It was the start of the 2011-12 NBA season and the Orlando Magic were coming off a six-game series lost to the Atlanta Hawks the previous season. But the it felt different on the eve of a new season. The Magic were another season removed of the run to the NBA Finals in 2009. In 2010, the Magic fell to the Celtics in the conference finals and things looked liked the team was moving further from a title contender. There was a sense that maybe Stan Van Gundy's style was wearing thin and there was a sense that Dwight Howard's happiness was becoming an issue.
But all that took a backseat to the bigger story in the league. A lockout delayed the start of the season two months and the schedule was trimmed to 66 games and opened on Christmas Day. That day the Magic lost on the road at Oklahoma City 97-89 with a starting lineup of:
SF- Hedo Turkoglu
PF- Ryan Anderson
C- Dwight Howard
SG- Jason Richardson
PG- Jameer Nelson
Off the bench - JJ Reddick, Glen Davis and Chris Duhon
Most NBA experts predicted the Magic would fall into the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference. The team may have bid against no one for Jason Richardson and the sign-and-trade for Glen Davis was a head scratcher but all eyes were on Dwight and would the team trade him.
Howard went from asking for a trade to changing his mind about committing to an extension to changing his mind again and it became an embarrassment for all.
All this was going on after Bob Vander Weide resigned for his off the court issues and Alex Martins took over and inherited the Dwight mess. Days earlier the Magic announced that Dwight could seek trades with the Lakers, Nets and Mavericks.
Otis Smith, then GM, seemed focused on doing whatever it took to make Dwight happy and bring in as many of his friends that they could. Stan wasn't on board with that idea and it became obvious this season was going to get bumpy. Rumors swirled about the Magic trading Dwight before the season and we all know what happened later in the season with Dwight basically asking for Stan to be fired and Stan confirming that Dwight asked him to be fired.
The team still stood at 32-18 after 50 games and looked like it was weathering the storm and playing well to think a playoff run was possible. But a five-game losing streak sent the season spiraling.
On April 7, 2012, Dwight Howard helped the Magic snap that five-game slide with an 88-82 win in Philadelphia. Dwight had 20 points and 22 rebounds. It was his last game ever for the Magic. He underwent back surgery and never returned. The Magic finished 37-29 and were ousted by the Indiana Pacers in five games and the team was held below 90 points in four of the five games.
Two weeks after that final game, Stan Van Gundy was fired. One month later Rob Hennigan was hired as the new GM and exactly three months after Stan was fired the team traded Dwight Howard to the Lakers and the rebuild was on.
Jacque Vaughn was hired as the new coach. Vaughn was considered an up and coming assistant and someone that could develop young players. The Magic starting lineup opening night that season in 2012-13:
SF- Hedo Turkoglu
PF- Glen Davis
C- Nik Vucevic
SG- Aaron Afflalo
PG- Jameer Nelson
Off the bench: JJ Reddick, Josh McRoberts, E'Twaun Moore and Andrew Nicholson
That Magic team won opening night, beating Denver 102-89. In fact, the Magic started 2-0 before losing their next five and finishing the season 20-62.
A decade later, the Magic are starting another rebuild with a young roster and a new coach, known for his ability to connect with young players and develop them. Sound familiar?
The Magic have won 40 games in a season once in the last decade. They have appeared in the playoffs twice and have not been past the first round since 2010.
Here's hoping the next decade is a bit different than the last. It has to be, right?
Final thought: In 32 NBA seasons, the Orlando Magic have made the playoffs 16 times. In 11 of those playoff appearances, the Magic have been eliminated in the first round.