“Hectic is a good word. The schedule was hectic,” J.J. Redick said. “It seemed like there was some sort of national scandal with this team every other week. At one point in March, I decided to set the over/under at 2.5 for national scandals for the rest of the year. Fortunately, we only had two more. So we hit the under.”
That might about sum up the way the 2012 season went for the Magic.
After ups and downs, the “longest short season” as Otis Smith described it, a five-game Playoff exit and all the Dwight Howard mess, the Magic slowly filed out of Amway Center for the final time this season. A few players — Justin Harper and Ish Smith — were getting one last workout in when the media entered the practice facility before cleaning their lockers and entering an offseason with as much uncertainty as any other for this franchise.
Questions surround the futures of the superstar player, the team’s head coach and the team’s general manager. That is a triple threat of questions that will hover over the franchise in the wake of the 2012 season.
Those are questions the franchise will begin to evaluate when the team begins its postseason evaluations. There is no set timetable for those, according to Magic CEO Alex Martins. They will take place after a “cooling down” period. No decisions about the Magic’s future — whether it be Dwight’s future or Stan Van Gundy’s future or Otis Smith’s future — has been made. Likely they will not be made for a little while.
Redick said he has been told that there would be clarity on the issue of Van Gundy and Smith’s future in the next few weeks. Beyond that though, nobody really elaborated on the team’s timetable for the future.
For the moment, the Magic are still recovering from a Playoff defeat that might not have been totally unexpected considering how shorthanded the team was entering the postseason. Still, any Playoff defeat is heartbreaking for a franchise that still sees itself as a championship contender.
“Very disappointed in the result, no doubt. To lose at any time hurts. To lose in the first round really hurts,” Stan Van Gundy said. “We’re only able to win one game in that series, so disappointed in the result. But not the least bit disappointed in them as players or how they did their job or how they approached it or worked. In fact, the opposite. I thought they really gave everything that they had, not only in games but in preparation.
“I think they can all hold their heads high and look in the mirror. When you can do those things, you’ve got no complaints. I tried to express my appreciation to them for what they had done because I think they gave a whole hell of a lot.”
Redick said he knew the season was going to be crazy with the way the season started and the “trade that wasn’t.” It was a demanding year because of the schedule and the lack of preparation, because of the speculation and the rumors and because of the role Stan Van Gundy and the Magic had to ask several players to undertake throughout the year.
Van Gundy had to lean heavily on certain players throughout the year and most especially at the end of the season. Van Gundy most poignantly said in evaluating his decisions in Game Five that leaning on Jameer Nelson so much throughout the third quarter probably cost the team in the fourth quarter when Darren Collison charged the Pacers’ final run and Nelson could nto quite get his legs back under him.
The Magic did not leave anything on the floor and even a perfectionist like Stan Van Gundy repeated Wednesday that he was proud of the way his team fought throughout the series and in the second half of the season.
The trials of the season never kept the Magic too down. Van Gundy, Otis Smith and Alex Martins each pointed out that the team was 32-18 at the 50-game mark before Dwight Howard went down. This was a team that was squarely in the hunt for one of the top seeds in the Eastern Conference.
This was despite all the distractions and all the insanity that seemed to follow this team all year. The Magic kept chugging along, embodying the “We All We Got” motto the team adopted at the end of the season. Eventually, health and injuries broke this team down and prevented it from reaching its ultimate potential. And this was really the first season of Stan Van Gundy’s five years where injuries took down a major part of the roster — only the 2009 season with Jameer Nelson’s shoulder injury could be any comparison, and Orlando was able to replace him.
There were no replacements and there were no reenforcements this time. Orlando had to go with what it had and survive.
“Ultimately, you have to be professional and do your job and tune out distractions,” J.J. Redick said. “A lot was asked of us this year. A lot was asked of our bodies — the travel, the lack of rest — and for the most part our group was very professional. The group that finished the season out, I was proud to be a part of that group and the way we battled. A lot of people are bringing sentiments that we were out-talented in that series, I tend to disagree with that. I just don’t think we had enough bodies and enough size. They wore us down every game.”
This summer will be about picking up the pieces and moving forward. The Magic have a lot of that to do and a lot of questions to answer.
Everything goes back to those questions and the big elephant in the room — Dwight Howard.
Those questions will surely be answered in the very near future. But it remained the overarching question for the entire season. The dark cloud that hung over the franchise, even after it was seemingly resolved on March 15. It was a distraction that Glen Davis admitted had some marginal impact on the team’s focus, saying that it bothers players when they don’t know their futures. But he said, “at the end of the day, you’ve got to play through it.” That is what the Magic tried to do.
“A lot of things went on this season that affect a good team,” Glen Davis said. “But, at the end of the day, as men, we handled it the right way and played to the best of our ability. As players, there were things we couldn’t control as far as off-the-court things. At the end of the day, it is what it is. We did a good job in fighting through it.”
What was forgotten this year, and perhaps needs some reminding this offseason as the Magic try to answer these important offseason questions is that the goal remains the same. It was repeated by Alex Martins, by Stan Van Gundy, by Glen Davis, by Otis Smith and by J.J. Redick.
The team wants to win a championship. That is the all-consuming goal of the franchise and something it still strives for. This might be a hiccup, it might be something else. But the overall goal is not lost on the Magic. And they continue to say that every move taken as the team moves onward will be about achieving that goal.
“[The fans] deserve a championship here,” Glen Davis said. “They shouldn’t expect anything else. They deserve one. They’ve been here for a long time. They’ve paid their dues. That’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to give the fans what they want. Something I’ve experienced and something I have and that is a championship banner.”