The Orlando Magic are drifting to the end of the season. The team seems to lack purpose. Even its most important player. Aaron Gordon has to step up.
Orlando Magic assistant coach Chad Forcier shared some harsh words for his team with Dante Marchitelli at halftime. In his pre-second half interview, Forcier said the team had a lack of respect for the personnel on the team.
He then proceeded to say the team has taken a lot of poor shots, spaced the ball poorly and taken a lot of contested shots. In summation, it was not good basketball.
It all pointed to a team that has checked out and become ready for an offseason, not merely a team missing shots.
That is human nature in some ways. It is hard to motivate the players to make the most of this remaining time. Not when there is nothing to play for. Giving in is easy.
The Magic have been focusing on the future for some time now in some way. The team has made its way through this season trying to find hope for the season. The last two games have failed to convince anyone of that.
Then again in flashes, the brilliance is clear. In some brief flashes, the team suddenly has a future.
It is not merely Jonathan Isaac‘s time back on the court and the defensive talent he displays. It is in Aaron Gordon. And most of all, Gordon is learning just how to affect the game and just when he can impose his will. Or even how.
The Orlando Magic trailed the Atlanta Hawks by 13 points entering the second half. Gordon was struggling to get going, making just 2 of 6 for five points.
He came alive in the second half though, particularly in the third quarter. Gordon scored five straight points and the Magic climbed their way back into the game. His energy and his enthusiasm had seemingly lifted the team.
Then he disappeared again. He reappeared to block a shot at the rim, seemingly taking the ball from a dunker’s hands to start a fast break. But Gordon stayed largely silent. And in the biggest moment, he did not step up to the plate.
Gordon took an odd contested 3-pointer with his team clinging to the game. It was as if he was trying to force his way back into the game but still unable to do it. Not in a productive way. It never seemed he was fully engaged.
Gordon finished with 10 points on 4-for-13 shooting. Barely making a blip in the overall course of the game.
It was a struggle for Gordon all game. The offense was never in a good flow and Gordon could never get himself going in the rhythm as he tends to do. when he meets success. Instead, he had to force things.
But Gordon was not really doing that. In another game against a poor team with a chance to win, Gordon seemed to be a passive player.
This came off Friday’s 6-for-21 performance against the Chicago Bulls. In that game, Gordon missed makeable shots throughout the first half. It was his run of scoring in the third quarter that brought the team back into the game. And then in the fourth quarter, he seemingly disappeared with the game in the balance.
None of this may matter in the short-term of the season. The season has already been lost and the Magic are more likely to lose games.
But Gordon fading into the background? That still matters.
And with two lifeless performances against two bad teams, there are major future implications that have to be considered.
The Magic expect to make major changes to the roster in the near future. The one constant that should remain is Gordon. His development is still important for the team.
With three losses in a row now to teams well out of the Playoffs — two of them at home — the Magic are at the bottom of the barrel. They had a chance to win all three of those games. Orlando let the ball drop.
At some point, someone has to take ownership of that. At some point, someone has to take responsibility for that. It has to become a matter of pride. Not everyone is going to leave, someone is a part of this future.
This is the point, in whatever small way he can at this juncture, Gordon needs to take ownership of this team and become its leader. If Gordon is going to become the team’s star player, he needs to be the one setting the example for everyone else. This is the time for Gordon to step up to the plate and grow to make this his team.
Someone has to take ownership of this team. Someone has to take pride in wearing that uniform and make it mean something. That is part of the culture the Magic have been trying — and struggling — to build this season even through all this frustrating losing.
Gordon remained the lone bright spot for the team. A young, emerging player seemingly with a future. He was the one the team should invest him.
His play has tailed off as the season has come to an end. His shooting has come back to earth. Seemingly, his production has become less consistent. The scoring outbursts have slowed down.
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Gordon can still get his numbers, but his shot and his efficiency have come and gone.
Everyone wants to chalk up his play to growing pains. A young player learning his place in the league and as the main actor on a team.
Leadership comes with that too. Responsibility comes with that too.
That means setting an example and being the first one to dive on the floor when it calls for it. It means demanding the ball and being willing to carry the team to the finish line. It means lifting the team when they do not have the energy, setting the spark.
That has been lacking.
Too often, Gordon has receded into the background or made the wrong decision. And too often he has been as guilty as anyone of coasting through these games. Gordon is the catalyst for this team.
He is its future. And now, in these few games left, it is his time to take ownership of it.
Gordon cannot be a bit player anymore. He needs to be the one who leads and dictates things. He needs to be the one setting a standard — even if few of his teammates are likely to return.
That is a standard he is not setting right now as the Magic seemingly fall deeper and deeper into the pit of this season.