The Magic have made no secret that they are hoping to develop talent and home-grow a team. That is the process the Spurs and Thunder used. That is why every trade rumor includes a desire for Orlando to acquire draft picks or young players on cheap contracts.
This season though is also about the development of Jacque Vaughn as a head coach.
Vaughn has been out of the NBA for a scant two seasons, spending those two years as an assistant coach with the Spurs, before getting the head coaching job with the Magic. Undoubtedly there would be some experience gap that Vaughn would have to fill and mistakes would be made.
Jacque Vaughn has had his own growing pains just like the young players on his roster. Vaughn runs practice on a strict schedule, a process gleaned from his time with Roy Williams as a player at Kansas and Gregg Popovich with the Spurs. He is extremely even-keeled and positive in his approach to the media.
Every loss seems to have a bright side. And that is good. There was no denying that this season was going to be a struggle and Vaughn would have to keep his team focused on each game and putting every effort into each game since the long run was probably not going to end up well for Orlando.
Last night's 78-61 loss to Philadelphia was certainly a sign of how the Magic continue to fight. Even without four starters and without any player proven to be an effective scorer in this league, the team fought. He said he was proud of his team's effort and he was happy with how the team rallied on defense to hold Philadelphia to only 78 points.
To be sure, with more firepower and offensive capability, the team was not in such a horrible position that it could not come out with a win. Maurice Harkless and Nikola Vucevic are simply not ready to carry a team to a win. Orlando needs some healthy bodies the task of winning with this team is just too tall otherwise.
If there is one thing Vaughn has succeeded at in his first season as a head coach, it is keeping the team engaged and invested despite the losing. The Magic have lost 21 of their past 23 games, and, yet the players still are searching for answers. Vaughn has kept his team engaged and bought in.
There is a problem with that, and this is where you get into some of the struggles in Vaughn's job so far.
The Magic are playing hard, but the "woe-is-me" attitude can set in easily. Now that the Magic have gone through mirroring 10-game losing streaks, there is the concern that losing becomes a habit. This will be the key test for Orlando in the second half.
And again, Vaughn here needs to be spark and instill confidence into the players that will be part of this team's future.
That makes his recent inconsistent playing time for Andrew Nicholson all the more troubling. As Evan Dunlap of Orlando Pinstriped Post points out, Nicholson has not seen his minutes increase since Glen Davis was injured. For the season, Nicholson is averaging 14.8 minutes per game. Since Davis' second injury, Nicholson has played nearly 33 minutes, just more than 10 minutes and then 23 minutes.
Nicholson's playing time has been all over the place for sure. At some point, Orlando is going to have to turn the minutes over to him no matter the matchup much like the team has with Maurice Harkless, who has gone through his own spat with inconsistent minutes.
Harkless certainly was not ready to start when the Magic put him in the lineup so early in the season, but his development behind the scenes has shown through in his last few games as the spotlight has turned more toward him thanks to all the injuries.
Nicholson may yet have the same benefit once Orlando loses the notion that it can trade Josh McRoberts for something. It would make logical sense that McRoberts will see his playing time dwindle and Nicholson's increase after the Feb. 21 trade deadline.
The confusing distribution of minutes and some of the quirks in Vaughn's rotations have piqued fan's interests and have left some wondering about Vaughn. Here, then, it is important this is Vaughn's first year as a head coach and the finer points of calling timeouts, judging how his team is doing and managing the player's minutes for development will continue to improve as the season goes on.
The Magic are beginning to enter the phase of the season where development matters more. And it is here where Vaughn will really have to pull the strings to keep the young guys confident, while challenging them with new experiences and roles on the floor.
More importantly, the biggest challenge for Vaughn the rest of the season will be keeping his team engaged and competitive as he tries to maintain a winning mentality on a roster that is now destined to lose.