Courtesy of Josh Robbins
Orlando Sentinel: Why are the Magic struggling?
Rob Hennigan: I think it’s fair to say that we’re struggling. I think it’s fair to say that we’re not where we want to be, and that’s the bottom line. So I think a lot of reasons contribute to the performance the team has displayed over the course of the season. I’m not sure we can pinpoint it to one area. But certainly we’re all aware of the fact that we’re struggling and we’re not where we want to be and we need to aggressively look to continue to improve the team.
OS: What are some of the areas that you’ve pinpointed?
Hennigan: Certainly as we’ve watched the season transpire I think internally there’s room for improvement if we can harness some consistency that has evaded us over the course of the season. Getting back to our defensive roots — I think that’s something that can be, or potentially be, addressed internally. And then I think externally — I’m not going to spill internal secrets here — some more shot-making and shooting and maybe feel-for-the-game type of qualities along our perimeter could help us.
Hennigan: Obviously, if we had the answer to that we’d be employing those solutions. I think that is sort of an enigma to our season, and I think one of the biggest frustrations we have is, I think, we’ve shown our capabilities at times. I think we’ve shown flashes that we believe we’re capable of continuing to show. But we’ve also shown our incapabilities sustaining that type of effort night-in and night-out. We built the team with a defensive-minded identity at the forefront with a defensive-minded coach, and we’ve just had difficulty gaining traction in that area. But we’re confident we have what it takes internally to turn that around.
OS: After losses, players have often talked about energy and effort being lacking. How is that possible? Shouldn’t energy and effort be more of a given rather than inconsistent?
Hennigan: Absolutely. I think those are two areas where if our fans watch us play they have every right to be frustrated and disappointed when that happens, because those two things should be givens. And if they’re not, quite frankly, then that’s on me.
OS: How is that on you if the energy and effort are not there?
Hennigan: Because we decide who’s on the team and who’s not on the team. Our belief is that our players possess energy and competitiveness and fight. We just don’t do it on a consistent-enough basis.
OS: Does the team need to make a trade before the deadline to get back into the playoff hunt?
Hennigan: The simple answer to that is we need to explore every and all options to improve the team, and so we’re going to be aggressive. We’re going to be active in our discussions and in the opportunities we seek out. So we’re going to look to be active. I’m not sure it’s a “necessity,” but it’s certainly something that’s in our best interests to explore.
OS: The league is going toward more small ball. At least the league is more oriented toward the 3-point shot and toward better spacing. Are the Magic optimally constructed offensively to be a part of that trend and constructed defensively to defend against small-ball teams?
Hennigan: As we continue to build the team we certainly need to keep in mind the trends of the NBA. We built this team to be a defensive-minded team. And we also built this team to have the flexibility to play multiple ways. And while that hasn’t necessarily manifested itself throughout the season, we feel like our vision and our philosophy now and going forward will be to construct a team that can play big, that can play small and vary from opponent to opponent.
I think certainly — absent an elite player that becomes available — we need to continue to try to add more shooting and shot-making and basketball IQ to the team wherever we can find it. But we need to continue to place an emphasis on rim protection as well because of the way the game’s officiated nowadays.
OS: Given Serge’s and Bismack’s ability to switch onto the perimeter at times and Nikola Vucevic’s defensive improvement, are you surprised that the team hasn’t done better defending against small-ball teams?
Hennigan: I would just say we’re extremely disappointed and frustrated with our overall defensive performance to date. So we need to correct that. We need to rectify it both with what we can do internally and ways we can try to improve it externally.
OS: Are you going to re-sign Serge in free agency this summer?
Hennigan: We don’t comment on those things publicly. We value Serge a great deal. He’s been really good for us, and he’s certainly someone that we hope is in our future.
OS: Because he’ll be a free agent this summer, do you have to go into the trade deadline entertaining the possibility of having to trade him?
Hennigan: We have to go into the trade deadline looking to improve the team by any means necessary. So we’re not in a position with our team right now to not explore and listen to any ideas or concepts that come our way or that we inquire about. So the goal’s to improve the team any way we can.
Hennigan: Our job is to be aggressive and looking for ways to improve the team. Our job is to be aggressive and looking for ways to take calculated risks to improve the team, and that will continue to be our approach because the bottom line is we need to get better and we’re not where we want to be.
OS: Why hasn’t Mario Hezonja been productive?
Hennigan: I think Mario is going through some developmental pains — some “growing pains” for lack of a better phrase. I think that it’s certainly not uncommon for players to go through this early in their career. I think Mario certainly wants to play more and impact the game more. Our desire is the same. I think Mario just needs to continue to sort of get his bearings and learn the speed and the nuances of the NBA game, and I think those are the areas that, like a lot of young players, he’s navigating at the moment. But certainly we still value Mario a great deal and still consider him a very important player for us moving forward.
OS: Was he hurt by the turnover in coaches and by playing internationally the last two years?
Hennigan: I think the lack of continuity with our coaching staff over the last couple of seasons during our rebuild has definitely been a challenge for the team as a whole. I think one of the great benefits to Frank [Vogel] is I feel like finally we have a head coach and a coaching staff that we can build some continuity with. So we’re excited about that.
Relative to national team play I think certainly Mario’s dedication and participation with the Croatian national team is extremely important and something he should definitely participate in if it’s important to him. But I do think clearly the case can be made that it may have maybe delayed some of his personal development that could have been gained during the summer.
OS: What are you seeing from Elfrid, and is he the Magic’s point guard of the future?
Hennigan: I’m really encouraged and excited about Elfrid’s development. I think especially over the last few weeks he appears to be gaining a level of aggressiveness and comfort at the position that I think bodes well for our team. I think, like anyone on our team, our goal is to improve. Our goal is to get better. And we need to explore any means necessary to do that. But certainly with E.P.’s play and his work ethic and our belief in how good he can become he’s certainly an integral part of our team and very, very valuable to us.
OS: Did you expect more from Bismack?
Hennigan: Bismack has been great. I think Biz has brought to our team exactly what we anticipated: his toughness, his energy, his spirit, his ability to be a paint presence defensively. Like most of our players, we think his best basketball is still ahead of him based on his age and his work ethic.
OS: What do you make of Aaron Gordon’s season — particularly of his adjustment to playing the three full time?
Hennigan: We’re really encouraged by Aaron’s development. Aaron is a basketball player first and foremost, and he’s a forward first and foremost. And I think the developmental opportunity he’s getting now with the ability to defend perimeter players, with the ability to make more decisions with the ball in his hands will only continue to help him and accelerate his growth.
Like most young players, there are going to be nights where he has it going. There are going to be nights that are going to be a struggle. But by and large we’re very pleased and very excited about the growth curve that he’s on and the potential that he has.
OS: Given that the team is struggling now, when you look back at the rebuilding plan that went into effect in 2012, was it necessary or the best route to rebuild the team from the bottom up and not keep veterans such as Ryan Anderson and J.J. Redick?
Hennigan: I think there’s always, as there should be, reflection on decisions you’ve made in the past. And there’s always sort of a Monday-morning quarterback component to every decision. And so I think as we and as I personally have looked back, the goal is to be an elite team and to be a championship-caliber team. That remains our goal.
I’m not convinced that had we taken a different approach we would be in a much different place. I think the approach we took was the right approach. I think while we’re probably a little behind in where we thought we’d be, we’re still really excited about the growth potential of our young players on our team. We’re excited about the opportunities and the resources we have to continue to improve the team through free agency and trades and draft picks. That’s a tough question, but it’s certainly something we’ve thought about.
OS: How do you evaluate Frank Vogel’s performance?
Hennigan: Frank’s been great. Frank has been really an uplifting presence for our organization and for our locker room and for our sideline. He brings a tremendous work ethic and attitude and ability to instill just really good vibes and communication throughout the team. I think all of us need to continue to give Frank patience as he sorts through a new team, a lot of new pieces and dynamics that he’s trying to figure out.
Frank and I are joined at the hip when it comes to decisions we want to make to improve the team, and we’ll continue to work very closely together with that approach. But overall he’s been really, really good, and we’re lucky to have him.
OS: How much pressure do you feel from yourself and from within the organization?
Hennigan: I would say the pressure I put on myself is probably greater than any external pressure that I feel. But certainly in this type of business that’s very public and a business that requires sort of zero-sum results, I absolutely feel pressure and put a lot of pressure on myself to continue to improve the team as quickly as possible.
OS: Do you worry about your job security?
Hennigan: That’s not for me to really comment on. I worry about coming to work every day and doing the best I can with the great group we have and trying to continue to push the team forward.
OS: What do you see as the next phase for the team?
Hennigan: I think the next phase is sort of twofold. One is: Let’s harness the potential and the capability all of us know we have currently on the team. We need to refine that. We need to harness that. We need to get back to a defensive-minded brand of basketball. And then we need to look elsewhere to continue to add to the team, continue to find experience, shooting, feel for the game, et cetera.
Hennigan: Injuries are a part of any NBA season. Every team faces the injury bug at some point during the season. It certainly doesn’t make it easier for us. But we’ve dug ourselves into this hole with a healthy team, so we’ve got to figure a way to dig ourselves out regardless of who’s available.