Orlando Magic hope happier days are ahead after completing their tank job

The Orlando Magic's season ended with a bit of a thud as they secure the top odds in the NBA Draft Lottery. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
The Orlando Magic's season ended with a bit of a thud as they secure the top odds in the NBA Draft Lottery. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports /

128. 93. Final. 117. 38

Orlando Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman was shown on the Bally Sports Florida broadcast sitting near the court in the final moments of his team’s seasons.

The team he had torn down was now ready for reconstruction after a disappointing 21-51 season finally concluded.

Well, maybe not completely disappointing. After deciding to restart the roster at the trade deadline, the team was destined to fall in the standings. Trading away a team’s top three players and signaling a clear shift to a new era would inevitably lead to a slip in the standings.

The Orlando Magic accomplished that goal Sunday in a 128-117 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. Paired with the Oklahoma City Thunder’s surprise win over the LA Clippers, the Orlando Magic clinched the third-worst record in the NBA Draft Lottery and a share of the top odds for the top pick.

Orlando will have a 14-percent chance to win the NBA Draft Lottery and a 54.1-percent chance to land in the top-4. That is all the team could ask for. In that sense, it is mission accomplished.

Weltman said before the broadcast and has told reporters several times he believes this is an exciting time to be a Magic fan.

The Orlando Magic concluded their season with the consolation prize of the top odds to win the NBA Draft Lottery. After a rough season, the team could use that bit of hope.

The first piece of the puzzle Weltman needs to begin rebuilding the team came into place. That with the collection of young players the Magic have now will form the base for the Magic to continue growing.

This is the hope the Magic will cling to and point out until the June 22 NBA Draft Lottery. Their future seems set up for the right bounce of a ping pong ball.

The drudgery and frustration to get there though was a heavy price to pay.

"“It’s the toughest season I’ve ever been through,” coach Steve Clifford said after Sunday’s loss to the 76ers. “To go back and think about the excitement around our team that we could be the surprise team because of continuity. We had played well at the end of the year before. As it played out, the East isn’t as good as it was. Really starting with JI getting hurt in the bubble and Markelle going down. We were never able to sustain anything and a lot of it was due to the injuries.”"

This was a difficult season. One that started with playoff hopes and ended with injury and then the eventual breakup of a group that had been together for the better part of the decade.

It was hard not to think about the “what ifs” with the way the team played to start the season and how they looked in the bubble before injuries derailed their playoff hopes.

It definitely does feel like something was ripped away from the team.

The assessment that the group the Magic had was not likely to get past the first round, except perhaps in an odd year like this where some promising teams were unexpectedly down and the Eastern Conference was more wide open than ever, seemed correct. If there was a time to hit reset, this might have been the one to do it.

The draft this year is expected to be filled with top-level talent, the kind of draft that scouts tell front offices to angle themselves for. Once it was clear the Magic were going to get a top pick, it made sense to maximize the chances the Magic got.

They obviously did that not just with their own pick but also with the decision to trade their All-Star, Nikola Vucevic, for a second potential top-10 pick in the Draft.

Add that to a growing list of promising young players that includes both Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac returning but also adds rookies Cole Anthony and R.J. Hampton, who both flourished after the trade deadline with the added opportunity, and the team seems to have plenty to be hopeful for.

The Magic have long been good at finding hard workers. They are eager to see what these players do with their offseason.

"“I think like all rookie seasons, I had some ups and some downs,” Anthony said after Sunday’s 37-point performance. “But overall, I had a pretty solid year. I learned a lot. I think I’m a completely different player than I was at the start of the season. A lot of older players helped me out. I think it was a successful year. I’m ready this offseason to get to work. That’s where the real work starts. I’m ready to grind. I’m ready to get better.”"

Anthony promised after taking a couple of weeks off, he will be back in the gym. He said he was eager to get with teammates and work out with them and better understand their games. Despite all the losing, this seemed like a tight-knit group that is ready to grow together.

That is no guarantee they will be successful. Clifford said after Sunday’s game it is great if the players get along and are friendly but that is not always indicative of teams that understand their roles and know how to play together. Chemistry is really about how everyone works together to win, not their relationships off the court in his estimation.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Still, it is hard not to feel excitement for what the Magic have. Especially after a dismal season.

Wendell Carter proved to be a solid defensive presence when he came over in the trade. Chuma Okeke put together a solid rookie season coming off a torn ACL. Cole Anthony and R.J. Hampton turned in stellar rookie seasons where they proved they could play on an NBA court. Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac are set to come back.

Alongside a good foundation-building coach in Clifford, that is plenty to work with. Especially with the promise of a couple of top picks on their way.

Orlando has positioned itself well for its future. The team could very well put this dark season behind it.

That part, for now, is out of the players’ hands. All eyes are on Weltman now to see how he uses these varied assets and begins building a team around them and with them.

That is where the hope lies for Orlando. It starts with how the ping pong ball bounces. But then it will grow to include how these young players develop and fit into the big picture.

Next. Cole Anthony's 'second season' showed his growth. dark

The Magic are hoping this season is an aberration in their development. They are hoping happier days are ahead.