Orlando Magic’s 2016 season a season of growing pains

Dec 23, 2015; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic forward Evan Fournier (10) shoots a layup over Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) during the fourth quarter at Amway Center. Orlando Magic defeated the Houston Rockets 104-101. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 23, 2015; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic forward Evan Fournier (10) shoots a layup over Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) during the fourth quarter at Amway Center. Orlando Magic defeated the Houston Rockets 104-101. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The 2016 season for the Orlando Magic was one of growing pains. To make 2017 a success, the team must learn from the mistakes and lessons of last year.

The 2016 season feels closed now.

Newness is in the air. There is only the desire to look forward and look forward with optimism. Getting a new coach — getting THE coach on the market — instills that new sense of optimism on the season.

Expectations will undoubtedly change for 2017. They already have changed. There is now — and should be — pressure to take that next step with a coach of Vogel’s pedigree and acumen on the bench.

The time for “growing pains” is over as Vogel plainly told Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel. It is time for this team to take the next step.

The 2016 season was very much a season of growing pains.

Scott Skiles put expectation and pressure on players for the first time in many of their careers. Nothing was supposed to be given and mistakes would not slide by. It was a different atmosphere.

There was predictable push back, along with predictable buy in initially. It was a strange up-and-down season for the Magic as a whole.

The kind of season that would suggest this was too young a group learning how to win and unable to grab hold to finish the deal.

The frustrating thing was that as bad as things got in January, there was certainly enough to suggest the team could do much better.

“I don’t want to say that [the team had to go through growing pains] because we had everything to succeed,” Evan Fournier said during exit interviews in April. “We just failed once again in January. When you look at all the other months, we were in pretty good shape. It’s not an excuse, not anymore.”

January was the greatest symbol of this team’s difficulties all season. That is when the Magic went from 19-13 to 2-12 and out of the Playoff picture fairly quickly.

Orlando never really regained their strong play  from November and December. Maybe not until the end of the season when the Magic won six of their final 10 games, using a somewhat platooned lineup with Nikola Vucevic facing some injuries.

That play toward the end of the season, particularly in a win over the Indiana Pacers in March, played some role in Vogel’s interest in the Magic. It was a sign the potential was there.

But to be getter, the Magic will have to “grow up” more visibly in a more meaningful way. They will have to learn how to handle even small measures of success, something the team struggled with in January. And then they will have to learn how to stop the bleeding when things go wrong.

“We have back-to-back winning months for the first time in a long time, we’re the Eastern Conference team of the month for the month in December, sometimes young guys can get lured into feeling something that seems positive when really it isn’t that positive,” Scott Skiles said during exit interviews. “Then you lose a couple, EP got injured and our rotation got a little funny at that point. We lost a few and it kind of snowballed. Also at the same time, youth is some of it maybe, but we can’t put it all on that.”

No player and no one within the Magic organization would blame youth directly for the team’s problems in 2015. Certainly though, that lack of experience hurt the team in dealing with adversity and playing at a high level.

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Things did indeed snowball with overtime losses and late-game collapses. The Magic could not seem to stop the bleeding. That is part of the growing process and the frustration of the season.

Young players are learning to become leaders while still learning how to win in this league themselves.

A hiccup or two would not be surprising. But this is a results-driven business too. The Magic had the belief they could make the Playoffs. And they ultimately fell short.

“We don’t want to use it as an excuse,” Vucevic said of the team’s youth. “We knew this before we started the season. We set a goal for us to make the Playoffs. We didn’t. So we underachieved. It’s as simple as that.

“We did get better than last year. But that wasn’t our goal. Our goal was to make the Playoffs. A lot of those games, maybe if we had more experience or we had a few more years on our resume, it might have been different. We didn’t. That’s the way it is.”

Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic, Kawhi Leonard,San Antonio Spurs
Feb 10, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (2) pumps his fist hitting the game winning basket as Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic (9) looks on at Amway Center. San Antonio defeated Orlando 98-96. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Maybe the team needed that true heartache — the knowledge that the team was good enough to make the Playoffs and the failure of missing them. Regardless of the reason.

The 2016 season was a season of growing pains. These lessons needed to be learned.

The question now as the Magic introduce Frank Vogel as their next head coach is how do they learn from those lessons? How do they grow from them?

The Magic had a year of growing pains. Where they struggled was in turning those growing pains into actual growth as the season went on. At least not until it was too late.

Next: Frank Vogel: Orlando Magic ready to take next step

The big task now for the team is to buy into the new coach and learn the lessons of a year that was progress, but not successful in their mind.