Despite Disappointment, Magic Enjoy Great Season

Despite Disappointment, Magic Enjoy Great Season

By John Denton
May 31, 2010


Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Magic and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

ORLANDO – The Orlando Magic never expected to be in this position, cleaning out their lockers with basketball still to be played this NBA season and pondering a nightmarish NBA Finals without themselves being involved.

But that was the case on Monday when the team met one last time and tried to force a smile through the bitter feelings of getting knocked out of the playoffs by the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Not even reflections on a wildly successful season – one in which the Magic won 59 regular-season games, locked up a third straight Southeast Division title and notched their first two four-game playoff sweeps ever – could soften the blow of knowing there would be no championship.

Chasing a title had been this team’s only goal since the start of training camp last September, so when there was nothing left to pursue it left the Magic feeling all hollow inside.

``It was a very good season, but it wasn’t a great season,’’ Magic guard J.J. Redick said. ``Only one team can have a great season and we’re all very disappointed. For me, the shock hasn’t worn off. I woke up yesterday morning, looked at my clock and thought, `What time do I have to be at practice?’ It’s a little weird. I didn’t expect this group to be done playing already.’’

Magic franchise center Dwight Howard said this pain was different than the one he felt last season when Orlando came up short in the NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers. Howard was convinced that this team, more than any of the others that he had ever played on, was built to win a championship. And when that opportunity was snatched away from the Magic by the veteran laden Celtics, it left Howard a little shocked by the suddenness of the finality.

``We didn’t expect us to be sitting here today talking about next season, but all we can do is move on,’’ Howard said. ``Last year after we lost in The Finals, I just pouted and I was upset and all I wanted to do was hide under a rock. You give it your all and that’s all that you can do.

``The season was great and the playoffs started out good, but we just didn’t finish out the way we wanted,’’ Howard continued. ``So we’ll try to come back next season and go back at it. There’s no reason to hang our heads, walk around and be all sad because we didn’t finish what we started.’’

Rashard Lewis, Mickael Pietrus, Howard and Redick said they had no plans to watch any of the NBA Finals with the Los Angeles Lakers facing the Celtics because of the anger and resentment it bring rushing back.

Asked to pick a winner between the Celtics and Lakers, Redick had this to say: ``I will not watch a single game. I’ve never been able to do that my whole life. Once my season is over, I can’t watch. I don’t know and I don’t care (which team wins). Tie? Can we just have six games and they tie?’’

Magic GM Otis Smith and head coach Stan Van Gundy addressed the team one last time on Monday, talking to the group about the high points of the season, but ultimately discussing the bitterness of not winning a title. Van Gundy, who has helped the Magic become one of the NBA’s elite franchises in the past three seasons, said the dour feelings about not winning a title shows how far the team has grown.

``It’s disappointing because our goals were to win a championship. We not only didn’t do that and we also didn’t get back to the Finals, so that’s a disappointment and there’s no other way around that,’’ Van Gundy said. ``There’s all kinds of good things done. Because we (didn’t win a title) doesn’t mean we weren’t successful. But the best thing that you can properly say is that our organization has come far enough that we’ve reached a level where going to Game 6 of the Conference Finals isn’t a success. We’ve gotten to the point where we’re one of a small group of teams that genuinely has the expectation of trying to win a championship and deems that as the only success. You have to be No. 1 out of 30 and No. 2 just won’t do it.’’

All season long the Magic overwhelmed teams with their arsenal of weapons, the chemistry on and off the court and their ability to defend. Van Gundy also marveled at the team’s wiliness to play hard and together, trademarks that he said that he never had to worry about from night to night.

But to a man, the Magic say they got outworked and outhustled by the aging Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. Boston swamped the Magic the Magic the first two games in Orlando and embarrassed them in Game 3. Orlando fought back with gritty efforts in Games 4 and 5, but couldn’t deliver a similar effort in Game 6 to slingshot the series back to Orlando for a Game 7. The fact that Boston played harder is sure to haunt the Magic throughout the summer months.

``It’s shocking because we didn’t play hard and that’s kind of who were were; it’s shocking because we played hard all season and we talked about that, as a group, from January on,’’ Redick said. ``I mean that’s the reason we were good, because we prepared and we played hard, and we’ve got a lot of talent, which makes us a championship-level team. So that was shocking because that’s not who we were.’’ For shooting guard Vince Carter, whom Orlando acquired last June in a draft-day trade with New Jersey, this was the most successful team he’s ever been a part of in 12 NBA seasons. Before this year, Carter had never been on a team that had won 50 games of gotten out of the second round of the playoffs – feats that Carter accomplished this season.

But not winning the title that Carter had hoped would cement his legacy was crushing to him. Carter refused to discuss his struggles against the Celtics on Monday, instead saying that the Magic lost and that was all that mattered. Like his teammates, he said he is still in shock that Orlando won’t be in the Finals trying to win a title.

``I wanted so bad to hold up that championship trophy, but we’ll just have to come back next season and try it again. The expectations were to get to The Finals and having the bar set that high is a positive. In the locker room now you hear guys talking about hoping that this team gets to stay together because we all just respect one another so much. There’s just a feeling among this team that there’s unfinished business to be taken care of.’’

Whether or not Orlando can stay together remains to be seen. Redick is a restricted free agent and is hoping that his stellar series against the Celtics can earn him a hefty raise over the $2.8 million he earned this season and some long-term security. And as expected, Matt Barnes announced on Monday that he would be opting out of his contract in order to become an unrestricted free agent. And Pietrus said he was confident that he’d be back in Orlando, but that he’d ``be sleeping with his eyes open because you never know what might happen if the offseason.’’

Both Redick and Barnes stressed that their first wish was to return to the Magic where they hope Orlando can make another run at the championship next season.

``I still think we have the best team, the most talented team in the NBA,’’ Barnes said. ``That didn’t necessarily show in the Eastern Conference Finals, but I think we showed flashes. That being said, this is my No. 1 choice and I would definitely like to come back and try to get that ring here next year.’’

Added Redick: ``When you don’t win a championship, everybody’s kind of quick to say what kind of changes you should make. But this team still has a window to win a championship. The core of our team is pretty young and can still get the job done. Tweaks, I think that’s what needs to be done, and there’s obviously got to be a greater sense of urgency when we get to the conference finals.’’

John Denton writes for Orlandomagic.com. His Magic ``Behind the Scenes’’ segment can be heard each week on ESPN 1080 AM. E-mail John at jd41898@aol.com.