By John Denton
April 12, 2017
ORLANDO – With Orlando wrapping up another season with a losing record and a spot outside of the playoffs for a fifth straight year, several players were hit with the realization on Wednesday that it could be their final game in Magic pinstripes.
Included among the group of players who are uncertain about the future the franchise will head next season is shooting guard Evan Fournier, the Magic’s leading scorer and most productive player this season. Fournier, who signed a long-term contract extension with the Magic last July, came into Wednesday’s finale averaging career bests in scoring (17.2 ppg.), rebounding (3.1 rpg.), assists (3.0 apg.) and minutes (32.9 mpg.), but he conceded that even he could be one of the casualties of a slumping roster that might be shaken up over what figures to be another busy offseason.
“I’m fully aware that it might be my last game with the Magic because you never know what can happen,’’ said Fournier, whose career has blossomed in his three seasons in Orlando. “When you lose, that’s really when things shake up and teams make a lot of changes. So, yeah, everyone is fully aware (that changes could come).
“I’m not the type of guy who is concerned by that sort of thing,’’ Fournier added. “At the end of the day, my job is to get better and play basketball and I can’t control those (roster changes). To be honest, I don’t even want to think about it because it’s just a waste of time and a waste of energy. Again, you can’t control it, so why focus on it?’’
Fournier spent most of his offseason in Orlando last summer so that he could work on improving his game. He did just that this season, boosting his scoring average for a fifth straight season. However, he said it’s been almost impossible to enjoy his individual success because of the Magic’s struggles again.
“(The individual success is) rewarding for me because I spent a lot of time in the gym in the offseason. I stayed pretty much all summer in Orlando working on my game and staying in the weight room,’’ said Fournier, a native of suburban Paris, France. “It is rewarding, but at the end of the day you want to win and make the playoffs. So, it doesn’t change my feeling about this season.’’
MESSAGE TO THE FANS: Frank Vogel took the Magic’s head coaching job last May knowing that there was a mandate to get the franchise back into the mix for the playoffs following four painful years of rebuilding. Vogel never shied away from those expectations, touting the Magic as playoff ready all throughout the preseason and the early stages of the regular season.
Vogel knew the Magic would have major hurdles on the offensive end of the floor because of their lack of a go-to scorer. But he thought the team’s veteran presence and defense-first mindset would keep the team in the hunt for a playoff spot all season.
However, Vogel soon saw that Orlando would struggle to keep pace with the top teams in the Eastern Conference.
“I liked the team coming in and I thought we had a good chance, but some things didn’t work out this year that we’ll have to try and fix and do differently going forward,’’ Vogel said. “Gradually we were failing, but we tried our best all the way through. Mathematically we were still alive (into late March) and we were still trying to compete. We were still trying to build something in terms of a winning culture. There are obviously a lot of reasons why it didn’t work out this year, but I don’t want to get into them all right now. I’m going to take some time away and evaluate the totality of it.’’
Vogel said he wanted to get the Magic back into the playoffs this season to reward the fans who have suffered through the past four seasons of rebuilding. Despite even more struggles this season, Magic still supported the team in impressive numbers. Coming into Wednesday’s finale, crowds at the Amway Center averaged out to 17,710 fans a game – good for 15th in the 30-team NBA this season.
Vogel is hopeful that Magic fans will continue to be patient and supportive of the team.
“Bear with us. No one is more disappointed than we are in how this season went, but these things are cyclical,’’ Vogel said. “That’s proven over time that when a team is down it comes back around. The talent regenerates and you get it going in the right direction. Be patient with us because we’re very, very committed and determined to develop a winning product and culture here.’’
EXHAUSTING RUN: As the head coach in Indiana for 5 ½ seasons prior to coming to Orlando, Vogel reached the playoffs five times and twice got the Pacers to the Eastern Conference Finals. The one season he missed the postseason as a head coach – prior to this one, of course – the Pacers lost out on the No. 8 seed because of a tiebreaker.
Not readying a team for this weekend’s playoffs is a weird sensation, Vogel admitted. He said that in no way is he happy about the season ending this soon.
“It’s been mentally draining more than exhausting; exhausting is playing with this intensity until June,’’ Vogel said. “The fact that we’re done, I feel like I still want to get after it. But losing is difficult, so that’s made for a difficult year in that regard.’’
Vogel said he will take some time away from basketball to “decompress’’ and already has plans to visit Disney World with his wife and daughters this weekend. Some extra time off might prove beneficial for Vogel, who has gone through a whirlwind of change in his professional life over the past 11 months.
“For me, it’s about decompressing a little bit and spending time with my family,’’ Vogel said. “It’s been a long two years for me, personally, from the standpoint of Game 7 (with the Pacers), to getting fired (by Indiana), interviewing (for other coaching jobs), getting hired (by Orlando), to finding a house, new school (for his daughters) and all that stuff. Then, having the summer leading right into this season. So it will be a good opportunity for me and my family to catch our breaths.’’
T-ROSS ON THE FUTURE: The mid-season trading for shooting guard Terrence Ross made the Magic better equipped to face and keep pace with the sweeping trend of smaller lineups chock-full of 3-point shooters.
Orlando struggled early in the season while trying to rotate big men Nikola Vucevic, Bismack Biyombo and Serge Ibaka against smaller, faster teams. The Magic ultimately pulled the plug on the experiment on Feb. 14, dealing Ibaka to Toronto for Ross.
Ross came into Wednesday averaging 12.9 points on 36.4 percent shooting from 3-point range. He feels that after having 24 games this season and a full training camp of playing the new small-ball style that the Magic will be much more potent offensively in the future.
“We have the pieces to win, we have enough talent and I think next year will be a good opportunity for us to go into training camp and all buy into the style of play and what the roles and schemes should be,’’ Ross said. “That will be better than just trying to learn something on the fly. I really think next year will be better for us.’’
Ross, 26, wants to be more of a leader in the future. And he fully believes that the style of play that the Magic wants to play will suit his game perfectly.
“Next year is going to be really exciting because we’ll have a new way of playing and it will appeal to more of us,’’ he said. “I think we’re going to have more fun with it.’’
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