AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack
The tank is good for you. That’s what everyone wants to believe.
When the games on the court become something of a lost cause, focus shifts to games of probability. The actual losses — those that show up in the box score and go down in the record books — are supposed to be net gains, moving the odds a percentage point or two in your favor. There are no guarantees, as Magic fans know all too well from the 2013 Draft Lottery,* but you roll with the numbers and put faith in the idea that they’ll play out more successfully than the season has.
*Though thanks to the Cavaliers selecting Anthony Bennett with the first overall pick, Orlando ended up getting the player they wanted anyway. Having Cleveland drafting ahead of you is a good way of hedging your risks, apparently.
Embracing the process is nice, of course. And when it works, you end up with Tim Duncan, which is also nice. But the process is also jagged and dark, a place where entertainment often goes to hibernate for the long winter of the rebuild. To tank is to climb K2 in the dark; to do so with grace would be to find the summit.
Through the first three weeks of 2014, the Magic have struggled mightily against the forces of the ascent. A back-and-forth victory over the Boston Celtics on Sunday gave Orlando reprieve from a 10-game losing streak, but their struggles in January — and all season — are best summed up in a visualization from Basketball-Reference.com:
The green bars are wins, the red bars are losses. The slight breaks between groupings are the different months of the season. And that last group, with 12 (mostly big) red bars and one tiny green bar? That would be January, naturally. In an uphill fight, Orlando’s embroiled in a fight against gravity just to stand up.
All of this puts Magic fans in a pretty tough situation. The future of the franchise is the clear objective, even in the present, yet the games right now are all they really have. When you want to tune in and watch professional basketball, it sucks to know that you’re in for growing pains on a nightly basis.
Blowout losses are a distinct possibility, and the best-case scenario is a nail-biter that comes down to the final possession. Don’t get me wrong — close games are awesome. But it’s nice to win a blowout every once in a while, you know? At least Orlando fans could count on a few of those in the first month of the season.
Regardless of the potential for disappointment, however, Magic supporters will find the bright spots and continue to watch through the rough times. Be it the growth of Victor Oladipo (not to mention his devastating dunks), the post dominance of Nikola Vucevic, the All-Star candidacy of Arron Afflalo, the mystic legends of Glen Davis, there are positives here. There are reasons to watch and spend time with this team.
What other choice is there? Like everything else for the Magic, it’s an investment in the future.