The 2012 Magic in a historical context


It is time to finally put the 2012 season to rest. We have finished our season recap and the Finals are over. The 2013 season begins with Thursday’s Draft. Change has already come to the Magic with the firings of Otis Smith and Stan Van Gundy and the hiring of Rob Hennigan to take Smith’s place.

There are still plenty of loose ends to tie. The Dwightmare is hardly over and will not reach a resolution until likely this summer.

No placement of this past season can be written without mentioning the Dwightmare first. It was the all-encompassing story of the season — it got its own book, for crying out loud — and likely how we will remember the season 10 years from now and beyond.

There was basketball played, believe it or not. The team did make the Playoffs despite a host of injuries sapping an already stretched roster. And the team did stun the league with a win in the postseason opener (before depth finally got the better of it).

This was a season “lost in space” so to speak. The basketball seemed secondary and it took its toll on the team.

Trying to evaluate what happened in the season and placing it someplace in the pantheon of Magic basketball is extremely difficult. This was an imperfect team made worse by the off-court distractions and then the injuries at the end of the season. Despite the warm feelings they produced in their run at the end of the season, it was an extremely flawed team.

The season was more about what happened off the court and so it should be no surprise the play on the court suffered. The 2012 team may very well have been Orlando’s worst playoff team. This was a team that performed perhaps at expectations — Orlando finished with two more wins than expected, according to Basketball-Reference — which did not help things. Because the off-court distraction necessitated the team being good, it made the season bitterly disappointing. Especially when you remember the team was playing well, third in the East, until disaster struck.

This was a Magic team with a lot of potential that showed through at a lot of times.  But there were plenty of moments when the team showed how futile it could be.

A one-week stretch in January showed this team’s character in a lot of ways.

It started on a Monday in Boston when the team posted its lowest scoring total in franchise history, a level of infamy and frustration that had an already paniced fan base pretty frustrated. The following night, Orlando broke through and blew out Indiana on the road with Howard passing Nick Anderson for the team’s all-time points lead.

Then Thursday came. Orlando raced out to a 27-point lead against that very same Boston team, only to wilt into a shell and let the lead slip at home. It was an inexcusable loss — on national TV, no less — that was perhaps the realization that the Magic were not going anywhere and were simply drifting toward the end of the season.

Things were made worse the following night when the Hornets blew the Magic out without their best player, Eric Gordon, and left Dwight Howard publicly questioning his team’s effort. His second foot was making its way to join his other one out the door, you could say.

J.J. Redick said after the season ended that a team doesn’t score 54 points without problems. Orlando had failed to break 60 twice and blew a 27-point lead in a matter of five days.

Things did get better. The season was hardly a slow descent into the abyss.

It was still pretty bad though.

Orlando’s defense went from one of the top defenses in the league to the middle. This while not improving offensively and having less variety on that side of the ball. This year’s Magic team had the lowest free throw rate in team history and is the only team in franchise history to have a free throw rate less than 20.0%.

That is simply not good.

More than anything, there just was not a reason to be excited to watch this team play until the “We All We Got” days at the end of the season. This, more than anything will be why this team could be remembered as the worst of the Magic’s Playoff teams.

Sure, there was more talent on this team than the 2003 team that took the Pistons to seven games or, maybe even the 1997 team that took the Heat to five in the first round. But there just was not the unbridled hope for the future.

Tracy McGrady and Penny Hardaway gave those teams a lot of hope (before the team eventually plummeted down into the depths of mediocrity… perhaps a preview of where we are heading). The atmosphere around those teams was not as toxic as this one.

Even the part of the season fans could get really behind was tinged with ultimate disappointment. As much fun as the We All We Got team was, it was not a great team. It lacked depth, would go long stretches without scoring and struggled to rebound. A full season with that crew might have given Stan Van Gundy nightmares despite how hard the team played.

This was one strange, strange season for a number of reasons. The Dwight Howard stuff notwithstanding. There just was not a real special reason to remember 2012. For that, it might very well be the worst Playoff team in the franchise’s history.