Magic Masters is Orlando Magic Daily's attempt to recognize the best in Magic history. In this edition, we are trying to rank the best teams in Magic history. To see the full tournament bracket, visit the introduction page. Today, we begin the quarterfinals:
Statistically, there may not be a better team in Magic history than 2009-10. Aesthetically, they were not pleasing because of that 0-3 hole they dug themselves against the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. That disappointment is going to always affect how we think of the 2009-10 squad.
The overall season was nothing short of excellent though. The team finished 33-8 in the final 41 games and had the largest point differential in the league, a statistic many people believe is a very valuable measure of how a team is doing, sometimes even over win-loss record. This team was just flat-out good.
Orlando was third in defensive rating and fourth in offensive rating while putting in the highest expected win total according to their statistics, at least, according to Basketball-Reference. The Magic that year were a conglomeration of the 2009 Finals team and one of the biggest reloading projects in the franchise's history.
Dwight Howard was quickly ascending to a major superstar level. Jameer Nelson was not playing at his 2009 All Star level, but was still very solid. Vince Carter came down from his All Star level too, but after a slow start to the season came on strong to give Orlando the same kind of offensive balance the team relied on in its run to the Finals the year before. Then you add in Matt Barnes adding some attitude and toughness, and you had a team everyone just loved.
If this team made the Finals, we might be talking about this team as legitimately the best team in franchise history -- not just a feaux No. 1 seed for a tournament like this. As it stands though, this team fell short and then fell apart the following year.
We have talked extensively about the disappointment that has come from the 2010-11 season. A season that started with immense promise fell apart very quickly -- and really for an unknown reason.
First, Dwight Howard had an MVP season. He was superb and made the Magic good enough to keep opponents on their toes and lift up a mediocre supporting cast. and that might be describing things lightly. Howard may have turned in the best season in Magic history, and we still walked away disappointed.
The trades in December that sent out Rashard Lewis, Marcin Gortat and Vince Carter and returned Hedo Turkoglu, Gilbert Arenas and Jason Richardson. It threw the team out of whack and the Magic never quite regained their footing once the honeymoon phase ended in January. It was frustrating to watch. And now we know that the team is somewhat stuck in a mess created out of those moves.
Disappointment though hides accomplishment. We mentioned Howard already and the type of year he had -- ortherworldly. And it should be noted that the Magic won 50 games for the fourth straight season, the longest streak in franchise history. There was something to hang some kind of hat on there. But ultimately, a first round playoff exit was not what the Magic had in mind for 2011.
So there is the stage, who is the better team? Let's take a look at each team's historical impact before making the vote (or you could just vote... your call).
Impact & Historical Significance
When you get this deep into the tournament, every team remaining is pretty good. Both the 2010 team and the 2011 team produced 50 wins and had plenty of playoff promise. Both disappointed.
And that is what is going to make this matchup difficult to judge. Impact on franchise history is going to mean a lot more than simple win-loss record (although that might be determinative with these two squads).
We really do not know what the impact of the 2011 season is going to be. It might be the nail in the coffin that sent Dwight Howard out of town, or it might be a blip on the radar. Just a mistaken season that transitioned between different Dwight Howard-led teams. It is hard to put the 2011 season in a historical context. We just do not know what its eventual impact is going to be.
The same might be said for the 2010 team.
The 2010 team finished the year on a 33-8 kick and, after sweeping through the first two rounds of the Playoffs, seemed lock to return to the Finals and win a championship. The 3-0 deficit the 2010 team faced in the Eastern Conference Finals seemed to make what happened the rest of that season matter less.
The sudden deterioration of this roster in 2011 did more to detract from what should have been a mystical and revered 2010 campaign. You have to look no farther than Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis to see the difference and how far Orlando fell in the matter of a few months.
Carter averaged 16.6 points per game on 42.8 percent shooting with a 17.1 PER in 2010. In 2011, Carter's averages dropped to 15.1 points per game on 47.0 percent shooting with a 16.1 PER in 22 games with Orlando. Rashard Lewis averaged 14.1 points per game on 43.5 percent shooting and a 14.0 PER in 2010. His numbers dropped to 12.2 points per game on 41.9 percent shooting with an 11.0 PER in 25 games with Orlando in 2011.
Those are not dramatic dropoffs, but something was different and you could tell. You could not explain why, but it just happened.
It is a shame the 2010 season will most likely be tied to the failure that came in 2011. And 2011 is ultimately tied to what happens with Dwight Howard. So, we do not know how history will view these seasons. If Howard leaves, two days will stand out in Magic history. Vince Carter's missed free throws at the end of Game Two in the Eastern Conference Finals that seemed to zap his confidence and the day Otis Smith acquired Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu and Gilbert Arenas.
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You may recall during the sim season that the 2011 Magic would have started this year off with a bang. On paper, there is no reason the 2011 team should not work. But not even the most optimistic about the 2011 team could believe that it would defeat the 2010 team in any type of simulated series (I use WhatIfSports to simulate these historical games).
Yet, I am sitting here actually having to accept the results of the simulated series and believe the 2011 team had the potential to be better than the 2010 team. Of course, we all know they were not. But maybe that says something about our tournament's top seed and their ultimate disappointment in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Celtics.
It could also be a testament to the leap Dwight Howard took from 2010 to 2011. Despite every player on the roster seemingly having a down year, Howard's mere presence defensively and his improvements offensively made the 2011 Magic work (relatively speaking). Howard scored 18.3 points per game on a 63.0 percent true shooting percentage in 2010. In 2011, he increased his offensive production to 22.9 points per game on a 61.6 percent true shooting percentage. His PER last year was second best at the league at 26.0.
Howard was the clear difference. If 2011 Dwight Howard had the 2010 supporting cast, we might be celebrating a championship. Or, at least he would have signed that extension already.
With so few differences between these teams, I am not prepared to say the 2011 team gets my vote. Last season was bitterly disappointing. The 2010 year was too, but in a much different way. Overall, I have to say the 2010 team is the winner here, but I am not ready to believe the 2010 team will win the tournament like I once did.