The Orlando Magic's Game 3 nose-dive pushed the countdown button on looking forward to the upcoming summer.
In the recesses of general manager Otis Smith's mind, games four through six became an on-the-job tryout.
The tryouts ended Friday night, and now the off-season officially launches.
Smith made drastic roster changes last off-season. Six new names joined the Magic roster at the beginning of 2009.
The make-up of the franchise had shifted to emphasize the inside aspect, of the team's inside-out offensive approach.
The Magic worked through some early season growing pains, to find their stride the last third of the season. The Magic continued to dominate in the post-season, sweeping the Charlotte Bobcats and the Atlanta Hawks in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Then the Magic faced the test of defeating a championship team. Literally the same starting five that won the 2008 NBA Championship.
Orlando failed the test.
Now Smith must determine the Magic's path forward, in the team's self-described
"mission" for an NBA championship.
Some decisions will be made for him. Others will require weighing risk versus reward.
Below I've analyzed three initial questions facing Smith, as his team heads into the off-season.
Go More Traditional or Stay With the Threes?
This may be one of the most intriguing questions going into the summer. I personally hate the three-point oriented offense. Others think it gives a team an added advantage.
For the Magic, it led to two playoff series ending with the Magic being dominated when long-range jumpers stopped falling.
After demonstrating his readiness to have a greater impact on the offense during the Eastern Conference Finals, Dwight Howard definitely needs more touches.
Head coach Stan Van Gundy must figure out how to reconcile Howard's need to get touches, against his propensity for the three point shot.
Adding a more effective threat from the four position would create more offensive opportunities, both in the paint and for shooters. Again, these types of moves require some concession from Van Gundy.
Staying with the three would mean finding better play-makers. Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals came down to Boston making shots and the Magic's inability to do so.
In order to win a title, someone will have to make plays other than Dwight Howard.
Who Constitutes Your Core?
During the post-game trophy presentation, Celtics head coach Doc Rivers noted that his starting five had already won an NBA Championship. Rivers believes Boston's starting five can do it again.
Doc knows in the history of the NBA Finals—the better team, not the team with the best players, takes home the gold ball. It takes time to develop a team good enough to win a title. But you have to start somewhere.
My picks for the Magic's "Untouchables" list, would be Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson, J.J. Redick, Ryan Anderson, Brandon Bass, Matt Barnes, and Jason Williams.
Everyone else could be available for the right deal. That doesn't mean Smith would actively seek to trade those not on the list.
You do have to believe that Vince Carter seems susceptible to being expendable more than any other Magic starter. He could be attractive to a team looking to dump some salary.
Matt Barnes possesses a player option. J.J. Redick enters restricted free-agency. So finances play a part in personnel decisions.
In the end, Smith may determine that change is not what his team needs. A great deal will depend on how much faith he places in Anderson and Bass improving.
Can the Magic Improve With a Sign and Trade Deal?
Most of the discussion surrounding free-agency evolves around the teams with room to sign max-contract players.
Teams at risk of losing those super free-agents will be looking to cut their losses. Getting something in return makes more sense than simply letting go of your best player.
Marcin Gortat creates opportunities for the Magic. All NBA franchises have some level of interest in a reliable 7-foot center. How much interest remains to be seen.
A sign-and-trade with Gortat and Lewis would put Bosh in the $20 to $25 million dollar salary range.
How much would the Magic be willing to give up in terms of talent to work a deal for Dwayne Wade?
It's a long shot yes. But up to this point, Wade has been less than specific as to what will keep him in Miami. He knows the benefits of playing with a dominate big man.
In the end, there is only one LeBron James, and only so many quality players to go around.
Finding an already established contender may become more attractive than starting over with a rebuilt roster.
No One Really Knows
One thing we do know, is that we don't know. Smith keeps his intentions very private, most times in total secrecy until the deal is inked.
It will take more than just roster moves to get Orlando over the hump. That said, Howard needs more people to make plays.
Unlike many other teams, the Magic have a legitimate superstar in Howard. And they have a good set of quality players. One or two more critical pieces could be enough.