Frankly, I don’t blame you either way. But know this: the Magic are learning from the past. They know that you don’t get back to the NBA Finals by default, and you don’t get to the NBA Finals by sitting on your hands.
In the summer of 1995, fresh off a 4-0 NBA Finals loss to the Houston Rockets, the Magic thought they could trot out the same team over the next several years and repeatedly contend for the championship. Well, you know how that turned out. Other teams improved, the Magic stayed the same (as in, not quite good enough to win a title), and Shaquille O’Neal left the following offseason. The franchise was left in shambles and it took more than a decade to recover.
Here’s a list of the Magic’s moves in the offseason after their first NBA Finals appearance:
Sept. 22, 1995 — Sign Darrell Armstrong (appeared in 13 games) Oct. 2, 1995 — Announce retirement of Tree Rollins Oct. 3, 1995 — Sign free-agent center Jon Koncak (appeared in 67 games) Oct. 5, 1995 — Reach contract agreement with first-round draft choice David Vaughn; sign Dennis Scott to contract extension; sign Brian Shaw to contract extensionEssentially, the Magic did a whole lot of nothing.
Pat Williams, now the vice president of basketball operations, was the general manager of that team. Otis Smith became the team’s community relations guy in 1996, and he was certainly around the team in the mid-90s. These guys went through that.
Clearly, Otis Smith knows that you must be proactive if you want to be successful in this league. Stan Van Gundy knows it.
Here’s what he had to say after the Magic traded for Vince Carter a couple of weeks ago: “I think it’s a proactive move. If we can get Turk back, great, but now we’ve gone out and improved our roster. Three weeks from now we’re not looking back and saying, oh well we did what we could.”
That’s a word you must know if you’re an NBA general manager. Go back and look at the San Antonio Spurs’ box scores in 2003, ’05 and ’07. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are the constants, but all the names around them are changing. After winning the championship in 2004, the Pistons stuck with the same starting five for the next half-decade — they never won again. The Celtics thought they could bring back essentially the same team and win a second title this year — they didn’t even make it to the conference finals.
In the NBA, if you’re not improving you’re getting worse. And, in my eyes, the Magic have gotten significantly better this summer.