Orlando Magic’s disappointment is a hunger for their future

Markelle Fultz was one of the many bright spots for an Orlando Magic team that is looking forward to their future. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Reper-USA TODAY Sports
Markelle Fultz was one of the many bright spots for an Orlando Magic team that is looking forward to their future. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Reper-USA TODAY Sports /

The disappointment was clear as the Orlando Magic walked off the court. The inevitable finally happened.

The Orlando Magic are not going to the postseason, getting officially eliminated with a 117-113 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night at the Amway Center.

As players started walking off the court and the Cavaliers themselves celebrated clinching homecourt in the first round of the playoffs themselves, Jamahl Mosley sauntered over toward J.B. Bickerstaff at midcourt. The always stoic Mosley had a different look about him seemingly knowing his team lost to a better team that night and knowing the prime motivation for any season was now fully beyond his reach.

There was certainly resignation as he met Bickerstaff and the two embraced. One was moving on the other was preparing his team for the final three games of his season.

The Magic are not moving onto the postseason. This was not their time. And there is always disappointment in coming to that realization and accepting that fact.

The Orlando Magic’s postseason dreams are officially dashed as they play out the final games this season. But their future is as clear as ever, giving hope in a disappointing moment.

But watching them play and scratch and claw not just Tuesday but throughout the season is a sure sign of how close this team is to reaching that level.

The Magic’s time is indeed coming. It may just take a little patience — and one more season — for the team to get there.

"“It hurts. It should,” Mosley said after Tuesday’s loss. “The guys battle, they compete, they fight and every single night that is who this team has been all year no matter what’s going on. When you give that much effort which this team has continued to do it should hurt.”"

There is always emotion when a season reaches some semblance of finality. And there will be more emotion to come when the Orlando Magic close their season against the Miami Heat on Sunday afternoon just as there will be emotion when the Magic play their final home game Thursday against the Cleveland Cavaliers again.

There was emotion in the way the Magic fought for their postseason lives.

They took the lead in the second quarter and tried to hold on, surviving an onslaught from Donovan Mitchell. They found a way to score and score consistently against the league’s best defensive team.

When they trailed by nine midway through the fourth quarter, they fought back and pushed to take the lead on a steal and layup from presumptive Rookie of the Year Paolo Banchero.

Orlando just did not have enough to get itself fully over the hump.

Mitchell buried a pair of tough jumpers over tough defense to keep the Magic at bay. Orlando’s youth and inexperience were at play as the team could not answer and could not get good shots down the stretch.

This was as much a case as the Magic running out of time and giving into the desperation that comes when facing elimination. Every team faces that down at some point. Only one team stands at the top.

But the Magic were always full of fight. They did not give up at any point in Tuesday’s game just as they have not given up at any point during this season. The Magic were always full of fight and never ready to give up.

They could have easily accepted their fate after starting the season 5-20 among a mountain of injuries. They could have been playing for ping pong balls one more time and left a lot of questions about how this team should build around its budding young stars.

Instead, the Magic always had their bigger picture in mind. This season was not about the results of this season as much fun as a postseason push might have been. This season was always about the growth the team would show and how they would set themselves up for next season.

"“We’re building something very strong and very special here,” Markelle Fultz said after Tuesday’s loss. “Our mindset isn’t going to change even with us being out. We’re still going into every game trying to improve and be the best team we can be. We had a great season. I think we put ourselves in position to learn this year and to see what it is like to play meaningful basketball and understanding what it takes to win those basketball games.”"

As they got healthier, they got a clearer picture of who they would become. They laid the foundations of the team they want to be — whether that was on defense with their ability to protect the paint or their offense and its free-flowing style and push to get out in transition.

They saw players throughout the roster improve and fit together better.

They saw Paolo Banchero establish and re-establish himself as his class’ top rookie. They saw Franz Wagner get better at everything he was already so good at. They wanted Wendell Carter to expand his range and Markelle Fultz to get more comfortable and confident, showing hints of what made him the top overall pick.

More importantly, the team never gave up. They attacked every opportunity as a chance to get better and then made good on it.

Going from 5-20 to 34-45 is an incredible run. A record during that stretch would put the team comfortably in the postseason in the Eastern Conference. They brought fans along with them for a surprisingly well-attended season at the Amway Center.

That attitude helped them achieve the success everyone is feeling today. Because in addition to feelings of disappointment and sadness were feelings of joy and appreciation. There is an appreciation for the work the team put in and the track they have laid ahead for themselves.

"“We’ve competed all year,” Mosley said after Tuesday’s loss. “I think that’s what these guys are going to continue to do no matter the circumstances. I’m proud of these guys for how they battled. We held our own and more so. Our guys have to continue to understand and believe what we are capable of doing. We’ll continue to do that moving forward.”"

Everyone understands this journey for the Magic is just beginning.

And that is the biggest message. It is why the final three games do not quite feel like a throwaway or a late-season attempt to preserve Lottery odds. There is still something to gain from them because this season was never about this season. It was about what this team would become and can still become.

And that was on full display as the season came to an end. Winning became more of a habit and a regular occurrence. The team made winning valuable in addition to the growth the team wanted to see and make.

The team is undoubtedly disappointed they will not achieve that ultimate dream this year. But that dream is still out there. And they are still working toward it.

Next. Why the new CBA will benefit the Orlando Magic. dark

Tuesday’s loss was not the end of the journey at all. This thing is still at the beginning. And this Magic team is just getting started.