Saturday, May 30, 2009

They Grow Up So Fast

Let me start out by saying that, in all honesty, I never expected the Magic to get this far, this fast. If you look back thru this blog, it's obvious how much I followed this team thru the year, and how much I liked following their games and their progress. I copped tickets to games when the Magic came to town verses both the Knicks and the Nets, and watched them on NBA League Pass whenever I could. Simply stated, I truly love this collection of talent that GM Otis Smith has put together.

They started with a bit of luck, getting the ping-pong balls to bounce right in their favour 5 years ago. After grabbing the prize of that 2004 draft, they slowly but surely put together a complimentary, talented bunch of likable players. Every year they put more and more pieces to the puzzle, first with guys like Hedo, then to the no-longer-criticized Rashard Lewis signing (though they probably still did overpay him), to this year getting Pietrus, Courtney Lee, and others. Some time ago in this blog, I predicted that the Eastern Conference better take note, because with such a monster being surrounded by such quality talent, it was only a matter of time before the other teams would be rendered to also-ran status.

But, again honestly, never did I think it would happen this quickly. More than likely aided by the Kevin Garnett injury, the young Magic made it thru to the Eastern Conference finals; again, I actually picked against them in the series with the Celtics. I admittedly thought they'd find a way to let the series slip away, much like they did in Game 5, allowing the Celtics to hang around long enough for Big Baby Davis to hit that memorable game-winner. At that point, the Magic were down 3-2, had a playoff run littered with a number of blown leads and missed opportunities, and were set up to fade into the summer with a good amount of post-season experience to lead them to grow into the future as a team.

But a funny thing happened: their growth took an exponential jump between games 5 and 6. They didn't follow the script of the young up-and-coming upstart team running into a more veteran, tested team along the way of their growth into a conference powerhouse. In hindsight, perhaps that playoff-experience-gaining run actually happened last year? Who knows, but however it happened, these young guns grew up, and grew up quickly. They ran thru the last 2 games against the Celtics with a newfound confidence, and then dispatched of another team they were fully qualified to beat. Naturally, they found ways to make it more difficult than it should have been, like getting off to sluggish starts in all 3 road games, and again allowing their opponent to stick around long enough to become the sidebar in the most over-celebrated shot in NBA history. But they finished the job, and did so in fairly-impressive fashion.

Now they'll gear up to take another step in their growth: playing on the highest of stages, against the best of the Western Conference. Congrats to my favourite young team. From Superman to the Jordan of Turkey, from Shard (owner of the 2nd-prettiest jumper in history) to a Caribbean-brother MP, from young gun Courtney to chissled-veteran Battie, I enjoyed watching you guys play and grow this year. I predicted that you had this success in your future; I just never knew you'd find it within you this quickly! Congratulations and good work.

And condolences to the rest of the Eastern Conference. Barring injury, I'm sure a year from now we'll be looking at a Celtics/Magic Conference finals; after that? Age kicks in, and nothing but a shrinking salary-cap or the 2010 free-agent sweepstakes is going to save the Conference from a long run of looking up at the Magic. Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, and LeBron better switch home addresses if they hope to pose any kind of challenge to this young core.

Assuming GM Smith can continue to work his "magic" in keeping this team together thru the future free agencies of Turkoglu, Gortat, and others, we may be looking at the start of something special.

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