Orlando Magic left wondering when to turn the corner

Feb 8, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic (9) and guard Evan Fournier (10) react after a basket against the Atlanta Hawks during overtime at Philips Arena. The Magic defeated the Hawks 117-110 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 8, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic (9) and guard Evan Fournier (10) react after a basket against the Atlanta Hawks during overtime at Philips Arena. The Magic defeated the Hawks 117-110 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports /

The goal for the Orlando Magic this season was to make the Playoffs. In that they failed. The question that remains is when and how do they turn the corner?

The 2016 season is officially closed now. The questions about the offseason can begin to rage and dissecting and analyzing how to evaluate the season can officially and deeply begin. There will be no more answers to give and only questions to ask as the team moves through the beginnings of the offseason.

The focus of the season turns from the players and coaches to the general manager, Rob Hennigan, and the future and the team’s future goals.

Getting a better sense of that requires something of a long-term view. What were the team’s goals this year? And what do they need to be this year?

The players, coaches and management all clearly said the goal this year was not mere improvement, but to make the Playoffs. The disappointment felt as the team left for the summer before the Playoffs started this weekend.

That disappointment is very much a good thing for the team.

The lesson of the season that comes up seemingly with every recap and review is what does this season mean for the team’s long-term future. Was making the Playoffs enough? Did more need to be answered?

The Magic’s future is still very much in question. The clarity the franchise likely wanted heading out of this season was not likely answered. The star is not established. The roster still seems very incomplete.

These were questions the Magic were supposed to answer or begin answering this season. Perhaps they did in not getting clear answers.

What is clear is the Magic have begun pushing chips to the center of the table this summer. They are trying to speed up their rebuild and have set their sights very clearly on the Playoffs for 2017. It feels like the team has a Playoffs-or-bust mentality.

And that is where concern seems to come in.

For rebuilding teams, one of the more critical decisions and steps is picking the time to compete at the right time. Usually if you lose a lot and get a couple high Lottery picks, the star emerges and that choice becomes more apparent. It is not for the Magic.

So the Magic are left wondering how and when to step forward, as I wrote for Hardwood Paroxysm:

"What that future looks like is uncertain. Instead of focusing on the team’s continued improvement — acknowledging some big questions and remaining patient to build its core — the team focused on the playoffs. The 19-13 start got them too greedy. The inconsistency of youth did not allow them to take that complete step forward. A half-step forward was not enough.The season, by all accounts, met expectations from those outside the organization. Las Vegas had them at 32.5 wins. They hit the over in the end. They waded forward and retreated, getting a taste. Next time perhaps they will swim out more. Or they will just buy a floatation device and get them out there more without giving them the full ability to dive deeper into the playoff waters."

This similar sentiment is shared throughout as everyone analyzes this season.

There is enough talent to continue tantalizing and perhaps needing some more maturity, but not enough to get to the Playoffs. Not yet at least.

How do the Magic treat this? Do they stay the course and give the team another year to grow, adding key veterans. Or do they begin selling pieces off and make the Playoffs the be all and end all of this group.

Patience certainly has value. Rob Hennigan suggested during his exit interview Thursday that the Magic would be aggressive and active in free agency but would not simply spend their money to spend their money.

This is the approach many from the outside believe the Magic should take, including Matt Zemek of Crossover Chronicles:

"It’s true that Orlando was picked by some to be the 8 seed in the East before the season began. Pundits saw the potential in Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton, potential which emerged at times during the season, but wasn’t sustained the whole way through. Yet, that expectation from some portions of the NBA cognoscenti doesn’t change the newness of the Magic’s journey and the law of the jungle in the league, which is that teams have to walk over the hot coals of pressure in one season in order to move up the ladder the following season.We’ll have to wait until the 2017 season in order to fully know if the Magic “get it,” if they really have learned the lessons this season has to offer. Nevertheless, there’s so much talent oozing from this roster — which has often made it look very easy to score — that merely modest defensive improvements over 82 games will produce a playoff team next year. This is true even with the lamentable trade which shipped Tobias Harris to Detroit, something the organization simply did not need to do."

How do the Magic evaluate this season? This was not a season when it turned the corner. It was a year the Magic largely believed they had to. If that was the case, then it was certainly not the season they wanted.

Really, even before the Tobias Harris trade, this was a season to begin that process and become more competitive.

Even in giving the Magic’s season a ‘D,’ Tom West of FanSided writes there is reason to be optimistic:

"And there’s still cause for excitement going forward. On a talent basis alone, the Magic have a roster that’s hard to go unnoticed. Gordon has the rare athleticism to be a dynamic playmaker from the four, Nikola Vucevic is still one of the better offensive centers in the NBA, Evan Fournier had the best year of his career and may re-sign this summer, Elfrid Payton is a pesky defender and moderate triple-double threat, and Victor Oladipo has real talent despite his fit at times."

It is hard to evaluate this season and figure out exactly how it fits. Perhaps the success or failure of this season cannot really be determined until we see how the Magic grow from it.

This first year with Scott Skiles was the first year with serious expectations and pressure on this group since the rebuild began.

And so the same question seems to remain as the beginning of the season. Is this team ready to turn the corner? Does it need a small adjustment? Does it need a wholesale change?

Next: Orlando Magic look back at 2016 with regret, resolve

These will be the questions left to answer this offseason.