ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Orlando Magic president Alex Martins entered the season believing this was the franchise’s best chance to break into the playoffs for first time in the post-Dwight Howard era.
With 23 games remaining, Martins realizes that’s a longshot at best.
“The season to date has been incredibly disappointing,” Martins told The Associated Press. “We didn’t expect to be in mix for one of the top seeds by any stretch as we are progressing. Our hope was to get in there and make the playoffs.”
The team brought in two key veteran front-court additions to fuse with a young nucleus and hired an experienced playoff coach in Frank Vogel. The pieces seemed in place to end a five-year playoff drought.
But Orlando has the third-worst record in the NBA at 21-28 and have scrapped their dominant front-court plan, shipping Serge Ibaka to Toronto. Their slim postseason chances are quickly fading.
It’s other setback for 34-year-old general manager Rob Hennigan, who has not delivered on putting Orlando back into the playoffs during his nearly five-year tenure. The roster has been consistently re-made and three different head coaches have been hired during Hennigan’s tenure.
Martins expressed his excitement about the future of a young nucleus of players that includes Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton, Evan Fournier and now nearly acquired swingman Terrence Ross. He also spoke highly of Vogel, who was hired last May after a successful run with the Indiana Pacers .
But Martins didn’t mention Hennigan, who has one more year remaining on his contract.
When asked about the GM, the president said Hennigan’s future will be evaluated at the end of the season, along with the rest of the basketball operations staff.
“We feel that you have to have the complete book of business for the year to be able to evaluate them and we are going to do that,” Martins said. “Everybody is accountable to all of the results and we will evaluate our basketball operations staff extensively at the end of the year and make any decision that we need to make.”
Hennigan has not shied away from discussing his job security, acknowledging that things have not worked out as he had hoped to this point.
“The seat is always hot,” Hennigan said last week. “That’s something that comes with the territory and it’s just something that comes with the job. It’s a difficult job with a lot of complexities. We feel like we are figuring it out.”
But the results don’t seem to support Hennigan’s assertion that they are any closer to figuring it out than when he came aboard in June 2012. Draft picks haven’t panned out, free agents have been brought in and shipped out as quickly and there has seemed to be a revolving door at the head coaches’ office.
The latest fallout was the Ibaka acquisition that fell apart quickly. The Magic gave up a promising young player in Victor Oladipo and other assets in order to get Ibaka from Oklahoma City.
Ibaka, who entered the season on the final year of his contract, turned out not to be a good fit for the two-big men defensive scheme and wasn’t giving indication he would be willing to re-sign with the Magic this summer.
“We certainly didn’t want to put ourselves in that position if Serge were to make a decision to go elsewhere and not have anything to show for it,” Martins said. “We wanted to protect ourselves against that.”
There were reports Orlando would be active in trade market before Thursday’s deadline, but the only trade they ended up pulling off was the Ibaka-Ross deal. Martins said the team had hoped to add what it considered to be significant pieces as late as Thursday, but that it all fell through.
“As they say it takes two trade partners to make a deal happen but unfortunately nothing came to fruition,” he said.
Now the focus becomes finishing strong, eyeing what is being touted as one of the deepest drafts in years and then free agency. Martins anticipates having as much as $30 million in salary cap space to spend in free agency.
“If we can get lucky for the first time in several years in the lottery and get up into the top 3, obviously you have a difference maker in this draft,” Martins said. “We also expect to be aggressive in free agency this summer. So we will see.”