“Parting is such sweet sorrow”
-Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
“Fire sale. That was nothing but a fire sale in Orlando”
-Reggie Miller, speaking of the Magic’s moves by the trading deadline
It was a fitting goodbye, a one-point Orlando victory in the final seconds of the game, a hard-fought contest that was meaningful only in its symbolism and nowhere else, especially not the NBA standings. The outcome of Wednesday’s game, uplifted by a last second lay-up from Evan Fournier, reminded those lucky enough to attend what they once had… and what they were about to lose.
Three players who had become synonymous with the Magic would no longer be there the very next afternoon. Magic fans knew the end was near and that the relationship with the players they once knew would soon be no more.
Drafted fourth overall in 2014, Aaron Gordon of slam dunk contest and Uncle Drew fame, was about to play his last game in a Magic uniform. Nikola Vucevic, an all-star playing the best basketball of his career, would similarly be heading elsewhere. He leaves Orlando as its third all-time leading scorer. The team’s seventh all-time leading scorer, Frenchman Evan Fournier was also shipped off at the deadline. Wednesday, they were Magic. Thursday, they were not. It was a simple as that.
With their three best players shipped off to Denver, Chicago and Boston respectively, the Magic now look to start over. Hours before, I sat with friends and family, three different generations of loved ones, cheering the Magic we’ve come to know for the very last time. I knew it and they knew it. It was foolish to think any differently.
These three, the starting core of the Orlando Magic, had played together for seven seasons. Despite a fair amount of All-Star Weekend highlights, they failed to win a single playoff series. In fact, the team only had one winning season over that stretch.
The results were far from optimal. The team had become an afterthought. Recognizing that particular combination of players were unable to make their mark, ownership knew it was time to move on.
With the NBA’s trade deadline coming at 4:00 the very next afternoon, rumors swirled as to where there they might end up. Keeping these three together was the unlikeliest of options, especially if offers of future draft picks were on the table. They were. Knowing this was likely the last time we’d see them play together, my crew and I rolled out to pay our respects. What we ended up with was one last, Magic-al evening, a first for some, a last for others.
Chris Paul’s Phoenix Suns were their opponent that evening. Record-wise, it was one of the league’s best teams versus one of its worst. But that’s why they play the games.
Showing there was still some fight left in the dog, the Magic proved victorious. The ever-steady Nikola Vucevic poured in 27 points and 14 rebounds. It’s just what he does. He will soon become a fan favorite in Chicago. The over-sized French guard Evan Fournier also put together a solid game, scoring 21 points on 8-16 shooting, including the game-winner. Aaron Gordon, who never quite developed into the player the Magic had hoped, finished with a lethargic 13 points and 7 boards. His bags were all but packed. The Nuggets now look to get something out of Gordon the Magic could not. The Suns three stars did not disappoint. Devin Booker, Chris Paul and DeAndre Ayton scored 25, 23 and 21 respectively but they were sent home with a loss, although not as big a loss the Magic would suffer after unloading half their roster.
These three cleared out their lockers but not before helping their former team win one final game. It was only their tenth home win of the season. It’s the NBA and sometimes difficult decisions need to be made. This Magic team could never get over the hump. As unfortunate as it may seem, the time had come to start anew.
With multiple draft picks landed in exchange for Orlando’s big three, the Magic now use a word no fan base is fond of… rebuild. With more years of mediocrity and missed draft picks looming ahead, Magic fans face the unfortunate circumstance of wanting to see the visiting team more than the home one.
So, knowing that nothing lasts forever, we cheer to new beginnings while fondly remembering what was and perhaps, what could have been. Thanks for the minutes, boys. And now, back to the drawing board.