The education of Alex Martins

May 23, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic chief executive officer Alex Martins talks with media after they introduce Frank Vogel as their new head coach at Amway Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
May 23, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic chief executive officer Alex Martins talks with media after they introduce Frank Vogel as their new head coach at Amway Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The narrative goes ownership meddled too much in the Orlando Magic’s rebuild. For Alex Martins, he has to learn lessons and improve with his next decision.

Orlando Magic CEO Alex Martins is sure to bring up a lot of emotions and frustration for fans, for fair and unfair reasons.

In fairness, maybe he deserves it. He is the team’s CEO and the de facto team owner on a daily basis. Martins is the Magic’s public face from the boardroom. He represents the team at the NBA’s Board of Governor’s meetings from time to time.

His role is to do everything for the Magic it seems. And anything that fails falls to him in some way.

Martins is a victim of narrative too.

He is the non-basketball guy meddling in basketball operations — or so the story goes. The one who (allegedly) took the team down a poor direction. The guy who insisted the team hire Scott Skiles and pushed the team to be competitive before it was ready. The scrupulous businessman who put profits above basketball product, allowing the Magic to wallow while accepting merely only financial success.

As the narrative and story goes, it was Martins who pushed general manager Rob Hennigan in year five of his rebuild to go all in on the Playoffs, creating a misshapen roster that set the team back perhaps years.

Some of this may be true, some of it may not.

The reality is, it was more than time to fire Hennigan. Regardless of any instructions to “win now” or make more tangible progress, Hennigan built a roster that regressed and did not fit together, putting the Magic in a hole. It was clear the team needed new leadership.

Martins, for his part, told Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel he had no hand in basketball operations. The stories are all a matter of speculation and rumor:

"“On a day-to-day basis, I don’t have any role in the basketball operations,” Martins said. “The way I and the DeVos family operate is that we hire people that have the skill and expertise to do their job, we allow them to do their job and then we hold them accountable.“Our role is to hire and to fire. … We encourage and give them [the GM and his basketball operations staff] the assets they need to be successful, but at the end of the day, they make the decisions … and they’re hired and fired based on those decisions.”"

There was something of a collective eye roll from Magic fans who have followed the team and lament the team’s direction upon seeing this. That is an accumulation of frustration and narrative. Mistakes were made. To what extent Martins was involved may remain a mystery, ripe for conspiracy to set in.

There is a current of fans who hold Martins as responsible for the Magic’s downfall on the basketball court as Hennigan and the risks he took that never panned out.

Whether that is true or not may remain behind closed doors. But the narrative exists. And that is what Martins must fight to correct with his next hire for the basketball operations department.

The buck stops with Martins as the team’s boss and final decisionmaker on seemingly all things.

Martins is a businessman. He has been with the Magic virtually from the beginning, starting a public relations director in the early years before moving on to work for the New Orleans Hornets and getting his MBA from UCF. He rose quickly through the ranks in the Magic’s front office upon graduation.

During the Magic’s finals run in the late-2000s, Martins essentially was in charge of the team’s business operations. He oversaw promotions, ticket sales and anything having to do with the business of the Orlando Magic.

Here, it is no doubt he is very good and has been very good for the Magic. He was the team’s public face lobbying for public funds to build the Amway Center. It has made him one of the business leaders in the community. He ensures the Magic are deeply embedded in this community — a good corporate citizen and an anchor entertainment option for residents and visitors.

The Magic are not sitting quietly despite their poor record the last five years.

This past week, the Magic announced expansions into different business ventures. The team bought the Orlando Solar Bears, giving the ECHL franchise some more solid financial footing. The Magic also announced this week they would be joining the NBA’s NBA2K eLeague beginning play in 2018.

Add on top of this the team’s investment in starting the Lakeland Magic for the G-League (neé D-League) and the franchise’s continuing development of the property across the street from the Amway Center for the entertainment complex. There is a lot going on for the Magic off the court.

The franchise has also been leaders among ticket packages and trying to be creative selling tickets. The team’s “Fast Break Pass” plan was innovative for the industry.

Announced attendance at the Amway Center this year increased from last year, according to Basketball-Reference. The team claimed the largest attendance in Amway Center history for the team’s season finale against the Detroit Pistons.

There are problems, no doubt. The product on the floor is lacking and that is the basis for everything. Television ratings for the Magic were down this year — at midseason, by nearly 50 percent. Metrics like this are expected to fall when the team struggles on the floor.

It all goes to Martins and his leadership — both the positives and the negatives.

Martins clearly has a firm grasp of the business side of running a basketball organization. The Magic, by all accounts, are thriving business-wise. The only element they are missing is on the court and competing for a championship.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Martins appears to have recognized that.

It is hard to remember — because so much is expected of him and the franchise — that Hennigan was his first hire of a general manager. He came to his current role overseeing almost all of the Magic’s operations while Otis Smith was still in charge.

In hiring Hennigan, he proposed and hoped for something incredibly ambitious. The Magic were undertaking the longest rebuild in the franchise’s history, trying to use multiple drafts to build the roster back up. They knew this when they started five years ago.

But there were undoubtedly hiccups.

While everything runs smoothly on the business end for the Magic, things on the court are struggling. Martins, as a basketball executive, has likely learned some lessons from how things went with Hennigan and what to look for in a new general manager.

Experience is the greatest teacher.

Martins is not going anywhere, nor should he. His role simply has to change.

The Magic appear set to hire a President of Basketball Operations to run the basketball department more formally. That is a big step for him to give up some power and trust basketball operations wholly in its own department rather than in one person. Martins, who claims he was fairly hands-off already, maybe become even more so.

Whether or not Martins had a hand in some of the more controversial decisions of the last five years, there appears there will now be a bigger buffer. But results will still matter in the end.

Next: 3 signs of hope for the Orlando Magic in 2018

And that decision of how to move forward and where to go next lies with Martins, the key decision maker in the franchise at the ground level. The hope is he has learned some lessons from the last five years to make this next hire a lasting one.