Rob Hennigan, Orlando Magic must focus on the future

The Orlando Magic’s season has gone off the rails and the team is facing some stern questions. The first thing they must do is recover hope for the future.

The heat is rising on Orlando Magic general manager Rob Hennigan.

Entering the week, the Magic continued to hold on to fading Playoff hopes. Frank Vogel pointed to his 2015 Indiana Pacers that were sitting just one game better than the Magic before turning in an incredible run to fall a game short of the Playoffs with 38 wins. That is the pace set for the eighth seed.

Orlando’s path to the Playoffs was still unlikely but was not impossible. And the Magic have played a high level of defense before. There always remained hope they could recapture that.

The Magic’s week did not generate confidence. The last-second loss to the Philadelphia 76ers was frustrating. The Magic got outworked and gave the game away by their own lack of execution, relying on an official’s call — or non-call. The NBA did not issue a Last Two Minutes Report on the game since it did not qualify.

The Magic followed that up with perhaps their most embarrassing performance of the season The 112-80 loss to the Dallas Mavericks was yet another game where the Magic fell behind by 30 points. The occurrence has become too commonplace.

It is clear as it has ever been, this is not a Playoff team. Not even close. And talking about making a run for the Playoffs at this point — with the fourth-worst record in the league — is fantasy.

The ship probably already sailed on that dream a while ago.

That does not even mention the deadline pressure that comes one week from Thursday. The Magic will have decisions to make at the trade deadline. And with the team likely to deal Serge Ibaka, arguably the team’s best player, that infinitesimally small possibility is all but completely snuffed out.

The Magic will have big decisions to make in the next two weeks. Rob Hennigan will make those decisions. The Magic will not decide his future until the offseason.

Beyond that?

Beyond this season is where the Magic’s focus has to lie for the rest of the season. The Magic must look to their long-term future and look to return to building a sustainable growing team. The focus is on the future now.

It means Mario Hezonja gets minutes and the ability to play through mistakes. It means experimenting with Aaron Gordon at the 3 AND the 4, giving him time to explore the full depths of his game.

It means preparing to build around and with the upcoming draft pick. It means searching for a player who can be part of the team’s future beyond this season in the Serge Ibaka trade, restocking the cupboard.

Most importantly, the Magic need to spend the rest of this season finding ways to give fans and the franchise hope that it has something to build upon in the future. Everything the rest of this season is about building for that future. Even if Hennigan is not around to build it to its end.

Hope is that one element that is missing right now. The Magic without some major changes are not going to go much of anywhere.

This is, as some would say, a bad team not of young prospects but of veterans underperforming. That failure is on Hennigan as much as anyone.

And that, as Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel argues, might be the main reason to move on from Hennigan this offseason.

The team has lost a lot of its hope. Aaron Gordon is a nice, but still developing and raw player. He is learning good skills at small forward, but offensively his future is not there.

Gordon is a nice, but still developing and raw player. He is learning good skills at small forward, but offensively his future is not there. The team simply does not fit together, perhaps the greatest sin of this rushed push for the Playoffs. The players Orlando wants to feature are not complemented well. They get in each other’s way.

Orlando should spend the rest of this season building hope in whatever way they can. They need to give fans a reason to believe beyond the upcoming draft pick. It may take some exploration and a few more losses, but they need to capture something to carry forward to 2018.

It will not happen all at once this season. The Magic could trade Ibaka or even Nikola Vucevic or Elfrid Payton and not have a firm future. But they need to find a direction.

They need to build a glimmer of their future that whoever they decide to move forward with and whatever direction they at this year’s deadline provides some glimpse or hope for the future.

No one may yet know what form that takes.

It could be unleashing Gordon and Mario Hezonja in more effective ways. It could be a player or a fit that they acquire at the trade deadline. It could be from firing Rob Hennigan and giving Magic fans the scapegoat they need and a fresh set of eyes on the organization. It could simply be from winning the Lottery.

Much of what will make the 2018 season will happen in the offseason. The changes start at the trade deadline. And there, the Magic must begin to resahpe the organization and give fans hope for a better future.

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