Back in May, when the Orlando Magic were sweeping through Atlanta like William Tecumseh Sherman in 1864, destroying the Hawks without mercy and cruising to the Eastern Conference finals, they looked like the class of the NBA.
They had taken the East playoffs by storm, and they looked poised to finally bring a championship back to Orlando. But the Celtics dispatched them from the East finals in six, and what lay ahead was a long summer of everyone around them improving while they stood basically pat. The Magic might not be the best team in their own state, let alone the NBA.
2009-10 Record: 59-23 (first in Southeast Division, second in Eastern Conference, lost to Celtics in East finals)
Celtics' record vs. Magic: 42-41 all time, 1-3 last season, won East finals in six
Familiar faces: Stanley Robinson (just graduated from UConn)
Key additions: Quentin Richardson (free agent), Chris Duhon (free agent), Daniel Orton (draft), Stanley Robinson (draft)
Key losses: Matt Barnes (signed with Lakers)
Burning question: Will the Magic still rule the Southeast?
Just when you thought the Southeast Division couldn't get any tougher, the Wizards go and make the best draft pick anyone's made in years, and the Heat add two of the biggest superstars in the game.
Miami's now a consensus favorite to win the East, the Washington's now bordering on competitive, and both Atlanta and Charlotte remain tough as nails.
The Magic did virtually nothing this summer to stay ahead of the Southeast pack. Losing Barnes and adding Quentin Richardson is a lateral movement at best, a significant defensive downgrade at worst. Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis aren't getting any younger, and this Orlando team might have missed its best chance to make a serious run at a title.
Dwight Howard is still an unbelievable player, a franchise big man just entering his prime. Superman will carry the Magic on his back to a deep playoff run if he has to. But taking the East by storm again this season is easier said than done. This year, it's going to be a dogfight.
2010-11 Outlook: The Magic are still deep, still dangerous, still loaded with talent at every position. But another 59-win season seems like a reach. Nothing will come easy to the Magic, but if Howard has another huge year and the supporting cast brings enough defense and hits enough big shots, they're still in business. Another deep playoff run is definitely a possibility in Orlando.
Did you know? The Magic won the last basketball game ever played at the old Boston Garden. On May 5, 1995, they eliminated the Celtics in the first round of the East playoffs with a 95-92 victory in Game 4, powered by 25 points and 13 rebounds from none other than current Celtic Shaquille O'Neal.