Orlando Magic lack drama entering 2019 season, and that is good

Orlando Magic president Jeff Weltman, left, laughs as center Mo Bamba speaks during a news conference at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla., on Friday, June 22, 2018. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
Orlando Magic president Jeff Weltman, left, laughs as center Mo Bamba speaks during a news conference at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla., on Friday, June 22, 2018. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images) /

ESPN ranked the Orlando Magic last in drama in the league. For a team hitting reset and trying to grow, that is a very good thing.

It did not take long for ESPN’s latest ranking to get noticed by Orlando Magic fans. And to get somewhat misinterpreted. This is not the first time the Magic have ranked last in a power rankings article or some poll entering this season.

As part of the network and web site’s season preview for the NBA, it fully embraced the drama of the league, compiling a ranking of the teams — with TV poster and show comparison — in order of their drama.

How that drama is determined is not exactly clear. It says they paired each team with a TV series and ranked them based on how each subplot will play out this season.

Does this mean whether the team and its drama are interesting to the casual fan? Does this mean the amount of entertainment value fans will get from watching these team’s season unfold?

It is not clear.

The only thing that is clear is they ranked the drama or interest surrounding LeBron James‘ jaunt to the Los Angeles Lakers — pairing it with Stranger Things (go in that haunted house at Halloween Horror Nights, it is worth the wait) — first. And they ranked the Magic last.

In a swipe to the team’s recent frustrating history of change and instability, they paired the team with Sons of Anarchy. The tag line goes, “Who’s running the show?”

A fair question on many levels.

The team has made the coaching position disposable as new coach Steve Clifford becomes the fifth coach in seven years. New management has not had its chance to stamp its identity on the team — Jonathan Isaac and Mohamed Bamba are the two biggest pieces.

The roster still feels like a misfit in many ways, lacking a clear direction or a clear core for fans to have faith in. And fans in Orlando have become conditioned to expect the worst. Everyone is skeptical until the team begins moving in a more positive direction.

And the Magic have, by many evaluations, the worst point guard situation in the league and so they quite literally lack leadership on the floor.

The question of who leads the Magic does not have much national relevance. The team is just trying to move past the league punching bag status of rebuild to the promising but uncertain future phase.

Then again, this question seems like a shortsighted, narrow question in many ways. It is not a question the Magic really need to answer in the sense of hte 2019 season. Maybe finding a good question is why the Magic rank last.

Orlando fans already realize that to gain national relevance and attention, the team has to win. That is the only way to take that step.

But these characterizations of the Magic somehow lost in the wilderness feels a bit untrue.

Certainly, that was the case two years ago when Rob Hennigan made a series of moves that buried the Magic in a deep hole and offered few results. The team traded away budding young stars in Tobias Harris and Victor Oladipo and got half a season of Ersan Ilyasova and Brandon Jennings, the cap room to sign Bismack Biyombo and half a season of Serge Ibaka in return.

It should be pointed out none of those players still remain on the Magic and all they ultimately has to show for those deals is Jerian Grant, Timofey Mozgov and Terrence Ross. Not a great haul indeed and quick explainer why the team decided to change management groups.

The truth is Orlando does have leadership now. Or at least it appears they do.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Jeff Weltman and John Hammond stepped in as president of basketball operations and general manager in the summer of 2017 bringing a lot more experience and a clearer philosophy with them.

Players throughout the roster have spoken glowingly of the changes Weltman has helped implement behind the scenes. They seem to believe there is a direction for this group and this unit. A much clearer direction than there was under Hennigan, at least. There is growing confidence around the organization that a brighter future is on the way.

"“I definitely sense a different vibe,” Jonathon Simmons said. “I sense a different work environment. A better culture now. John and Jeff know what they are doing.”"

Mario Hezonja said before the season ended last year he hoped to remain in Orlando and be part of what the Magic seemed to be building. He seemed excited for the direction the team was headed. It was tough for Orlando to find the room to keep him and it was not meant to be for him to return to the team.

Part of this optimism too comes from the hiring of a new coach in Clifford. Jonathon Simmons said there is a lot more structure and organization in practices these days and clearer communication.

Clifford will be the one who builds the base for what the Magic ultimately want to build. This season may not be judged on wins, but it certainly will be judged on the general progress the Magic make toward that goal.

They also brought perhaps the most important tool to any rebuild — patience.

At least, for now. Patience runs out fast when the team fails to make progress. And then a team sees just how much it will stick to its plan.

That is a few years from now. And so it makes sense these storylines miss urgency. And thus, the drama ESPN appears to be ranking.

That is all good. This team does not drama. It has big questions to answer and sort through, but not the urgency to answer them.

Fans are frustrated with the team’s lack of push to find a quality starting point guard — or take a chance on one like the Isaiah Thomas saga — but the team saw no need to address it now.

Not every question needs an answer today. The team’s goal is to begin looking at the long-term vision. They can begin filling the other pieces as they continue to progress.

The characterization this is somehow a team without any direction or one where chaos will reign seems off for this year. Certainly in years past it felt the Magic were pulling in a million different directions and had several goals that did not quite make sense for where the team was at developmentally.

Now, the Magic seem to be pulling in the right direction again. They seem to have put the chaos of the previous years behind them and are working toward an ultimate vision.

That may not create a lot of drama or make their pressing questions interesting to watch. But, for now, that is good.

dark. Next. Jonathan Isaac puts Orlando Magic at ease

Let the team operate in national anonymity and without much fuss.