Coming off a disappointing 2014-15 season that, for all intents and purposes, saw the team take a step back in their rebuilding process, the Orlando Magic made a change to the man tasked with leading them onto the floor every night.
After three years of Jacque Vaughn and James Borrego, two coaches from Greg Popovich's San Antonio Spurs coaching tree, the Magic turned to the hard nosed veteran Scott Skiles. Skiles, the NBA's all-time single game assist leader, came in with a reputation of taking young teams and helping turn them around, something that undoubtedly helped his candidacy during the teams search.
When the final buzzer sounded on the season for the Magic, they had made an improvement in the wins column, taking home the victory in 10 more games, and showing signs of improvement on both offense and defense throughout the season.
However, the year wasn't without it's ups and downs, with the team seeing the highest of highs, and lowest of lows for a team looking to turn the corner in their rebuilding process.
Time and time again Skiles was left searching for the right group of players that could go out and perform consistently on any given night. He made a major shake up to the lineup in late November which helped spring the team to a 12-5 record in December, and net Skiles coach of the month honors in the Eastern Conference.
The December run was short lived, with the team crumbling with an increasingly more difficult schedule, poor play and injuries, which led to a two win January.
Skiles continued to tinker with the lineup and rotations, looking for anything that would get his team going, but was unable to find any semblance of balance. That, on top of the poor January, was what ultimately ended the Magic's chances of making the playoffs for the first time in four years.
Despite not meeting their end goal of the playoffs, Skiles and Co. were able to make improvements on the team and that can't be overlooked.
While the defensive numbers might not be where Skiles and Co. would've liked them overall, the offense, despite going through periods of stagnation, improved a significant amount in their first season.
Add in the fact the team was virtually the same as it was in the '14-'15 season, and the team won 10 more games, and Skiles' impact was clearly bigger than many believed.
"Players got better, so guys should go away taking something positive from it," said Skiles when asked about balancing the improvement the team made, while still not reaching their end goal of the playoffs. "But also, you could tell everyone was a little down about it. We didn’t get accomplished what we wanted to get accomplished."
As Skiles said, the team needs to be able to take the positives away from players improving on an individual level, even if it didn't translate to their end goals. And at the end of the day, while much of that is on the players for putting in the work, Skiles and his staff can't be overlooked for the work they put in with each player as well.
The first-year Magic head man couldn't fully put his finger on what got away from his bunch in the middle portion of the season, but added they had chances to win and turn things around, but just couldn't.
"We had opportunities during January and February to wins some close games, so instead of maybe losing six out of seven, we could’ve got a couple of them, still stayed in," Skiels claimed. "The game at Memphis, we’re up four with 17 seconds to go, we have to win that game. There’s just so many of those. As much as we discussed with the guys during that period of time we have to get our confidence back. We know we’re a good team. There’s still human nature involved where, you’re going out and getting beat every night. We just weren’t able to sprinkle in a handful of wins in games that we should’ve won that would’ve turned it around for us."
Still, despite the struggles through the middle of the season, and the team's general inability to build consistency outside of December, they showed signs of improvement, which can be pointed to Skiles and his no-nonsense coaching style.
Skiles' first season with the Magic helped lay the ground work to what they hope to continue to build moving forward. This summer is big for not only Skiles, but the franchise as a whole as they continue to build back towards their late-2000's form.