Over the next few weeks Orlando Magic Daily will be taking a look at the things that went right and wrong this season as Orlando ended its season with its first Lottery season in six years.
The No. 6 has hung in the Orlando Arena and Amway Center rafters since 1990. It has always been a symbol for a passionate fan base in a small, but growing, town. There was a jersey retirement ceremony that second season after fans stuck by their new pro franchise through the hiccups and growing pains of an expansion year.
As many fan bases would, the interest has come and gone in the last 24 years with the team's success. When things are great, the O-Rena (or whatever the name on the building is) is rocking. Magic fans are some of the best in the league when the arena is full and engaged. That has not always been the case in the Amway Center.
This is not about in-game atmosphere though or the possibly late-arriving crowd that has plagued Orlando some since moving to the Amway Center.
This is not even about attendance — which the Magic finished 16th in the league averaging 17,596 fans per game. That was expected to drop with the team expected to lose a lot of games. Orlando went 20-62, the league's worst record, and 12-29 at home.
This is about something deeper. Something that truly went right for the Magic this season. Despite, the league's worst record, Magic fans stuck by their team and remained optimistic. There was frustration from the losing, but there was also an unbridled sense that the team was on the right path. Fans loved the effort from the young players and saw the best in their potential moving forward.
Orlando will certainly cash in on some of it. But that is something for the future, not for this year.
The great thing about running this blog is the opportunity to interact with fans and disucss the Magic. It is really fun to hear what fans are thinking. And over and over again in my conversations the last year with Magic fans there is a hunger to return to winning but an understanding of where the Magic are in the process and the steps ahead.
Unlike previous down periods after Shaquille O'Neal left and after Tracy McGrady left, the Magic opted to take the long route and build a sustainable winner. That meant there would be a few lean years and fans would have to suffer through losing. But unlike those previous losses, Magic fans believe the general manager has a vision to bring the Magic back to a championship level.
Even though a season of losing they were given reasons to believe the future is bright with the individual performances on the floor.
Fans really stuck by the team through it all. The future encourages fans rather than depresses them. The Orlando franchise has not quite moved out of Dwight Howard's shadow, that will not happen until the team gets its next superstar and Rob Hennigan's plan really begins to take shape.
For fans, though, they had their moment of catharsis in March and reveled in schadenfreude of Howard and the Lakers' embarrassing exit from the Playoffs and struggles throughout the season. But they have largely moved on. They are not thinking so much about what was done wrong but are excited for the organization and the team's future.
Even when the Magic traded fan favorite J.J. Redick, there was a level of understanding as to why it was done. It helped that Tobias Harris came in and performed so well.
The optimism and patience might very well change if this reload, retool, rebuild or whatever it is called takes longer than expected. Magic fans do not want to sit through five-plus years of bad basketball waiting to strike it rich. And that could still happen, nothing is guaranteed.
However, Magic fans showed an understanding and a patience after that controversial Dwight Howard trade that was somewhat unexpected. It would have been easy for Magic fans, long suffering and new, to throw their hands up after trading Dwight Howard — to the Lakers no less! — and say winning here is not possible and the franchise is cursed. No one would blame them if they would after the Lakers Minor League jokes seemed all too apt.
Fans stuck by this team and this franchise though. That says something great about this fan base and says something about how bright this team's future is on and off the court.