Orlando Magic heading for breakup, unable to chase ghosts of their potential

The Orlando Magic' listless loss to the Boston Celtics was the clearest sign the team is gearing to break up. (Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images)
The Orlando Magic' listless loss to the Boston Celtics was the clearest sign the team is gearing to break up. (Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images) /

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When the Orlando Magic walked off the floor at TD Garden in April 2019, they had done something nobody believed was possible.

It was the culmination of a seven-year journey of frustration, missed chances and aimlessness. The Magic emerged from the Dwight-mare aiming to turn the page and start a new leaf. They aimed to build through the draft and grow their young players.

They had missteps and false starts along the way, running out of patience in all the wrong ways while failing to rebuild the bones of their franchise after losing a superstar player. But they walked off the court in Boston that night going to the playoffs.

A small accomplishment. But after six years of struggling to win 30 games, hitting 41 wins (guaranteeing a winning record) and clinching a playoff berth felt like winning a championship. All the work had finally found a result.

They showed their character that night, erasing a late deficit and holding off a last-minute barrage from Kyrie Irving. They never gave up on the game or each other. In the penultimate game of the season, they embraced knowing what they had just accomplished.

The celebration continued heading toward the locker room and into the night. The Magic were playoff-bound at long last. They had at last taken that monkey off their back and realized some of the potential that had been squandered through the early stages of the rebuild.

The core group that had been through all those losses in Evan Fournier, Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon felt that accomplishment more than anyone else. This was their team and their accomplishment, even if it was achieving such a small goal.

The feeling as they walked off the floor Sunday in Boston was very different.

The Magic seemed aimless again, focused more on trying to get back into the game rather than committing to the little things teams have to do to win. The Magic watched Jaylen Brown hit 10 3-pointers and the Celtics walk into 3-pointers throughout the game.

The principles the Magic relied on to rally for their first playoff position and realize what they can accomplish were gone. Instead, it was the apathy of a team that knows or is coming to realize one uncomfortable truth:

This is the end. By Friday, this team will be broken up and this run is over.

Another aimless loss for the Orlando Magic presents a clear sign: The team is heading for a breakup at the trade deadline. The group has done all it can.

Orlando is turning the page and writing a new chapter in its history. Whatever potential this team had throughout the last decade has likely passed it by.

This team’s time has come.

You can see it in the way the team’s attention has wavered. How the injuries have crushed the spirit that made that 2019 run so possible. The team’s urgency to win has decreased. More importantly, their ability to do so and play the way they want has decreased.

Orlando knows it is a playoff team. That knowledge can be dangerous.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

What it has not pushed itself to do is to climb the playoff standings. That goal was clearly present throughout all of last season. Whether it was injuries or the limitations of the roster, the Magic could not reach it.

This season has been even worse on both fronts.

But what never should have wavered was the team’s defense and attention to detail. Both were necessary even at full health for this team to win.

In Sunday’s 112-96 loss to the Celtics, the Magic again did not play with physicality defensively. Steve Clifford’s greatest trick was getting the team to play the kind of hard-nosed defense that Jacque Vaughn, Scott Skiles and Frank Vogel never could.

It was all about doing the little things, getting into the ball and dictating the tempo with a connected group that worked together. Everything the Magic did was about working together.

It is easy to see things fall apart. The Magic always played at their best in a delicate balance. The margin for error was always very small.

The Magic had struggled with injuries the past two seasons, leaving a key young player that helped with that playoff run off the floor in Jonathan Isaac. But even then, everyone could sense the end.

The group had already been given an extended period of time to figure things out and make their playoff run, but they had never bottomed out. This second and third chance did not go wasted, but it did not go fulfilled either.

After the Orlando Magic lost to the Milwaukee Bucks in the playoffs last year, the team’s final interviews had a feeling of finality. The team fell short of its goals, unable to grow consistently from that first playoff appearance.

The setback brought up legitimate questions about how much this group could accomplish. Questions many had about the team to start the season that they were not able to answer.

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Yes, the Magic made the playoffs again and this was an important step. But they did not take the next step as a team.

It has tipped over this season. Orlando has fallen to the bottom of the standings and is staring at a losing season. Not just a losing season but a deep lottery season.

The kind of season that filled the majority of this group’s time in Orlando. The team, even with the playoff experience and knowledge of how to win. The Magic have been unable to reach back and find that consistency again.

There seems very little the Magic can do.

Nobody is playing with poor intention. The Magic’s issues are ultimately not about players being selfish. If anything, players are trying too hard to get the team out of this rut. They are trying to force the issue to make up for all the lost ground.

There is still a determination to make things right. But unlike previous years, the will and the ability to get back to right is not there. The end has finally come.

The Magic are drifting toward the end of the season. The trade deadline will present change. At this point, it must.

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The play on the court has shown this group has finally gone stale. They have done all they can with this franchise. The team is ready to turn the page at last.