LeBron James’ consistent dominance magnifies inconsistency for Orlando Magic

Mar 11, 2017; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic forward Terrence Ross (31) drives around Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) during the second half of an NBA basketball game at Amway Center. The Cavaliers won 116-104. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 11, 2017; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic forward Terrence Ross (31) drives around Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) during the second half of an NBA basketball game at Amway Center. The Cavaliers won 116-104. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic may be one of the few Eastern Conference teams to avoid LeBron James’ Playoff dominance. But James has shaped the Magic during his seven-year Finals run.

LeBron James has dominated the Eastern Conference for more than a decade now, with his first Finals appearance occurring in 2007. James has played in every NBA Finals for the past seven years.

His jaunt from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Miami Heat began what is nearly an unprecedented run of dominance in the modern NBA. Only James, his teammate James Jones and the Bill Russell-led Boston Celtics of the 1960s that won eight straight titles are the only people to have reached seven straight NBA finals.

Since 2011, James’ trophy case added three NBA championships, three Finals MVPs and two NBA MVPs. In 2016, James led one of the most impressive come-from-behind victories of all time. The Cavs would beat the record-setting Golden State Warriors in seven games after trailing 3-1 in the series.

James’ decision to join forces with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade in Miami in summer 2010 solidified James’ stranglehold atop the basketball world. Concurrently, there has been very little magic in Central Florida culminating in a tumultuous 2012 and the long, painful rebuild that followed.

The Orlando Magic may have started the push for James to leave the Cavaliers for the first time with their 2009 Eastern Conference Finals victory. But James’ decision to join the Heat and his dominance over the conference left the Magic as one of his many victims. Orlando simply could not keep up and floundered as they tried, ultimately losing their prize in Dwight Howard and ending the most successful run in Magic history.

The last 10 years for the Magic have been more of a boom and fizzle. After the legendary 2009 NBA Finals run, the Magic have failed to put up much of a fight during James’ reign.

Orlando’s 2009 Finals run was the only time the Magic ever faced a James-led team in the Playoffs. The following yea,r the Magic would retool, swapping out dynamic forward and fan favorite Hedo Turkoglu for swingman Vince Carter. The Magic seemed to have the deepest and most talented roster in franchise history.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

The Cavaliers in many ways reacted to the Magic and their moves. Their big lineups could not handle the Magic’s stretch-4s and the Cavaliers sought out and acquired Antawn Jamison to counteract them.

Both the Magic and the Cavaliers run into a juggernaut in the Celtics in the Playoffs. The Celtics eliminated the Cavaliers in six games first, forcing James memorably to take off his jersey for the final time before entering the locker room. They then eliminated the Magic in six games.

Two years after Orlando’s Finals run, James found himself in South Florida. Meanwhile, the Magic continually came up short on their sudden championship aspirations and found themselves on the eve of Dwightmare.

A very quick rise-and-fall for the Magic.

From the first time the Magic faced the Heat — the second game of that 2011 season, a 96-70 blowout in Miami — it was clear the Magic did not quite measure up to this new contender on the block.

In December 2010, the Magic were playing uninspired basketball and made a blockbuster trade to re-acquire Hedo Turkoglu along with Earl Clark and Jason Richardson. That same day the Magic would flip Rashard Lewis for Gilbert Arenas in an exchange of unfriendly contracts.

These moves made the roster completely unrecognizable from their Finals run just 18 months earlier.

The new-look Magic would make the playoffs in 2011 with home-court advantage. But they would lose to the Atlanta Hawks in the first round. The wheels were officially starting to come off. The team’s championship window was closed.

James started his seven-year finals run in 2011 with a loss to the Dallas Mavericks. But James had patient, experienced veterans surrounding him, making the Finals run more than just a flash in the pan. Miami established a dynasty, winning the next two titles and making three straight Finals appearances.

Coincidentally, the Magic would make their final playoff appearance in 2012, the same year James would win his first NBA Championship. The Magic would lose to the Indiana Pacers in five games while Dwight Howard nursed a back injury from Los Angeles.

The Pacers would become the next contender to dethrone James. The Magic’s time was over.

James’ career path and the Magic’s trajectory are polar opposites at this point.

In the summer of 2012, Howard would force his way out of Orlando and find himself in a Los Angeles Lakers uniform the next year. Magic CEO Alex Martins would clean house by firing Otis Smith and Stan Van Gundy. The Magic have had four coaches since 2012. Earlier this month the Magic announced John Hammond as their second General Manager since then, replacing Rob Hennigan.

For the next five years, the front office in Orlando would work diligently to create a competitive team. But they would continually come up short. Through the Draft, the Magic would find solid contributors, but never the star to replace the void Howard left. Much less a team ready to compete and challenge the King.

Orlando, like the rest of the Eastern Conference, has been left in James’ wake, devastation Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com chronicled last week.

While eight seasons ago, the Magic seemed primed for a long title run, the wheels quickly fell off. James began his immortal run.

James shows no signs at slowing down at 32. But, as they say, father time is undefeated.

The new front office of Jeff Weltman and John Hammond with second-year coach Frank Vogel give the Magic hope for the future.

Next: Previewing the NBA Finals for BangTheBook Radio

Remember, the Magic were in the basement in 2004. Five years later they were in the Finals, dethroning LeBron James.