Progress is hard to measure. Especially for a young team where expectations for wins and losses — at least from the outside — are so low.
Through all the talk of the 2014 Draft and the future of the Magic organization, there is still the little matter of the players currently on the team. The team still has to figure out which players on the current roster will be part of the team’s future and evaluate their place.
All the young players on the roster have to show their own measure of improvement over last season. And, yes, they have to do so as a team as well.
So the little matter of reaching win number 20 earlier this week and then reaching win number 21 on Friday night means something, doesn’t it?
“It’s obviously not where we want to be,” Nikola Vucevic said after reaching win number 20 against the Trail Blazers. “We’ve got 10 games left, it depends on how we finish them, we can see how much we’ve gotten better from last year. I think we’ve made improvements. These last 10 games are not going to mean a whole lot for Playoffs and stuff. Just play the right way and finish out the season the right way heading into next season. ”
If you ask Magic players about it, the mark came and went with little fanfare or attention. This team clearly had some bigger goals for themselves and a hunger remains to do better.
When the season ends though, history will show the Magic improved from their 20-win season in 2013. That is some measurable, tangible sign of progress even if it does not matter much to the team.
“Sometimes stats, or the win-loss total, they do speak,” Arron Afflalo said. “They don’t lie. I don’t necessarily use that as a complete evaluation of your growth. We do have one more win than last year with nine games left. And that’s good. I think you’ll see the real growth of the franchise and the team when we’re truly competing for championships and winning on a regular basis.”
Afflalo said the team has to find ways to stay positive through another losing season. He admitted that getting to win number 21 is definitely a sign of progress. He hopes the team can get a few more — obviously nine more games leaves plenty of opportunities to do so.
More importantly, Afflalo said he hopes the final nine games can provide an opportunity to build momentum and build habits for the players that remain with the team past this season.
Jacque Vaughn has said throughout the season he is taking this year independently of last year. He has tried to avoid making comparisons to last season and has kept the focus on what his current team needs to do to improve. He said he has not mentioned his team’s record once and does not plan to do so. The standings are largely irrelevant since the team was officially eliminated from Playoff contention last week and, for all intents and purposes, have been eliminated from the postseason discussion for much, much longer.
“It’s all a process,” Victor Oladipo said. “It’s definitely tough. The season has been tough. We just can’t come out in these games and not care. That would be the wrong thing to do. Just try to come out and play hard. If we play hard, we can live with the outcome.”
The season has been a long slog with plenty of downs and plenty of ups. It has been tough for some players.
The long run of history will view this season in light of where it takes the Magic in their longer rebuild. Goals and staying positive have been important throughout the entire process.
“I have not mentioned one time what our record is to the team,” Vaughn said. “Win, loss, nothing of that nature. What I do mention to those guys and when we practice on Thursday is let’s get better. Let’s come to work and get better. And that’s what it’s about. That’s how we’ll continue to judge each other and continue to push each other.”