Orlando Magic’s first rebuild is at home with the fan base

Orlando Magic coach Steve Clifford knows his young team still has a lot of work ahead of it. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
Orlando Magic coach Steve Clifford knows his young team still has a lot of work ahead of it. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images) /

86. 96. 38. Final. 128

It was opening night back in December. The Orlando Magic still had their whole season ahead of them and the hopes they could be competitive and begin to climb up the Eastern Conference standings. Their chief division rival, the Miami Heat, was in town.

The goal back then was to defend their home court better. They felt that was going to be necessary to a playoff push.

Everything seemed possible. Especially after that night.

Orlando’s somewhat shocking 113-107 win over the defending Eastern Conference champions came from a team with a lot to prove and the perfect opponent to prove it against. In a tight game, the Magic executed and outperformed the team that went to the Finals just a few months before.

The Amway Center was one of the few buildings welcoming fans from the beginning of the season. There was still crowd noise getting piped in, but players said the energy from the fans in the arena helped them get over the hump and secure that win.

It felt like the Magic might be better at home that year. It felt like this could be a true homecourt advantage again.

As the Magic walked off the court for the final time in 2021, things were a lot different.

The roster completely changed — the product of a trade deadline selloff that only comes because of a season that bitterly disappoints. The team had lost 128-96 to the equally woeful Minnesota Timberwolves, a disappointing defeat that had the Orlando Magic trailing by 30 points at halftime and by as much as 42 in the second half.

The Orlando Magic ended their home schedule with a bitterly disappointing blowout loss that left a sour taste as the Magic head toward an offseason of change.

It is hard to think there are brighter days ahead at this point. All the hopes for the franchise’s future are tied in two players sitting out with torn ACLs, one torn on that very court in early January, and a draft pick that is unrealized to this point.

If Magic fans were looking for something to take home with them, they would be bitterly disappointed. If this franchise wants to rebuild trust and rebuild its fan base, it starts at home.

"“I think we’ve just got to come in the offseason and work our tails off,” R.J. Hampton said after Sunday’s loss. “We’re going to compete as hard as possible next year. I’m not going to promise anything, but I can promise you, we’re going to come out and play hard every single night. That usually comes out with wins.”"

For any young team, their growth usually starts at home. It is where there is comfort and the support of fans. The energy to lift them beyond their normal abilities. That is the theory.

This year, with its pandemic limitations and uneven attendance throughout the league, has seen home win percentages drop to all-time lows. Home-court advantage mattered less this year than it ever has.

Still, the Magic had plenty of memorable home moments. Moments that suggested a brighter future and a chance to do something special this year.

There was that opening night win over the Heat, a gutsy performance that showed how valuable the team’s continuity might be. They would be the last undefeated team in the league at 4-0 by the time they returned home (their first bitterly disappointing loss of the season to the Philadelphia 76ers and their first brush with injuries with Evan Fournier exiting the game with back spasms).

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

There was Nikola Vucevic’s 43-point, 19-rebound performance against the Chicago Bulls that cemented his status as an All-Star. That was followed fairly quickly by Vucevic’s 30-point triple-double in a win over the Golden State Warriors, a game that had all the buzz that typically follows Stephen Curry’s lone trip to the Amway Center.

There were the dual 30-point performances from Aaron Gordon (38 points, seven 3-pointers) and Evan Fournier (31 points, six 3-pointers) to upend the Brooklyn Nets as the Orlando Magic held off a late surge from Kyrie Irving.

And finally, there was that glorious final game against the Phoenix Suns. Fournier delivered the final blow as the Magic rallied to steal the victory from a title favorite on their home floor. That coming in a game that they knew and the fans likely knew could be the last for that particular group.

It would be. The Magic would win only one more home game the rest of the year — a stirring 20-point comeback against the Memphis Grizzlies that ended with Cole Anthony’s game-winning 3-pointer.

There were plenty of good memories at the Amway Center this year. Just as there were plenty of heartaches — embarrassing blowout losses to the Philadelphia 76ers, LA Clippers, Chicago Bulls, Milwaukee Bucks and, finally, the Minnesota Timberwolves stand out.

Orlando’s 11-25 home record is the worst in the Eastern Conference and the third-worst in the league. Even in a season that has seen home wins prove more difficult than ever.

The Magic are starting from scratch and trying to set their baseline again. There will be no better place to do this than at home.

"“We’re in a rebuilding situation,” coach Steve Clifford said after Sunday’s loss. “When we made those trades, that’s what we’re committed to. I think what the fans should expect and we should have all these expectations is that we play hard every night. I don’t think it’s any secret of where we’re at or the direction we’ve taken. But that doesn’t mean we can’t play hard or with purpose every night.”"

That is still the thing that escapes the Magic. It has led to blowout losses plenty times over throughout the season as the team tried to find its rhythm this season. And certainly after the trade deadline.

This young Magic team has a lot to learn.

The next time Orlando takes the Amway Center floor, they will likely be a different team. Now-veteran stalwarts in Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac may be back on the floor. The team will likely add two more top-10 picks.

The team will take the floor with a new outlook and new hope for their future.

Fans will want to buy in again and believe in their Magic once again. They will hope that a return to the Amway Center will not just bring some sense of normalcy but a true sense of community.

As many young teams often do, home games will bring with it some comfort and routine. It will bring structure and familiarity, all important aspects for their growth and development.

If the Magic want to rebuild their team, it is going to start with rebuilding their play at the Amway Center and creating a homecourt advantage.

This year, despite all the losses, created a lot of memories and strong moments for the fans to stand and cheer. But all too often, the Magic faithful stayed silenced with little to cheer for.

Next. Orlando Magic giving out opportunity to end season. dark

There are plenty hoping a Lottery pick and the pain of this season will be worth it and bring with it hope again. But ultimately, that hope is borne out in how the team plays at home. And how much that makes everyone believe again.