All this week Orlando Magic Daily will be taking a look at the things that went right and wrong this season as Orlando fell short of a second straight trip to the NBA Finals and the franchise's first NBA title.
It was not wrong to believe this team could win a title. It was not wrong to expect this team to win a title. Orlando was, after all, two missed free throws from its star player and an incredible alley-oop play by its rookie from being up 3-1 rather than down 3-1 entering Game Five.
Otis Smith set out during the summer to make sure his team was in position to return to the NBA Finals and win the franchise's first championship. He brought in Vince Carter to add the scoring punch the team sometimes missed. He brought in Brandon Bass to add muscle down low and allow his team to play any style it preferred. He brought in Matt Barnes for energy and toughness. He relied on Dwight Howard to continue his growth offensively and as a leader. He relied on Jameer Nelson returning to the court as the aggressive point guard who made the All Star team rather than the shell of himself he played as in the NBA Finals. He relied on Rashard Lewis to become more aggressive while maintaining his deadly 3-point shooting and the grit to defend bigger and stronger power forwards defensively.
This was one of the deepest teams in the league and perhaps the greatest collection of talent the franchise had seen in its 21-year history.
At times, all those players fulfilled those roles. At times they did not.
Building a team is like putting together a puzzle. This year the puzzle pieces did not all fit.
Orlando fell short of its goal and were left wondering where to go next. One thing is for certain, this season could be a turning point for Orlando's franchise.
Will it use the experience from the Eastern Conference Finals to spur a championship comeback like the 2009 Lakers used their defeat in 2008? Or will the Magic simply fall apart?
There is something to the thought that the team has the pieces to win the title, but not the experience together or in the postseason to do it. The pieces are there, it might just take little tweaks to get over the hump. But that Lakers team did not realize how difficult it is to win a championship until it met defeat. Orlando was completely focused on returning to the Finals this season. But its defeat to Boston should teach the players and the franchise how much work it takes just to return to the Finals and experience continued success, let alone winning the whole thing.
Fans, too, probably thought it would be somewhat easy to make it back. For perhaps the second or third time in franchise history the national media believed the Magic had a championship team. That pressure did weigh on the team at times.
Was it wrong to expect a championship this season? No. Was this season a success? No. Was this season a failure? Not entirely.
Orlando still has some maturing and growing to do before it can lift the Larry O'Brien Trophy. It got a big lesson this season. Hopefully the experiences it gained this year will translate into a title next year.