ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - In a season of high expectations, the Orlando Magic made some gains but ultimately they were not enough for anyone in the organization to be satisfied.
A team stocked with young talent achieved double-digit improvement in overall wins and victories at home, finishing 35-47 overall and 23-19 at the Amway Center. The gains, however, did not produce a spot in the postseason, which was the most coveted prize for a franchise that has now missed the playoffs four straight years.
“We didn’t make the type of progress we had hoped to make this season,” Magic general manager Rob Hennigan said Thursday after players went through exit interviews. “At the beginning of the year we had stated goal of making the playoffs and clearly we came up short on end.”
The Magic finished the season strong, winning five of final six at home. But it couldn’t mask a subpar January and February, which was where a promising season unraveled.
Coming out of a strong December that put the Magic at 19-13, there was some buzz around the league that the Magic had finally turned the page and were indeed a playoff contender. Injuries and a much tougher schedule in January, however, altered the outlook.
Orlando went 2-12 in to begin 2016.
“We did some good things, showed some promise but also it was frustrating,” said first-year Magic coach Scott Skiles.
That seemed to be the general consensus around the team.
“How do you want to be satisfied when you don’t make the playoffs?” said forward Evan Fournier. “We were the best team in the East in December so of course it’s hard to be satisfied with the season. But it shows we can be very good at moments. It’s just in January we were the worst team in the East.”
The Magic were a collection of young and upcoming talents headlined by leading scoring and rebounder Nikola Vucevic, guard Victor Oladipo, point guard Elfrid Payton, forward Aaron Gordon and Fournier.
Hennigan acknowledged there is a need for veteran leadership to help the young nucleus but also left the door open to possibly trade some of the talent to bring in the right pieces if that will put the Magic into the playoffs next season.
But with adding perhaps some more consistent shooting and perhaps a stronger low post threat, it seems the Magic and its young nucleus could take that leap next season. They lost 15 games by five points or less this season and also fell in five overtimes.
If the Magic had nine more this season they would have been in contention for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
“We’re going the right way,” Payton said. “I honestly thought that everybody in this locker room got better over the summer and I expect the same thing this year.”
Other highlights from the season and a look toward the offseason:
BIGGEST NEED: Proven veteran leadership with extensive playoff experience was the biggest void this season. Vucevic, who just completed his fourth season in the NBA, is the most experienced of the core players and only a few players have playoff experience.
THE GOOD NEWS: The roster is stocked with young talented players to form a solid nucleus. The Magic is also back in the NBA draft lottery and have just over $32.5 million in guaranteed salary next year, which means there is a legitimate opportunity to improve the roster.
THE BAD NEWS: The Magic could lose Fournier, who will become a coveted restricted free agent this summer. Hennigan said keeping Fournier is a priority. In addition to Fournier, power forward Andrew Nicholson, center Dewayne Dedmon, point guard Brandon Jennings and forward Jason Smith all become unrestricted free agents on July 1.
SHOPPING SPREE: Unloading the contracts Channing Frye for a future first-round pick, the bloated deal of Tobias Harris for the expiring deal of Jennings and the team option on Ersan Ilyasova means the Magic can be a player in free agency.
PLAYOFF PUSH: Look for most, if not all, of the conversation next season to be about ending the Magic’s four-year playoff drought. The talent seems to be in place, the prospect of getting better though the NBA draft and free agency is also there, so look for more pressure on Scott Skiles in his second season at the helm.
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