-shortened 1999 season and the horrid 2004 season, it is difficult to get much more disappointed.
But come down from the relative high of the 2010 season? That just adds to the disappointment. You have to factor that in when thinking about where to rank the 2011 Magic in the team’s history.
There have been a lot of first round exits in the team’s history — all but five of the franchise’s 13 Playoff appearances have ended after one round. At least by Playoff results, that means there are really eight teams to group the 2011 Magic with. When you limit it down by Playoff seeding, it leaves you with just the 1994 team, Orlando’s first Playoff appearance; the 1999 team that tied for the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference regular season title in the lockout-shortened season; and the 2002 Magic that finished fifth in the East and lost to the Hornets in their final year in Charlotte.
You can see there is not a whole lot to compete with. Realistically, maybe the 2011 team was better than them, but just did not live up to expectations. After all, all three of those teams overperformed and were something of a surprise.
In reality, it feels like the 2011 team compares more favorably with teams that were seeded lower — like the 1997 team led by Penny Hardaway that lost to the Heat in five — or even a team that did not make the Playoffs like some of the early Dwight Howard teams that featured a strangely healthy Grant Hill. I tend to think the 2011 team was better than those teams, then again, they were a Hedo Turkoglu broken arm away from making the playoffs.
Just beginning to mention teams that failed to make the postseason when thinking about where 2011 started — with championship aspirations — is a little depressing.
Still, Howard turned in one of the best individual seasons in team history and there was some talent on the roster. The 2011 Magic had some good moments and had plenty of talent. Just because they never put it all together does not completely write them off.
Just in taking a glance, this is not the worst team the Magic have had that lost in the first round. They were better than the Tracy McGrady-led squad that lost to the Hornets in 2001. Likely, they are more comparable to the 1999 team that finished third and faced an upstart Allen Iverson and the 76ers in the first round. There was a lot of expectation around that team too after a strong 50-game regular season.
The difference between these two teams might be that Orlando was more consistent statistically. If you look at the actual stats from that 1999 team, you wonder how they won 33 games and tied for the best record in the Eastern Conference with Miami and Indiana.
It likely makes the 2011 team the second best team, behind the 1994 team, in that third tier of Magic squads — the ones that lost in the first round of the Playoffs. Does seventh sound right for the 2011 team? For now, yes. But you expect 2012 to push them down (if there is a 2012) and teams beyond that to do the same.
Photo via DayLife.com.