Orlando Magic have earned the benefit of the doubt heading into the 2021 season

Two straight years in the playoffs has not bought the kind of respect the Orlando Magic deserve. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Two straight years in the playoffs has not bought the kind of respect the Orlando Magic deserve. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports /

Already, everyone is writing the Orlando Magic off as they pursue a third straight playoff appearance. As constructed, this team has to be the favorite.

The NBA’s 2020 season is nearing its end. The NBA Finals will end one way or another in the next week with either the Los Angeles Lakers or Miami Heat lifting the Larry O’Brien Trophy. And then the NBA will be plunged into darkness until January or later as the league tries to figure out how it will conduct its 2021 season.

The only next step anyone knows is the NBA Draft will take place Nov. 18. After that? Even free agency is a mystery.

But there will be a 2021 season one way or another. And that season is going to have its own trials and tribulations. It is going to be a difficult road.

It will certainly be difficult for the Orlando Magic.

Already, there is a fair amount of hand-wringing about the 2021 season. Jonathan Isaac will likely miss the entire season — barring the season starting in August, which it being 2020 is still possible. And that has put a damper on the season already.

It has been easy to give in to all the worst-case scenarios. The Magic’s most promising player out has allowed everyone to believe that this team is ripe for change. A season of stagnation has seemingly left the team ripe for change.

There are eyes on a strong 2021 Draft and perhaps some concern about the teams trying to angle their way into the playoffs beneath the Magic. If Orlando wants to make the playoffs again, it will be a fight.

But until there are changes to this roster and to the rosters of other teams, it is impossible not to give this Magic team the benefit of the doubt — even without Isaac.

The team does face an uncertain future and nobody wants to see the team run back virtually the same roster for a third straight year. The Magic will have to make changes eventually and that will inevitably put the future in some flux.

Those changes will come and everything will be re-evaluated when they do come.

But expectations for the Magic are not likely to change. At least the baseline expectations.

Barring a complete gutting of the roster that makes this team look unrecognizable or an all-in trade that shows the Magic are pushing in to be more serious contenders in the short-term, the Magic will have the same expectations as last year.

They will expect to make the Playoffs. That part does not change. Orlando is not likely to give up that ship. That is the standard they have built and nothing less will be acceptable anymore.

And they have no reason to. They made the playoffs by a whopping seven games this season. They had a 5.5-game lead over the Washington Wizards when the season went on hiatus for the pandemic. If the season had ended as normal, it is quite likely the Magic would have finished seventh — likely with 38 or 39 wins.

While the Magic took a small step back this season, acting like the Magic are somehow not a playoff team in this Eastern Conference is ludicrous at this point.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

It is impossible to say at this point with any certainty the Magic will or will not have a playoff-caliber roster. Every offseason presents the distinct possibility for change. The team that assembles for training camp in January (or whenever) could be very different than the one we have now.

But until then, the Magic should be considered favorites to retain their playoff spot. Every other team trying to jump into the Magic’s spot has plenty of questions. Questions the Magic have, frankly, already answered.

That is not to say the Magic are somehow guaranteed a spot. There are always teams angling to get into the top spot. And there are plenty of contenders to sneak past the Magic next year.

The Washington Wizards finished closest to the Orlando Magic last year. They should be getting John Wall back from a season-long injury. This is the lone team that has playoff experience and two All-Star-caliber players. The Wizards will certainly be a true contender to surpass the Magic even if the Magic are at the fullest strength they can be.

The Chicago Bulls recently hired Billy Donovan and tied the Orlando Magic last year in defensive rating. However, they had the second-worst offense in the league despite having a scorer in Zach LaVine.

Donovan is certainly capable of tying all those pieces together and lifting the Bulls up. But they have a lot of young players who have not sustained success yet.

The Atlanta Hawks are probably the most promising and dangerous team. With All-Star Trae Young, they have a true superstar in the making. And they had a strong run once John Collins’ suspension ended last year. They went 14-23 after Collins returned from his 25-game suspension and finished the season going 12-15.

That is not encouraging. This team still has not won anything. And the Hawks’ defense is abysmal and, statistically, the offense is not destroying anyone either despite all their shooters and weapons.

The Hawks got Clint Capela at the trade deadline to try to boost their defense. They probably need another veteran to center their offense some too.

The Hawks still finished the season 20-47, tied for the worst record in the Eastern Conference. They would need to make a sizable leap to make the playoffs.

There are other teams too that likely have — and should have — playoff aspirations. Like the Orlando Magic in 2019, the Charlotte Hornets were a spunky team that played with a lot of effort. They outplayed expectations last season and are certainly young enough to take a big leap.

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Even the Detroit Pistons can say they have an outside shot of making the playoffs so long as Blake Griffin is healthy. The Cleveland Cavaliers might try to claim the same thing with Kevin Love’s health and their young backcourt.

There are plenty of contenders to sneak into the playoffs next season. The Magic, regardless of who is on the roster, will have to play well to get in. This spot is not guaranteed to them even as presently constructed.

But it is important to remember that all these teams face significant questions. And they would still have to make up the seven games between them and a Magic team that disappointed to reach the postseason.

Why should we assume the worst from the Magic and the best from everyone else? Especially after the Magic had such a supposedly down year.

This is of course thinking and talking about rosters at the end of the 2020 season. These are not the rosters and teams everyone will enter next season with. A lot is going to change before the 2021 season tips off.

But the Magic, with two straight playoff appearances under their belt now, deserve the benefit of the doubt. At a minimum, this Magic team should view itself as a playoff team now. That is progress in a way.

Next. Shooting will give Orlando Magic lineup needed flexibility. dark

And at minimum, fans should expect this team to retain its spot until someone else takes it from them.