Growth and maturation


The focus of management in building a roster is all about the long term right now. The Magic are signing Jason Maxiell and Ronnie Price this summer to help nurture and lead a young group of players in the locker room as the team suffers through a very likely losing season. It is the reason why Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo and Glen Davis (despite whatever trade value they might have) remain some of the more importantp layers in the team's locker room.

The Magic's attitude as they approach the next season are just as important.

Rob Hennigan will not hide from the fact that he is looking at the long-term picture in building this team and its culture from the ground up. But he even admitted the team has a long way to go. Finishing with the worst record in the NBA is never a good thing (the Lottery is a lottery after all).

For those wanting to hold onto something from the 2013 or 2014 seasons, it will be in those little improvements and the willingness to work and improve from the young players like Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Harkless, Tobias Harris and Andrew Nicholson and all the others. Growth will be the buzz word as the Magic (and their fans) slog through what appears likely to be another growing season.

That growth though already appears to be occurring. It was all the talk of Summer League — at least after the talk about Victor Oladipo and his strong play at that uncomfortable point guard position (for him at least).

"From the looks of it, he looks a lot more confident," Kyle O'Quinn said of Maurice Harkless. "He is going to what he knows his strengths are and  he's more comfortable in his position. I think he is handling it very well with the help of the coaches."

James Borrego raved about Harkless' leadership on the team. He averaged 13.0 points and 5.5 rebounds per game with just 2.0 turnovers per game in Summer League. Harkless shot 48.6 percent from the floor (although he went just 1 for 6 from beyond the arc).

Harkless showed more confidence as the season went on and seemed to gain even more in his weeklong performance. He stepped into the leadership role for the young squad and he was the guy players turned to. Specifically in that Philadelphia game, it was Harkless leading the charge in the last two minutes before Oladipo drained the game-winning shot.

"Just handling the ball, being aggressive when he catches," Borrego said of Harkless. "Handling it in pick and rolls, in transition. He just looks like a different player to me. Very aggerssive tot he rim looking for his shot when he has it. Defensively, he anchors us. He and Kyle O'Quinn really anchor our defense, talking and being aggressive. I've seen a lot of improvement from him."

Harkless said he worked out all summer and had already put on 15 pounds before Summer League. And it is not dead weight, trust me.

Summer League was all about showing the improvements the young players had made as individuals. In many ways they did that.

Take the Summer League. Kyle O'Quinn and Maurice Harkless both provided tons of leadership on defense and were leading the chatter defensively. Again, who knows if it will translate to the regular season.

These intangible improvements though were what Summer League and really this entire season will ultimately be about. Harkless said the coaching staff had talked to him about being a leader this offseason, but he admitted it will not happen overnight. It helps having a solid group of young players equally driven to improve surrounding him — Tobias Harris, Maurice Harkless, Doron Lamb, DeQuan Jones and Kyle O'Quinn have all spent the majority of their summer so far working out together in Orlando.

Harkless even admitted that the leadership sort of comes natural as he now corrects the mistakes he had made last year when rookies like Victor Oladipo make them now.

That is a lot to say about a player with one year of NBA experience under his belt at just 20 years old. As much as anything this upcoming season will be about Harkless and his teammates' continued growth and maturity. This is why continuing to add positive veteran elements will be so key to reinforce these improvements.

In the two games Lamb played before a knee injury ended his Summer League week, he was showing a lot of improvement too as he tries to prove he was a valuable part of that J.J. Redick deal. Lamb averaged 11.3 points per game and shot 10 for 20 from the floor and 6 for 9 from beyond the arc.

He came into the league as a known jump shooter, but shot just 39.7 percent from the floor last year as he struggled to get playing time on the Magic's roster. Lamb certainly looked like one of the players who had already put in a lot of work to improve his game.

Lamb, like Oladipo, is making something of a transition to the point guard position as he played a lot of point guard in splitting duties with Oladipo during Summer League. Borrego said Lamb looked much more aggressive in his short Summer League stint and looked to have added strength to be able to finish at the rim better and play stronger defense.

"It was a big summer for me," Lamb said following the loss to the Thunder on July 8 before his injury. "I worked on all parts of my game — my weaknesses and my strengths. I'm just trying to get my body right, and be prepared and be ready for the season."

It did not seem Lamb was seriously hurt when he left the third game of Summer League, a loss to the Heat. I saw him walking around the day after the injury, and he was showing little effects from the injury. So hopefully his offseason workout regimen was not interrupted too much.

Because this summer — like much of the next year — is all about growth for these young players and a continuing maturation for them all.

However or wherever they fit into the Magic's plans, they are trying to build an organization with the right kind of people. Judging by the attitude these young players have taken, the organization appears to have done that.

Now we have to wait until October to see how much of it comes together on the court.