1st season without Dwight painful

Magic hold out glimmer of hope after awful season

Orlando Magic coach after loss to Chicago

And so my dear Magic faithful, that's that.

The home season – the other half of the most painful season in franchise history -- ended mercifully Monday night at Amway Center.

Game 82 will be played Wednesday in Miami. It's a devilish little scheduling quirk, as if the Magic need to be reminded how far they are from catching the Heat. Try light years.

Fan Appreciation Night at the home finale never held a deeper meaning. The club should have given everyone who followed this 60-loss atrocity a fruit basket and a year's supply of Advil. More agony awaits.

Magic patrons made it through their first season without Dwight Howard.

There was a lot of angst, but no surprises in the aftermath. Not really.

Everybody knew the crash and the clean-up were coming.

We could easily place an embargo on ever uttering Dwight's name again, but that's not reality.

The reality of the NBA is that no other sport – largely because of its minimal numbers -- can be so dramatically changed by the exit of a superstar.

An NFL team can lose its quarterback, but there are 40 other guys to lean on. A baseball club can replace an all-star hitter if it pitches and turns double plays. Hockey is the ultimate team -- and toothless – game.

Losing a would-be hoops Hall-of-Fame center causes massive change and collateral damage.

Coaches, managers, beloved complementary players and well-heeled fans are sucked into the black hole.

A team goes from circling playoff dates to circling the wagons to circling the drain. All because of one very large human.

Dwight's arrival eventually pushed the Magic into the '09 Finals. His messy departure pushed them back into taking annual pilgrimages to the lottery.

The Year After Dwight is absolutely the most excruciating in club history, given that Lakers' lightning had now struck the Magic twice. Howard followed Shaq's route to L.A. and his parting from Orlando was much uglier.

The franchise rebounded after Shaq and again after the Tracy McGrady-Grant Hill misfire. Now they are in the tricky process of creating hope again.

So the Magic have done if before, under different front offices and with all of Rich DeVos' money.

Stars have come and gone. Whatever blame you assign to DeVos, remember, he'll always dig into his wallet to support the franchise's uncanny penchant of landing No. 1 picks and marquee free agents.

The Magic have had their share of star-power. They've just never been good enough to win a ring, but never lousy for too long, never consistently miserable like Washington and Sacramento.

There's no guarantee and no timetable for the latest bottoming-out rebuild, of course, no matter how many slogans the Magic dream up. There's no way of knowing when they'll return to relevancy, when national TV, scalpers and consecutive sell-out streaks will be back.

If you trust their track record, it won't be long, maybe five years. Four more years is an eternity to fans, but it's a blip in a franchise's total recovery.

The latest folks approved by DeVos to call the shots, coach and play are young, savvy and inexperienced.

Rob Hennigan, the league's youngest GM, salvaged what he could from the Howard deal, mainly Nik Vucevic and Moe Harkless. He culled Tobias Harris from the unpopular trade of J.J. Redick. He's betting on finding more youthful talent and clearing room for free agents.

He's following the Oklahoma City/San Antonio model because that's all he knows, and it's a way to win for a long time.

There are growing pains After Dwight. And glimmers of hope, too.

bschmitz@tribune.com.

 
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