For GM Rob Hennigan, there would be no bones about it – the Magic underachieved this year.
"I think we didn’t make the type of progress we had hoped to make this season," said the fourth-year general manager. "At the beginning of the year, we had a stated goal of making the playoffs and clearly we came up short on that end."
He did say that the process is working, however, and brighter times are ahead. "At the same time, though, I think there is a balance between recognizing the fact that we did make steady progress in our view and we don’t want to discount that."
The Magic added 10 wins to its total from last season, and seemed to finally turn a corner under first year head coach Scott Skiles.
Youth is this team’s greatest asset, but also it’s largest weakness. The Magic were the league’s sixth youngest team in 2015-16, and they clearly lacked veteran leadership when faced with adversity.
Hennigan’s drafting acumen seems to be proven with each Aaron Gordon slam and Mario Hezonja three-pointer, but the lack of strong free agents has been the team’s Achilles Heel. After the departure of Channing Frye, only two offseason free agents remained on Orlando’s roster: the always-positive Jason Smith, and the nearly-silent C.J. Watson.
Neither of these players instills confidence in their teammates, and we have seen that neither has the ability to pull the team out of a tailspin.
When the plan was subtly outlined over the past few years, Magic fans slowly came to terms with the fact that their team would essentially be tanking. They waited patiently as their favorite players were traded away for assets, all with the promise that there would be a light at the end of the tunnel.
That light was supposed to come this year, and in mid-December, it seemed close enough to touch. The story then became how the Magic fell from a respectable 19-13 record to losing 15-of-17 in January.
"January was hard. It’s no secret that we struggled during that month, " said Hennigan, "…I think it just speaks to the fact that we’re still searching for consistency, night in and night out. I think that’s a product of our inexperience."
In the midst of that slide, it became clear that the plan was flawed to some degree and it needed an adjustment.
That change came at the trade deadline in the form of a deal that sent Tobias Harris to Detroit for veterans Ersan Ilyasova and Brandon Jennings.
"I think it’s probably a little early to give a report card on that [trade]", said the young GM, "I think that we had hoped with Ersan and Brandon coming in here to make the playoffs, that was part of the impetus for the trade, and that didn’t happen. We’ll have to see sort of what the flexibility that we were able to open up with that transaction, what that does, what does that yield for us. It’s just a little early to say definitively what that looks like."
Cap flexibility and options have become the new currency of hope in Orlando – but this offseason it appears that grades are finally due for the former wiz kid.
"This is a summer for improvement, and we can improve in a lot of different ways, said Hennigan. "We will improve internally, by the development of our young core players, but it’s an important summer to add to the team externally as well, and we’ll be as aggressive as any team in free agency."
Trading the 23-year-old Harris and Frye for cap space will be forgiven if Hennigan can convert that space into the next Magic star. If he fails, however – and lets Jennings and Ilyasova walk – the Magic would’ve essentially traded Tobias Harris for nothing.
It is with this offseason, and specifically this free agency class, that Hennigan will cement his legacy in Orlando.