For Orlando Magic players, there is disappointment in losing Rob Hennigan

Nov 29, 2016; San Antonio, TX, USA; Orlando Magic power forward Aaron Gordon (00) dunks the ball during the first half against the San Antonio Spurs at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 29, 2016; San Antonio, TX, USA; Orlando Magic power forward Aaron Gordon (00) dunks the ball during the first half against the San Antonio Spurs at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports /

As Orlando Magic players arrived for exit interviews Thursday, they received the news the team had fired Rob Hennigan. For many, it was hard news to take.

The news hit the Orlando Magic players as they walked into the Amway Center one last time for the 2017 season Thursday. The team had fired general manager Rob Hennigan.

It was a move that seemed obvious and evident because of the team’s disappointing 29-win season and failure to meet expectations. The faith the team has in themselves is honorable and completely expected, but the decision became increasingly clear as the season fell apart and then ultimately ended.

There is a human cost, however.

It is easy to think of replacing a general manager with ease and everything moving on as normal. But there are personal relationships made between player and executive. Change upends everything and creates uncertainty. Trust and belief in those making personnel decisions are suddenly gone.

Everyone on the Magic roster will have to prove themselves all over again to a management team that may have different opinions about their game and their fit.

Rob Hennigan built this team — for better or for worse. He was the one that gave many of them their first chances in the league. And so the news hit them harder than most.

Fans may have seen it as an inevitability. But for many players on the Magic, it was a surprising loss.

"“It’s a bit disappointing,” Bismack Biyombo told Orlando Magic Daily at the team’s exit interviews. “At the same time, those are the people that I love. There is nothing I can do about that. It’s a business. You have to respect the ownership decision. I’m sure I will be reaching out to them as soon as I get out of here. I will also be looking forward to working with the next guy.”"

Biyombo was perhaps Hennigan’s biggest free agent signing. The Magic cleared cap room and had Hennigan, along with Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton in two, to meet with Bismack Biyombo once free agency opened this past summer. Biyombo would sign a four-year, $70-million contract.

It was a potentially huge risk. One of the risks that did not pan out this year.

Biyombo has the security of his long-term contract behind him. Whoever the Magic hire next will likely have to make the best of the situation left behind and try to get more out of Biyombo.

Other players do not have that comfort. They are players who gained management’s trust and belief when no one else seemed to have it.

Nikola Vucevic became the centerpiece of the Dwight Howard trade after having an inconsistent role in his rookie year. Evan Fournier was languishing on the bench with the Denver Nuggets without an opportunity before the Magic took a risk in bringing him in for Arron Afflalo.

For these two particularly, Hennigan was the first general manager to believe in them and give them a chance to play meaningful roles. And so the change does hit home.

"“It’s part of the business,” Nikola Vucevic told Orlando Magic Daily. “When things don’t go the right way, changes happen. It’s unfortunate for Rob. I’ve been here since he was here. He was the guy that brought me here and the guy who believed in me from the beginning. It sucks that changes happen and things did not happen the way we wanted to. But that’s the way this business goes. If you don’t win, changes happen.”"

No player is naive enough to believe this was not possible. The team had a frustrating season where none of their goals were really achieved. The business dictates change.

And several players took responsibility for that. Biyombo said the failure for this season is on them and they let down ownership, each other, management and the fans.

Still, the dismissal was jarring. Elfrid Payton said little shocks him after three years in the NBA, but the decision to move on from Hennigan and assistant general manager Scott Perry was surprising.

By all accounts, both Hennigan and Perry were very involved with the team. They were often present at practice overseeing the team.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Even for coach Frank Vogel, they were very communicative and involved in helping him any way they could. Hennigan wanted to build a collaborative environment with his staff, including the head coach. It is a trait the Magic seem to be looking for when they search for a new general manager this summer.

"“I want to thank Rob Hennigan and Scott Perry first and foremost for hiring me and giving me the opportunity to be the coach of this team,” Vogel told Orlando Magic Daily. “It means a lot to me. I’m very fortunate and thankful to be here. And secondly for being very supportive of the job we were trying to do here. In light of a very difficult season with a lot of losing, they were very inclusive in their nature. Our relationship is strong. This is a tough day. They are both good men and good basketball people. I definitely wish them well.”"

Thursday proved to be a hard day for the Magic. It is never easy when someone loses their job. There is a human cost to this, even if it is in the nature of the business.

The architect for everything they had worked for, the man who believed in them as players and as people was suddenly gone. It throws their future into flux. There is just continuing uncertainty that will last.

That uncertainty might have existed anyway with the team’s need to make changes following such a frustrating season.

"“It’s definitely hard to see guys like that go,” Aaron Gordon told Orlando Magic Daily. “I’m a big advocate for those guys because of their belief in me and where I saw that they wanted this culture to go through how they drafted. They really cared about character and their loyal values. Rob and Scott have always been there for me and spoken highly of me.”"

These changes can be hard. Even if it was obviously needed or certain to happen, it still came as a surprise to those that worked with Hennigan and those that were brought to the team by Hennigan.

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But everyone also recognizes the nature of this business. And in the NBA, life is a constant adjustment.