5 questions for the third quarter of the Orlando Magic’s 2021 season

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Dwayne Bacon, Orlando Magic
The Orlando Magic are struggling to find their way as they have struggled with injuries. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports /

How do we measure success?

Expectations shift during the season.

The main goal from the start of the season should rarely change and it is important to go back to that goal at the start of the season. But as the season winds through, expectations and what the team can achieve has to change. There still have to be short-term goals to achieve so that players can continue developing and the team can get itself right.

At the beginning of the season, the team’s goal was to return to the playoffs and begin the climb up the standings to compete for homecourt advantage. Looking at the current Eastern Conference landscape, that seems pretty achievable even without Jonathan Isaac.

The team went 6-2 to start the season and looked every bit capable of achieving that goal and building some forward progress. But Markelle Fultz’s injury changed everything.

The team has struggled to find consistency on either end without Fultz. Injuries piled up and the Magic found themselves sinking down the standings.

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Everyone on the team quickly points out they do not know what this team is capable of because of all the injuries. It would be nice before the trade deadline to get Aaron Gordon and Cole Anthony back to give the team one last chance to make the case for itself.

Nikola Vucevic was quick to say at the All-Star Game that the team wished it could have made its mark climbing the Eastern Conference standings. But for now, Vucevic said the goal is to make the playoffs again. With all the injuries, Vucevic said that would be quite the accomplishment.

That still leaves the playoffs as something of a goal. It should remain the standard by which we judge this team. And no doubt, injuries or not, missing the playoffs makes this season a failure that deserves some reckoning and careful examination in the offseason.

Running it back will not do after this. The team has to begin shaping its future. That is a goal that was likely delayed. And this disaster of a season is going to force some action.

The playoffs though seem far-fetched — FiveThirtyEight gives the team less than a 10-percent chance of making the playoffs considering their record, level of play to this point and their remaining schedule.

So what is the team’s success now? There still needs to be a purpose to this season, right?

For now, the Magic’s goal should remain to try to make the playoffs. The third quarter of the season is a bit early to be packing it in and focusing on anything else. Their young players are largely playing anyway — with both Cole Anthony and Chuma Okeke likely to get increased roles as they get more comfortable and continue to play well.

The third quarter of the season should still be about winning. And the weeks leading into the trade deadline are likely the Magic’s last gasp to make a playoff push before the front office decides to make moves that might, in effect, pull the plug.

The team can re-evaluate what it wants to get out of the season following that point. The team is close to the point of pain, but should not consider it there yet.