Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY
A typical scene this summer for the Magic did not even happen at Amway Center. It happened in an Orlando apartment complex.
Tobias Harris would come downstairs from his apartment complex and see Kyle O'Quinn's car still parked in the garage. A quick call to O'Quinn was a reminder — that he probably did not need — that it is time to go to work. The players held each other accountable in this way. This is how the Magic's young players stayed on each other all summer and reminded each other of the work necessary for all of them to get where they need to go.
"We always talk about we just want to win," Kyle O'Quinn said. "This group of guys, I think nobody is thinking, 'Y'all can win if y'all want. If we lose, I'm still going to be good.' I don't think anyone is thinking like that. We just want to do whatever we can to win so we can say this group did it."
The summer was about individual and team growth for the Magic's young players. Instead of resting on the fact they had "made it" somewhat in the NBA as young players starting on a team. That is typically how young teams fall apart. This team though is keeping each other accountable and working hard.
The results can be seen both on and off the court. The individual players have certainly improved and the chemistry between the players is certainly very visible.
"Being here together all summer, we hang out with each other on and off the court," Andrew Nicholson said. "Once you are with someone off the court as much as we are, you begin to understand their personalities and how to approach them. We're very accountable to each other, whether we are doing drills or in the weight room. We are getting each other better and pushing each other."
The friendships built off the court are real and are built over the shared experience of growing in the NBA together. O'Quinn said they spent the entire summer hanging out with each other. No one ever went to dinner by themselves and sometimes they would go out with each other's families.
Maurice Harkless even called it something like a college atmosphere — something many of these guys would normally still be in considering their age.
"I think any time you can try to activate some chemistry and continuity and build some familiarity, that is always a good thing," Rob Hennigan said. "I think the time our players spent together this summer is a right step in the direction to do that.
"I think you can hold yourself accountable, but when you have teammates that are helping you hold yourself accountable, that is a powerful thing. I think the structure that we have been able to implement here is one of accountability and making sure the work that you put in is fruitful and purposeful."
Of course, none of this matters if it does not turn into results. Losing can make enemies of friends. Life is easy when nothing is on the line. And the losing hurt this team a lot.
The Magic though are laying a foundation and this is part of the work they all did this summer, whether it was together in Orlando or out on their own.
What makes this young Magic team so interesting is that every player recognizes the long road ahead for them and for the franchise and seems willing to put the work in to get there.
"Guys really worked hard this summer," Nikola Vucevic said. "They really wanted to get better and everyone improved. That's really the only way to be a success. You've got to work. There's no other way to it. It's really the only way to get better and to improve. Really every guy on this team, not only us younger guys, but even the older guys, they're really working hard and want to make this team better."
The older guys took notice of the work ethic the young players put in this offseason. Jameer Nelson noted during media day that the young players really had a great mind working out together and building chemistry. The veteran players like Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo continue to stay in their teammates' ears about the little things they nee to do to be successes in this league.
Afflalo noted specifically how this group has grown from Vucevic's toughness and confidence to the way Harris, Harkless, Nicholson and O'Quinn improved their physiques. It was a very productive summer for these guys as they have begun to show throughout the preseason.
Being the same age group certainly helped in that growth.
"We're all young players, but at the same time we all have a lot of similarities," Harris said. "We work out together, we hang out together. That just helps us as a team build that niche and build that chemistry as a unit going forward it's going to help us."
The hunger to win is present too. That motivates a lot of the play and growth that came this offseason. Losses may still pile up, but do not expect it to become a habit with this team. Expect it to become a motivator to get even better.
"It was just us knowing that 20 games is not where we ant to be," Harris said. "It was us as a team coming together to do all we can to get better as a unit and build chemistry for us going forward in teh season. I think it is going to help us out a lot. It is not only going to help us build chemistry as a team, but at the same time it's going to improve our basketball game. I think a lot of us improved whether it be in the weight room or on the basketball court. We got better, that is all you can ask for."