Needless to say, the 2014/15 season was one full of disappointment for the Orlando Magic. From firing head coach Jacque Vaughn midseason, to continually finding ways to lose close games late, it's a year that the Magic players, coaches, management, and fans would like to forget.
Despite all the struggles, the future is still bright for the young Magic team that's loaded with young players who are poised to take the next step in their careers.
A day after finishing their season with a loss to the Brooklyn Nets, the Magic players, head coach James Borrego, and general manager Rob Hennigan met with the media for their annual exit interviews. With a coaching search; free agency of one of the team's current key cogs, Tobias Harris; and yet another high draft pick, there was plenty to talk about, especially with Hennigan.
The man tasked with putting together the Magic squad has gotten his fair share of flack from many due to the team's struggles -- after all, he is the one calling the shots and putting it all together. Hennigan himself admitted that the blame lies on him and no one else: "I'm responsible for putting the team together. So, I'd say all of it."
The 33-year-old followed that statement by talking about how he and his staff "believe" in their players and their ability to grow and how they can make this team better, as it's "far from a finished product," be that through free agency, a trade, or the draft. "It’s about chipping away and internally developing. It’s about finding opportunistic ways to continue to add pieces," he said.
Even though the team underperformed this season, Hennigan was still happy with the individual growth of many of his players. He also feels that if his players continue to grow, they will ultimately propel the team to more success. "That's a key message we conveyed this morning," he said. "The importance of making sure we get in our work this summer and that we use this season as an incentive or fuel to continue to push ourselves, continue to show an ambition to want to improve and improve rapidly."
"I think the good thing about our young guys is that they want to be great, they want to put in the work, they’re willing to put in the work," said Hennigan. "So it’s a big summer for us in that sense of internal development is also big, especially with our team where we’re at right now."
While making excuses isn't something the general manager wants to do, he believes that the youth of his players played a role in some of their struggles this season. "I think we showed glimpses this season where we played very well, and we showed other times where we didn’t play well at all. There were some encouraging aspects of the season, and some frustrating aspects of the season. I think the next step for us is learning how to win, learning how to close games out. We were in a litany of games this season where it was a one-, two-possession game in the fourth quarter and we were just unable to win those games. I think the next step in our development is getting more consistent and a better understanding of the things we need to do to win games. Plain and simple."
Hennigan's 20 minute session with the media wasn't all about his team and how where it currently stands. The third-year general manager was also asked on multiple occasions about the team's pending coaching search and how it could play out.
However, as always, Hennigan was tight-lipped, not telling reporters anything. "We’re going to keep that very confidential," he said. "We have to protect the integrity of the process, we have to protect the work that we’re doing. What’s important is making the right decision. So, in terms of timeline, candidates, criteria, we’re not going to share that at this moment. Our focus is on finding the person to be our coach, and we’ll spend the foreseeable future searching for that."
Even though he was mum on any other possible candidates, Hennigan did say that Borrego, the team's interim coach, would get his chance to interview for the job. Hennigan also talked some about the job he felt Borrego did in the final 30 games of the season. "You know, I thought JB did an admirable job," he said. "He came in under some trying circumstances, he brought his own voice, one our players responded to, they respected; it was not an easy situation for JB for many different reasons, but I thought he came in and steadied the ship in a lot of ways, I think we regained a lot of that competitive spirit we were talking about earlier in the season and did a stand up job for us. We really appreciate the job he did."
It should come as no surprise that the team plans to give Borrego an interview, as Hennigan was adamant Borrego would get a fair chance at the seat past this season when he was named the interim man in February. However, with what should be a long list of options -- and one that could get longer should the Oklahoma City Thunder or Chicago Bulls part ways with Scott Brooks and Tom Thibodeau, respectively -- it would seem as though Borrego would face long odds of landing the job full-time.
The long, grueling season has come to an end for the Magic, but the work for Hennigan and company is just getting started. As I wrote yesterday, this offseason is a crucial one for the team in its continual attempt to reach playoff calibre, and Hennigan clearly knows that. He's going to continue to do his work methodically and do it "the right way" so the team can manage to build something that isn't just good in the short term, but the long term as well.
It's a lot to put on his plate, but with the right amount of time spent on each task, the Magic and Hennigan could put together a big offseason, allowing the team to make the jump they expected to make this season, and forget about the tumultuous 2014/15 season.