Orlando Magic failed to launch and suffered a season of failure

Mar 27, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Orlando Magic guard Elfrid Payton (4) during their game against the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre. The Raptors beat the Magic 131-112. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 27, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Orlando Magic guard Elfrid Payton (4) during their game against the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre. The Raptors beat the Magic 131-112. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic came into the 2017 season with high expectations and a belief in themselves. They failed to get themselves started in a season of failure.

There may not have been a clear turning point for the Orlando Magic in their 2017 season. It may have simply been just a general problem the team soon came to realize — that many pundits wondered openly when breaking down the team beforehand.

The pieces did not fit together well. And it became apparent quickly. As much as the Magic would try, they could not get things moving in the right direction. And their season never really got started. Orlando was tinkering and searching for the whole 82-game schedule.

Through struggles to score in October and November, through struggles to defend in December and January, through a trade and a complete shift in style in February and March to the end of the season finally in April, the Magic’s season was a constant fight for consistency.

It was a consistency that would never come. The Magic finished at 29-53, far short of the Playoff goals the team had at the beginning of the year. The team’s proclamations that it was ready to compete at the beginning of the season quickly dissipated.

And so the team’s great expectations quickly turned into frustration. Orlando never got back on track. The gamble did not work.

"“I wish I had the answer,” Evan Fournier told Orlando Magic Daily at the team’s exit interviews Thursday. “My guess is at the beginning of the season we struggled a lot with Serge and Vuc together. That’s not the only reason. But I thought it was a big part of why we were struggling. The NBA is so different now. Power forwards are small forwards, really. Now it’s more about speed than size. It changes everything.”"

Much of the Magic’s struggles throughout the season revolved around that fateful decision. The draft night trade of Victor Oladipo for Serge Ibaka set in motion the events of the season.

Coach Frank Vogel said he was in favor of the move, thinking Ibaka’s versatility to defend on the perimeter would enable the Magic to take advantage of their size, an economic advantage in a league going smaller. It was a bold and risky plan, particularly with the team hungry for that Playoff berth that had eluded them.

The plan obviously failed.

Orlando never got its footing and never got moving in the right direction. The plan to play with two bigs failed — Serge Ibaka and Nikola Vucevic played with a -2.8 net rating and 105.4 defensive rating while Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo played with a -9.7 net rating and an abysmal 112.2 defensive rating.

That was not the only reason the wheels fell off, of course.

"“Obviously the changes that were made and the things that were done, we kept failing,” Bismack Biyombo told Orlando Magic Daily at the team’s exit interviews. “We failed to succeed the organization, the fans and the city. It’s by far the biggest disappointment for myself. As a player, we all have certain challenges to face this summer. We hope whatever changes happen will happen for the better so that when we come back everyone can get on the same page and do the right thing and do what’s best for the team.”"

The failure for the team was fairly complete.

The Magic finished the regular season 29th in the league in offensive rating, scoring 101.2 points per 100 possessions. The offensive struggles were somewhat expected. The team did not have a defined star.

The defensive struggles remained a mystery. After starting the year as one of the best defenses in the league — sixth in the league through Dec. 1 — the team struggled becoming one of the worst defenses in the league.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

The Magic finished 22nd in the league giving up 108.0 points per 100 possessions. It was one of the more confusing and frustrating aspects of the season. The Magic wanted to build their team on defense. And this failure seemed to be the greatest of them all.

Orlando went to explore the team’s roster and the original plan, but could not take the step beyond that to feasibility.

"“I think you have to explore your roster,” Vogel said Thursday at the team’s exit interviews. “How you build your roster, you have to see if it can succeed that way. You have to give that enough time to see if it works. If you pull the plug too soon and the other way doesn’t work, then you are reaching for things. It doesn’t give a message of strength to your team. I also believe in playing your best players. Serge, Biz and Vuc were three of our best players. That’s why we stuck with keeping those guys out there.”"

Things simply did not go to plan. The Magic’s best players did not fit together and constantly the team’s rhythm disappeared.

Orlando seemed as likely to lose a game by 30 points as to eke out a win. The Magic suffered eight such losses, including a devastating and embarrassing 47-point loss to the Chicago Bulls in the team’s penultimate game. Such devastating blowouts were signs of deep problems with the team.

The fact they occurred often was a sign of the team’s general inconsistency.

Every player believed they had a more talented roster than ever before and had enough to make the Playoffs. That belief is expected and permeated throughout the entire roster. Confidence needed to be high to succeed.

But the Magic never got themselves off the ground. They never could right the ship. After bouncing back to get to 3-3 with a three-game win streak, the Magic never recovered or sniffed .500 again. Orlando went from Christmas to late March without earning consecutive wins.

The Magic were always behind the 8-ball. They were seemingly trying to overcome their roster imperfections, getting to know new teammates, a new coach and everything else. All while facing outsized expectations. It all came together to create a perfect storm of disappointment when the Magic failed to deliver.

"“When you go through different coaches and things like that and a new style of play and a new system, it takes time,” Eflrid Payton told Orlando Magic Daily. “We started off bonding more, I think, and getting a new coach and trying to get acclimated to that and trying to play a style of ball that didn’t really work at first. We continued to work and we continued to change to find some success. And then we made a trade. By that time, it was too late.”"

It always seemed a bit too late for the Magic. They never got themselves off the mat. They were in a constant chase in the standings, for their identity and for something that would work. By the time they found something that clicked, it was indeed too late.

Yes, the team seemed to play better and find something late in the season moving to a more open playing style. But it was too late. And even that had its drawbacks and struggles.

Orlando’s playoff ambitions were far too large for their ability in the end. The team set the bar pretty high. The Magic failed to meet their expectations. And they never really came close.

Next: Orlando Magic's season in three charts

With the team firing general manager Rob Hennigan and moving in a new direction, the future is unsettled as the 2017 season officially becomes history.