We are nearing the midway point of the season and largely the teams that are in playoff contention have sorted themselves out. In the next 41 games for Orlando, a lot is going to be determined. But seeing as the Magic are
2.5 5.5 games out of the final Playoff spot, the Magic are close enough to keep fighting but struggling enough to think about the future.
A 14-26 record with losses in 12 of the past 14 games does not look good. Many are intrigued to see the work of talent and asset evaluation. That is what the next month will likely be about with the trade deadline coming up and the Magic thinking about their long-term future rather than the immediate Playoff chase.
That is a crummy proposition for Magic fans to think about. It is a crummy proposition for the veterans on this roster who are desperate to win and fighting hard each night to do so. There are a lot of guys in that locker room who are not used to and do not like losing.
But the time is coming.
That is the time when the season stops being about winning. This is a quandary that teams around the league are facing whether they are completely out of the Playoff race or within striking distance, but still decently far away.
The Magic are not out of the race yet. They are very close and are fighting to stay in there. But the losing streak recently has turned the focus some.
And while veterans like Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo, J.J. Redick and Glen Davis fighting for wins as hard as anyone, they do not appear to be the future of the franchise. The Magic's goal is in the long term and returning to a championship level. They are not about to sacrifice that for a chance to sneak into the Playoffs as an eighth seed.
Now is not the time to cash in, so to speak.
That will affect how the Magic proceed in alotting minutes and focusing on development for the future. So long as the Playoffs are within reach, the veterans — and I imagine the coaching staff — will fight for wins and for the Playoff berth. That is what you expect from the team.
The trade deadline will change things. Some of those veterans may be gone, opening up time for young players to get more time to play and develop. It seems more likely that the time for the Magic to focus on development will come after this point.
The Magic are focused on the long term and so there will come a point this season when the Magic will want to see guys like Maurice Harkless and Andrew Nicholson play more in games rather than working mostly behind the scenes. A guy like Harkless has struggled to learn to play without the ball and develop his skills. But as Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel reports, Harkless said he is getting more comfortable in his new role for the team and the NBA grind.
At some point, he will have to come out from behind the scenes and get an opportunity to show the Magic brass what he can do and what he needs to work on so he can be part of the equation next year: and beyond.
Once Orlando reaches that tipping point where the Playoffs are beyond reach, then you should see Harkless and Nicholson and some of the younger players get that opportunity more.
For now, that point is still far away. The Magic are still in the Playoff race and still have a chance. But as the losses pile up, the purpose of the Magic's season may begin to change.