The Orlando Magic have had things come easily for them in 28 years. The last five years exposed the team’s impatience. Patience now must become its virtue.
Everyone is antsy these days.
It is not merely the fact it is August and everyone is just waiting for the NBA season to begin. The Boston Celtics’ trade of Isaiah Thomas to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Kyrie Irving only whets the appetite for the upcoming season.
For the Orlando Magic, there is no talk of winning championships. There is barely a whisper of making the Playoffs. But still, the debate rages on for the Magic and their fans.
In this dead period to the season, many Magic fans are debating whether the team’s decision to bolster their bench with veterans and try to make a run at the Playoffs — or for winning in general — was the right one. Or whether the team would have been better off sticking to their young players and seeing where they can take them — giving into tanking and rebuilding through the draft again.
And then there is the group that just believes the Magic should burn it all down and start over.
They all have points. And these are the typical debates that go on with every team that does not have realistic title aspirations.
Even a successful team like the Toronto Raptors had these thoughts as they dealt with Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka‘s free agency this summer. The thought is after all that the worst place to be is in the middle.
There is no way to tell if the Magic would be in this situation or not had they not made their push for free agency in the summer of 2016. Magic fans would certainly point to that as a turning point in the team’s rebuild. Coming off a seemingly breakthrough 35-win season, Orlando traded away young players for cap space and veterans.
The team certainly needed to take some risks and change things to fix the problems that led to the collapse of their 19-13 start. But a complete change with bloated contracts was not the path many wanted to take.
But this is where the Magic find themselves.
Going from that 19-13 start two years ago to the 29-win frustrating season last year was a long journey. It seemed every decision made after the trade deadline was done out of a sense of impatience. The team was trying to speed itself a long and taking considerable risk to do so. And all those risks busted.
That was a common refrain from fans online. Five years was too long for a rebuild and the team needed to show some results. Forget the team’s slow build from 20 to 35 wins the last four years, now was the time to strike. The Magic may have done the wrong thing, but they need to do something.
That feeling has not completely subsided after the failure of the 2017 season. In one way or another, fans want to see results. And they want to see them sooner rather than later.
Whoever is to blame for derailing the Magic’s five-year rebuild — and there is plenty to go around from Rob Hennigan making poor personnel and roster decisions to ownership pushing to speed things up at the first signs of trouble — one theme consistently emerges when it comes to the Magic.
Orlando has struggled throughout its history being patient. Partly because they never had to. Opportunities fell into their laps and short-term plans consistently worked to keep the team relevant.
The team has always been able to build quickly and fairly easily. These last five years have presented a new problem and a new scenario for the Magic. One the team has not handled cleanly.
Judging by the team’s history too, it is something they never had to handle.
As I discussed last week on the Kevin Sutton Show, the Magic have always had things come fairly easy to them (check at the 15-minute mark). This five-year stretch is the longest stretch without a Playoff appearance or an All Star in franchise history. The team has never had to do a full rebuild, always having a quick scheme to return to prominence or getting Lottery luck at the right time.
In my opinion, these quick turnarounds, especially going to the NBA Finals six years into the franchise’s existence, created expectations from ownership and the fans that have been impossible to meet. And certainly not on that seemingly impossible timeline.
History played out the same way for Orlando every time.
Every time Orlando needed a lucky break or a free agent to come keep them relevant — or mediocre — they came. That is, until this rebuild.
The last five years stand out in Magic history for the team’s inability to be relevant. It is a combination of bad Lottery luck and roster mismanagement — taking risks at the wrong time or taking the wrong risks.
The Magic are still dealing with those scars as they tried to navigate this new rebuild.
Patience though is exactly what the team needs right now. That was what Jeff Weltman promised at the beginning of free agency. He did not have the cap flexibility to make waves. As he searched for opportunities, he knew the best thing to do was keep the team’s flexibility moving forward.
The only true long-term contract he doled out this summer was a three-year deal to Jonathon Simmons. Most consider that contract to be a bargain based on what Jonathon Simmons produced last year — especially in the Playoffs. And it comes with less risk considering the third year is nonguaranteed.
The general consensus is the Magic had a good summer with what little cap room they had to work with. They did not shift their starting lineup any, but they added some much-needed depth.
And, to the Magic’s credit, they have taken a step back to try to dig themselves out of their mistakes from last year. They knew it was not going to be something they changed in one summer. It would take sitting tight and waiting for the right opportunity.
The question, as it always has been with the Magic, is how long will they be willing to wait? How long will the fans be willing to wait?
To be sure, Weltman is not promising some extended rebuild. This is not a five-year project with steps to check off like it seemed Hennigan’s rebuild was built to do. The team seems like it wants things to move a bit more expeditiously. Once a path becomes clear, it seems the Magic will take it as far as it goes.
This year is not the year that path emerges. As Weltman said, he is using the year to evaluate what he has and gain more intelligence on his team — also, to let contracts roll over one more year.
The one thing that will be key to Orlando’s future success? They have to be patient and willing to wait for the right opportunity, making shrewd moves in the process to create those chances.