Over the next few weeks Orlando Magic Daily will be taking a look at the things that went right and wrong this season as Orlando ended its season with a disappointing first-round loss to Atlanta.
Last year, the Magic had one of the most incredible runs in the final 41 games. They stormed through the final half of the season and the first eight games of the playoffs, sweeping away the Bobcats and the Hawks. Orlando then ran into Boston, got punched in the mouth the first three games and took too long to recover. After that series ended, disappointment reigned in the Magic camp and among Magic fans. It was frustration that was well placed. A championship dream ended short and what may have been the Magic's best shot at a title in its 21-year history ended in bitter disappointment.
I argued then that we let our expectations get ahead of ourselves in evaluating the 2009-10 season as a complete failure. There was a lot of maturing and melding that still needed to happen -- especially in the postseason. Orlando ended up believing it did not have the right mix for a championship in December and made a move that shook up the roster and broke up the 2010 team.
With no major moves made in the offseason and the roster returning from that record-setting 2010 season, Orlando had the expectation of competing for and winning a title. That goes for everyone -- from owner Rich DeVos to general manager Otis Smith to superstar Dwight Howard to sometimes little-used Quentin Richardson.
Nothing short of a championship would be good enough.
And that is what the Magic should have expected. With a roster that had experienced at least one conference final and many of them two in a row and the franchise creating a payroll that ranked second in the league, nothing short of a championship would have been acceptable.
It is why in mid-December, when Smith and many people watching the Magic felt they did not have a championship team, Smith felt a change was necessary. So, with the goal of creating some offensive creativity and injecting the team with new blood, Orlando traded Vince Carter, Mickael Pietrus, Marcin Gortat and Rashard Lewis. A good chunk of the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals team was gone in one fell swoop and replaced with uncertainty and the promise that THIS would be a championship team.
I went over how the trades were a failure this season. And no doubt, the results showed it to be a failure. But often as the season progresses, expectations change. A team can outperform its initial expectations and bring new hope. Or its fans can recognize the team is not going to meet expectations and adjust accordingly to get enjoyment out of the team.
Orlando was in a nether world where the team showed flashes of brilliance that kept a glimmer of hope for a championship alive. But deep down, everyone knew the Magic did not have enough to win.
In that way, the Magic had what has to be considered one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history. And frustration is a perfectly reasonable reaction to the results of this season. Orlando fans -- and everyone within the franchise -- should be upset and angry over the disappointment of the 2011 season.
Typically I might argue fan expectations can be unrealistic and that it is necessary to adjust preseason expectations as the season goes on. But with Orlando's window open -- and closing faster than we knew -- and the second highest payroll in the league, the fan base should have expected nothing less than a championship. For once, expectations should not have changed.
Even if Orlando had won its first round and lost to Chicago, that might have been what was expected from the team after the 82-game season. But it would not have made the 2011 season any less disappointment.
Magic fans and brass were right to hold the team to a higher standard, even if they could not meet them. the payroll and the future demanded nothing less. And Orlando took a BIG step back.
We have to hold the players and the management accountable by keeping the expectation level high. And making sure this type of a failure does not happen again.
So keep dreaming big and shooting for the stars. It is championship or bust once against in 2012.
Photos via DayLife.com.