Orlando Magic look back at 2016 season with regret, resolve

Apr 8, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic guard Elfrid Payton (4) makes a layup against the Miami Heat during the first quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 8, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic guard Elfrid Payton (4) makes a layup against the Miami Heat during the first quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic wrapped up their 2016 season by looking back at their season. It was a year of improvement, but also a year that left them wanting more.

The Orlando Magic were rolling through December. At 19-13, the team was the talk of the league. This young bunch had finally turned a corner and begun to realize their potential. Scott Skiles said Wednesday following his team’s season finale loss that he and the coaching staff really believed the shift had occurred.

What happened in January — a 2-12 disaster that featured close losses, heartbreaking defeats, injuries, odd rotations and the unraveling of everything that was built before — will likely be what haunts the Magic the entire offseason.

“It’s really frustrating,” Victor Oladipo said. “If we could go back and change the past we would. Unfortunately we can’t. We have to get better this summer. It’s going to be a big summer for everybody individually. It’s going to be a big summer for us collectively. We’ve got to get better. Because if we don’t, it’s not going to turn around.”

Orlando went from on track to achieving the team’s goal of making the Playoffs in addition to making significant individual improvements and even team improvements to having to ask these very deep questions about themselves and this unit.

The Magic went from storybook season to frustration seemingly in the blink of an eye. And even after the fact, with the season finally over, there were still some heads being scratched on exactly what happened.

There is a lot of soul searching and review that has to occur to determine what exactly went wrong. In the early wake of the season’s conclusion, no one quite had the answers to the team’s sudden and rapid collapse.

Likely, as Magic general manager Rob Hennigan put it, both the early start and the January swoon were “mirages.” The team was never quite as good as they played early in the season nor as bad as they played in January.

Their 35-47 record said exactly who they were — an inconsistent young team still learning how to win and figuring itself out in the process.

“It felt really good then,” Nikola Vucevic said. “We were playing well at that time. Playing really good basketball on both ends of the floor. We showed what we can do. We were just inconsistent with it. It became that consistent thing where we didn’t do stuff consistent. We would do it for a game or two and do it great and don’t do it again. We would do it for three quarters and not finish the game off.”

Vucevic admitted there was something of an experience gap for the Magic. He said the team perhaps did not value the little things in preparation as much as perhaps they could. A lot of it was perhaps not knowing how to implement that into their games.

This was the first time many of these players had experienced success in their careers of any measure. The season provided but a taste of what that could be like.

The Magic showed plenty of flashes throughout the season. Their fast start saw the team flying around defensively. Their strong finish saw the team play with more connected and efficient offense.

Skiles said he told his team throughout the season he believed they were a Playoff team. The goal from the very beginning was not just to improve from last year’s record but also to make the Playoffs. There the team fell undeniably short. And the 10-win improvement was no solace.

“It definitely showed that hard work pays off,” Elfrid Payton said of the team’s 10-win improvement. “But we have to want more from ourselves. Obviously everybody does.

“We’ve got to be consistent and can’t take any nights off,” Payton added. “And just remember that even when our offense is doing well, we’ve got to continue to keep the defense up. It’s easier to lack on defense when you are doing so well offensively. You just have to remember defense is going to win championships.”

There were plenty of excuses in the end. The team’s youth was a big part of the equation. There was a lack of focus and know-how in finishing certain games. There were injuries — Elfrid Payton’s December and January injuries left the Magic without a viable point guard option for much of that losing stretch.

Those happen for every team though. And no one is going to rest on that at the end of the day. Good teams find a way to persevere (the Memphis Grizzlies are not complaining, after all).

The Magic may be on the right track and almost certainly are when compared to last year. But the deep pangs of games they let slip away remain.

Skiles said the come-from-behind losses to Memphis, to Oklahoma City, to Washington, the overtime games and countless close game losses all added up in the end and kept the team from their goal. Player after player would say, flip around any of the 15 losses in 23 games decided by five points or less and the Magic might be in business.

The Magic might be closer than everyone believes. It is just about putting the pieces together and growing and maturing some more.

It comes down to that word that veteran teams know and young teams have to figure out — consistency.

Evan Fournier, Orlando Magic
Dec 29, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Orlando Magic guard Evan Fournier (10) reacts to a call during the second half against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

“Once again, we’ve got to be more consistent,” Evan Fournier said. “When you’re not consistent, you just lose games with stupid mistakes, lack of focus, lack of energy, whatever. You have to be more consistent. We proved we can play against everybody on any given night. We just have to do it every night.”

That message — all these messages — were repeated throughout the day at Amway Center as players cleaned out their lockers and left the practice facility for the final time of the 2017 season.

The inconsistency. The poor January. The feeling of being on right on the doorstep of all their goals and unable to break through. These are common sentiments and common questions and common frustrations.

Orlando it seems looks back at its season with a tinge of regret at what could have been. It kept a hunger in them as they packed things up. There was very little self satisfaction in simple improvement.

“We just got done individually talking to all the guys, they all seem to acknowledge how we feel that there was improvement, players got better so guys should go away taking something positive from it,” Skiles said. “But you could tell everyone was a little bit down that we didn’t get accomplished what we wanted to accomplish. That is a good thing.”

Next: Aaron Gordon proves to be the future at the end

That part is good. The team should go its separate ways and look to improve and remember this dissatisfaction. Whether the team will learn from it will not be known until this time next year most likely.