The Orlando Magic did not make major changes to their roster. If they are going to improve it will take sacrifice and internal growth.
The Orlando Magic are in their final preparations for the upcoming season.
The Amway Center arena crew is putting the new court down on the arena floor — including a sneak peek of the now-confirmed orange court from Terrence Ross via Instagram — and the team is in its final preparations for the first day of training camp next Tuesday.
Everyone is dotting their “i’s” and crossing their “t’s” before the season begins. If there is one thing anyone can count on it is that Steve Clifford will be prepared and have a plan for his team’s development.
Players have already been in Orlando for some time it appears. The team held optional workouts in the last month that seemed as well attended as they were last year when players gathered eager to make something of their 2019 season. The only players missing were those participating in the FIBA World Cup.
Now, even they will join their teammates as the NBA season gets ready to begin. Hopefully recharged after those high-intensity games.
But just like last year, there is a sense of excitement coming from the team. There is a belief they can do something special.
Last year, it was merely to make the playoffs. You could feel how eager the team was to change things — perhaps spurred by the urgency of several key free-agent decisions and the understanding that after six years missing the playoffs, the front office had to be willing to change.
The Magic thrived and finally found their identity.
This offseason brought virtually no changes — outside of adding Al-Farouq Aminu in free agency. The team will have continuity in a way few teams will have this year.
That would seemingly make Clifford’s job a bit easier. He can map out the rotations and lineup combinations that worked last year. There will be less instruction on the basics of what he wants to do on both ends of the floor in training camp. Their base of knowledge will be stronger.
The Orlando Magic finished ahead of the Detroit Pistons last season but here is why the script could be flipped in 2019-20.
One game separated the Detroit Pistons from the Orlando Magic in the 2019 NBA Playoffs. The Pistons were swept by the Milwaukee Bucks and the Magic were able to take one game from the Toronto Raptors in a five-game series loss.
Both the Pistons and Magic are in similar spots. They want to improve on last season, while Orlando’s focus has been more internal, the Pistons were able to maneuver through their cap space and add depth.
Derrick Rose and Markieff Morris are immediate upgrades with the second unit. While the Pistons have their holes to fill entering training camp, there is a general belief that they are better than their 37.5 over/under projects.
RELATED STORY: Blake Griffin highlights disparity in market-sized attitudes
Detroit won last year’s season series 3-1 but it was tightly contested. The Pistons won by seven in the opening game of the series and needed overtime in the middle of the season. The finale was a 115-98 drubbing in which the Pistons defense excelled.
That final contest is the only one in which the Pistons had their roster that can be most closely resembled with this year’s team. The previous three meetings featured Reggie Bullock and Stanley Johnson, both of whom were traded away before the mid-season deadline.
Wayne Ellington scored a game-high 25 points in the blowout loss. While he’s with the New York Knicks, Tony Snell takes his place and offers more on the defensive end and is a capable shooter.
This year’s season series should be tightly contested. Let’s take a look at what the Orlando Magic did to improve their roster.
That continuity has fed a lot of preseason predictions that the team could take a step up. The expectation around the Magic facilities is that they will take another step forward. Everyone is eager to build off what they accomplished last year.
But things will be different. Each season is its own journey. And player dynamics change. It is hard to recapture lightning in a bottle and growth is not always linear.
And the team’s ambitions will inevitably demand change.
After six years missing the playoffs, and not really doing much in the process, there is certainly a chance to rest easy on their laurels. But as good as last season was, there was still a sour taste left in their mouths.
The summer it seems was spent not celebrating the season but remaining hungry to do more. Everyone is getting greedy in that way. And that is the exact approach players have expressed and the exact approach Clifford wants for his team.
The team will have to stay committed to their process and their principles to take that next vital step. But it will take something more too.
“It’s all about having that mentality of wanting to get to the next level,” Clifford told John Denton of OrlandoMagic.com. “It always gets back to the same basic things – how you work every day and how committed we are to playing a (style) that can win. There’s so much that goes into that obviously, such as the shot-making and the creativity of players. But because the guys in this league are so good and so smart, your level of execution is so important. We’re going to have to be better at that and more consistent with that. That leads to winning more.”
This is at the heart of everything.
Without any real additions to the roster, the whole of the Magic’s improvement must be internal. The team must change and reconfigure itself with the same pieces that won last year.
This could disrupt the careful chemistry and formula that worked so well last year. But this dirsuption is necessary for growth.
Orlando cannot be the same if it wants to achieve its wildest dreams.
It is easiest to see this improvement come from young players like Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac. Both are expected to take a step up in their games and take on a larger role within the offense especially while continuing to anchor the Magic’s top-10 defense.
But even these kinds of improvements will bring unforeseen changes and re-mix the team’s chemistry.
If Jonathan Isaac looks to get more shots and more involved in the offense, that necessarily means taking shots away from another player. Aaron Gordon becoming more involved and central to the offense will do the same, reconfiguring how the Magic offense operates in some way.
There are other pressure points where change will necessarily happen.
Playing someone like Mohamed Bamba as the backup center again, which Steve Clifford told Josh Robbins of The Athletic he would do, necessarily means taking minutes from Khem Birch. And who knows what trickle-down effects that could have.
It is easy to see how things could quickly change even without major roster upheaval. This is the same roster and there is a trust between the players that surely exists. But this will still be an entirely different team.
Clifford has seemingly made it clear the team has continuity and that will help the team hit the ground running — especially defensively — but that does not mean things will work the same. He sees the team’s weaknesses and will try to address it the best he can.
Nobody can ever be stagnant in the NBA. Especially if they want to improve.
As Clifford told Denton, the biggest issue the team faced in the playoffs was its inability to create offensively. His plan to address that is to try to get the team to play at a quicker pace and use their powerful defense to generate more offense.
That is a welcome change for a lot of fans who see the team’s athletic wings and envision more fast-break opportunities. But it will require some players to change their roles within the team dynamic. And that creates a new responsibility to fulfill.
A responsibility that they will have to step up to make.
That will require sacrifice from some players. If everyone is agreed that the goal for this Magic team is not merely to make the playoffs anymore but to get out of the first round and compete for more, then it will take some internal changing and growth.
There is no other option to improve.