The Synopsis of a Mysterious Magic Season
John Locke once said, “Do not mistake coincidence for fate.”
Once upon a time, way back in ol’ 2009, there existed a rather overlooked Orlando team that trudged along as disregarded by many as just another “ok” team. To the world, there were only two teams that mattered: The Los Angeles Lakers and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The arguments and anticipation of a Kobe v. LeBron matchup never ended. The constant bickering of who was the better player went on like no tomorrow. And it was quite evident from the non-stop Nike puppet ads that the media was brainwashed into believing that the 2009 Finals would feature the Black Mamba and the Chosen One. The point is, not many gave their respect to the team featuring a goody-two shoe’d, athletic freak of naturenamed Dwight Howard.
An Orlando team that was ran by Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu, Courtney Lee, Rafer Alston, Jameer Nelson [pre-injury] and of course Dwight “Chocolate Shoulders” Howard were all guys who contributed in a balanced offense. They were a highly unselfish team and were as tough as nails. Orlando ranked as the best defensive team and one of the best offensive teams that season – but they lacked one thing: fear.
That same year amongst the Kobe v. LeBron drama, Superman and the Magicians pulled a rabbit out of their hatto shock the world by dethroning the heavily favored Cleveland Cavaliers starring the one and only King James. Sadly, the Magic fell to the Lakers in 5 games. Orlando was considered a “young” team at the time and too inexperienced. With Hedo’s free agency threatening and the quick ouster fresh in everyone’s minds, changes had to be made.
On June 25th, Otis Smith made the big Vince trade. Some Magic fans felt offended by the trade, however with Hedo Turkoglu receiving ridiculous free agency offers, it was clear (at the time) that he had to be replaced.
The Magichad a shaky start to their season. Rashard Lewis missed 10 regular season games because “he didn’t read the bottle” and Vince Carter was being Vince Carter. Right when Magic fans really started to believe all the change was worth it, it all came crashing down after that brutal playoff loss to the Celtics.
To be fair, nothing was the “same” except for matching their season record from the previous season (59 wins). The aura was different. That extra fight was gone.
The 2010 offseason would be nothing but torture for Magic fans. The thoughts of getting ousted were straight up odd. And then LeBron James’ free agency became the giant frenzy that it was.
Now that the “triumvirate” had teamed up, Magic fans anxiously awaited and wished Otis Smith would make some “decisions” himself. Instead, he essentially kept the team as it was minus swapping a few role players out.
A wildfire of rumors blazed through the league that Chris Paul apparently demanded a trade to teams like Orlando itself, New York or Los Angeles. Inevitably, the speculations were false and Magic fans were left ultimately disappointed. At least Dwight worked with Hakeem Olajuwon on his post-up moves. Maybe that counts for something? Maybe not?
The 2010-2011 season started by blowing out the Wizards and the first overall pick in the 2010 draft, John Wall. Riding on a back-to-back, the Magic’s next game was in, of course, Miami.
This is where we witnessed our team appearing to have lost their swag. To be honest, this game amplified for me. They looked like the same mentally weak team we saw walk off the court in Boston and to make matters worse, it looked like they had no answer for the new Heat team.
So what’s to be done?
With December 19, 2010 still looming around the corner, Otis Smith used a Western Conference road trip as the litmus test to see how well the Magic were truly performing. The bottom line is that the team wasn’t living up to expectations. With the locker room virtually in shambles, Otis knew he had to make the trades.
At some point Magic fans must have thought they would get to sing on repeat “All we do is win, win, win, no matter what” from December 19, 2010 – the day Otis Smith pulled the trigger – until the end of June.
The first game the new team played together was against the Hawks on December 21With Orlando losing the game after Mike Bibby’s Corpse went off at the end of the game. Then they faced the Dallas Mavericks and lost the game again by a very small margin. Hope was not lost just yet. The Magic blew the San Antonio Spurs, a team that was holding the best record in the league at the time, out of the water.
Amazingly enough, they kept their composure straight and steam rolled teams here and there for nine consecutive games…until they faced a defensive New Orleans Hornets. We observed coach Monty Williams allowing Chris Paul’s incredibly breathtaking pick-and-roll to slice and dice the Magic’s defense in pieces sending them to an overtime game, which then inevitably ended up as a W for NOLA. Moving on to their next back-to-back road game in Oklahoma City, Orlando lost by one point. The league now had a game plan for beating the Magic 2.0.
Ever since then, I’m in full belief that the nine-game winning streak broke this team’s momentum from moving forward. Nothing was the same ever since Hedo dropped 17 dimes against the Mavericks. It just became inconsistency on both ends of the floor that plagued this once-upon-a-time contender into a team that resembled an 8th seed
Think of it like this: In physics, you may have learned about different kinds of energy such as chemical energy or mechanical energy. Looking at the image below, you have placed a ball at the top of a hill located at position A (this is exactly where there’s maximum potential energy) in an attempt to get that ball to position G, some force has to be exerted to let it move from positions B-F. Let’s say that force was Stan Van Gundy (once again, this is no disrespect to Stan Van Gundy) and that the ball symbolizes the team. Stan exerts his energy into the ball so that it can get to position G. The ball gets through all positions, but for quizzical reason, it seems that there wasn’t enough energy exerted into the ball to get itself to position G. It was as if position G didn’t exist. Instead, only F was more realistic and it fell backwards to E, D, C and B instead of forward repeatedly.
This team literally, and I mean literally had so much potential that you can only begin to wonder of what could have been: the hypothetical, essentially.
This is not to bash on Stan Van Gundy’s coaching. It’s not his fault that Rashard Lewis’s career declined by a stretch ever since he got off the juice. It’s not his fault that his team wasn’t doing their job being by driving the lanes enough. It’s not his fault that there was a lack of real role players, untimely adjustments, bad communication, poor defensive rotations, low basketball IQ overall, trust issues, confidence levels, not to mention a handful of injuries, etc.
All of these factors brutally weighed down this new look Magic team’s jelling process. The truth is Orlando has been well known to be an above average jump shooting team. They had taken that identity for granted and basically launched contested three-pointers to save themselves from losing games. Cutting to the rim became a foreign language for the team.
In a nutshell, the Magic could not get to G because they didn’t convert that potential energy into kinetic energy. They either didn’t move the ball well enough to find open shooters and/or they ruined offensive possessions by passing the ball up too much essentially screwing up screens.
Even Dwight himself was doubtful and hinted to the public after an ugly loss against the Kings at home:
“We have a lot of talent, but talent will not get you a championship. We’re one of the most talented teams in the NBA. We’re a deep team. We’ve got guys who do a lot of different things. But if don’t bring it every night, it’s a waste of talent.”
Talent is useless if it is not used properly.
Sadly, these trades certainly backfired as it denatured the team’s already stagnant chemistry pre-trade. And of course, they ended their playoff run in the first series, inevitably against their lowly southeastern division rivals once again known as the Hawks. Was it just a coincidence, or was it fate?
Do not mistake coincidence for fate.
This is the first post on Magic Basketball Online by Ajeeta Khanna. You can follow her wit and insight and random life updates on Twitter here and check out her Tumblr account here. You can now download the MBO app in the Android Marketplace by searching for Magic Basketball Online.