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.
It started well before the season began.
Rumors began in the summer as whispers that Chris Paul wanted out of New Orleans began to swirl. He apparently said he wanted to go to, among other places, Orlando. And the rumors started from there.
Suddenly every big-name player wanting a change of address listed the 4-0-7 as one of their prime locations. The Magic were the place to be this summer. Dwight Howard had a lot to do with that, so did the team's proximity to the championship.
By the midpoint of the season, it was clear Orlando was not going to be reaching the Finals and the tide started going the other way. Suddenly, or not so suddenly, all the talk was about how the Magic needed to do whatever they could to make sure Dwight Howard was happy and would not leave them. Not that this was not already a concern but the situation did not seem so dire at the beginning of the season.
Struggles through late November and December and inconsistency the rest of the season only made the voices louder. If you ask some in the national media, it is all but certain that Howard will not be in Orlando past 2012.
It has been a source of consternation for Magic fans and even for Dwight Howard himself. Howard was so frustrated by the questions about his future in his first post-playoffs interview that he cut the inteview short. It takes a lot to make the happy-go-lucky and jovial Howard cut off an interview short like that. He seems to be just as annoyed by all this speculation as the fans are.
Was it a distraction during the season? Who knows. But it certainly will be a major storyline throughout the 2011-12 season. Of course if Howard would just sign the extension that the Magic apparently offered him, then this whole speculation thing would end.
Howard's frustrations though over the constant speculation showed late in the season when Ric Bucher suggested the Magic would trade Howard to one of his allegedly preferred locations -- New Jersey or Los Angeles. The thinking, it seems, is Howard would rather play in a big market with a chance to win then wait on another rebuilding project in Orlando (a medium-sized market).
Any way you look at it, all this talk is not good for Magic fans. Unfortunately it is not going to go away.
A lot of this media frenzy is partly our own doing. ESPN fed the craze for the next big thing during the Summer of LeBron hype. Now they have a Decision-sized hole to fill in their news cycle. Howard is the next big superstar to have his "decision day." So the national media is fixating on it.
On Orlando's side, the team and its fans have already experienced the departure of a franchise-changing center. And I do not think Magic fans want to experience that again. They may not be capable of withstanding that kind of heart break again, for that matter.
This constant worry was a distraction and led to the dreaded what if games that arethe marks of a rebuilding team. Orlando has rebuilding to do, but that should not overshadow the (missed) potential that remains on the roster. There were moments with this team. But all anyone could seem to do was worry about the future.
In this sense, Howard was right to remind us all that he is still under contract with Orlando as he continued to post MVP numbers and play incredibly throughout the season. The trade may have made the future bleaker, but that did not mean Orlando should have taken its eye off the season at hand.
And sometimes it seemed the conversation did get away from the here and now and focused too much (and certainly mostly pessimistically) on the future.
Howard's decision about his future will weigh heavily on the Magic for the next year. In 2010-11, speculating was not a healthy exercise and only made a pretty bad season worse.
Photo via DayLife.com.