Orlando Magic have their eye on the future as they play for the playoffs

Mohamed Bamba is the first Orlando Magic player to publicly say he will donate to support arena and part-time workers during the NBA's hiatus. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Mohamed Bamba is the first Orlando Magic player to publicly say he will donate to support arena and part-time workers during the NBA's hiatus. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic expect to be back in the playoffs this season. But as they manage recoveries for three key young players, they are mindful of the future.

Mohamed Bamba said he was not sure he could feel a difference in playing at his added weight during the Orlando Magic’s first scrimmage Wednesday against the LA Clippers.

But to be sure, there was a difference.

Battling on the glass against Marcus Morris and even Joakim Noah, Mohamed Bamba was holding his own. Not merely holding his own, he was moving players off their spots and around the block.

Bamba played only six minutes in that opening game. He was right that it was not enough time to get into much of a rhythm or learn anything.

He scored only two points — off a fast-break dunk, hardly a display of his newfound strength. Mohamed Bamba added only two rebounds and a block (which led directly to a Michael Carter-Williams finish).

It was a promising spurt of play. And Bamba still floated out to the perimeter. He was not doing any post work. Not yet, at least.

Saturday’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers showed more of that ability and comfort. He scored nine points and grabbed six rebounds in roughly eight minutes Saturday. He was great rolling toward and staying around the basket, making an alley-oop dunk off a long lob from Carter-Williams to tie the game late in the third quarter.

It was easy to see him get winded late in his time. But Bamba continues to look like he can hold his own.

It was a promising start for the young big man after doing all that work during the hiatus. But a frustrating one too. It is easy to want to push him ahead and see more from him. Bamba certainly wants that too.

The limitations the Magic’s medical staff on him certainly puts a damper on things. But Bamba knows this is also something about protecting his future, even if there is some momentary frustration.

"“It’s very frustrating, but at the same time I know I’ve got to be patient and do things the right way,” Bamba said after practice Friday. “It feels good to be in an organization where everyone cares about you. They care about my well-being. At the same time, we’re all basketball players, we all signed up for this and I’m ready to go.”"

Coach Steve Clifford said Bamba has been limited in practice. He is still able to do 5-on-5 activity, but only in short bursts. He has said throughout the week that Bamba has only been able to play 5-6 minutes at a time.

The Magic are eager to get Bamba on the floor, but still cautious about the big man learning to play at his new weight.

Clifford said some of that is conditioning and some of that is protecting Bamba from injury as they continue to monitor his health following his leg injury last year.

The Magic have been very cautious with injuries for their young players at this time. And it can be frustrating for sure. But even as the Magic prepare to play these seeding round games and make a second playoff trip, they are balancing their desire to win today with the recognition of maintaining key players to their future.

This balance has created some frustrating results for fans eager to see the team’s future. The players themselves have been frustrated by it too. But they know it is coming from a good place from the team. They understand why some of this caution is warranted.

Discussing the Future

The team has openly admitted they do not want to risk the franchise’s long-term future for the short-term gains of this season. They do not want to see any of their players suffer any long-term injuries in the process.

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So if they have any restrictions on them or any concern, the Magic have proceeded cautiously.

Orlando has had to move cautiously with two key players in addition to Mohamed Bama.

Steve Clifford said in regard to Jonathan Isaac during a previous media availability inside the Disney campus that the team has spoken to him specifically about his return and how he is an important part of the team’s future. They want him to play, but they are only going to move him forward at the speed they are comfortable with in his recovery.

Jonathan Isaac said the team asked if he wanted to push to return to play for the remainder of the team’s season once he was let back into the Amway Center. He did and they devised a two-a-day workout plan to get him at least close.

Even they were unsure if he would be able to get there in time.

That hard work paid off with Isaac cleared to play and set to return in Monday’s scrimmage with the Denver Nuggets.

This seems to be a similar conversation the Magic have had with even Bamba. They have all said they understand the team and medical personnel’s strategy, as impatient as they might be.

Players are always eager to play.

"“I thought I did a really good job of playing through tired,” Bamba said after Saturday’s game. My wind is there. I caught my second wind. I’m feeling pretty good out there.”"

Progress to return

But it is still important to see progress toward a return to play.

Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz both joined the team for full 5-on-5 practice in Friday’s practice. Both appear to be making progress toward a potential return. But they were both held out of Saturday’s scrimmage against the Los Angeles Lakers still.

Markelle Fultz was a late arrival to the campus setting and the team has remained cautious with his return. He too will make his debut Monday after continuing workouts — injured players were given the option for extra gym time on scrimmage days.

But the Magic are likely still going to limit action in these first games for Isaac and Fultz, just like Bamba.

Fultz said after Sunday’s practice session he feels healthier than he was when the season went on pause as his body had time to recover from his first run through the NBA season. He said the big thing he is working on is getting his conditioning back to that level.

"“I feel really good right now,” Markelle Fultz said after practice Sunday. “I actually feel better than I was after the All-Star Break. After the All-Star Break, my body was kind of tired being it was the first time I played so long. I actually feel really good. It’s just a matter of getting those reps up in a game. I’m not far. I know it’s not going to be easy, it’s just a matter of a couple reps.”"

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That is what everyone is going for most of all — game reps. Even if it is on a small scale. Playing will still be about the only way players can develop and get the most out of playing in the campus setting.

But even when they do come back, it is likely the team will be cautious with their initial forays into games — likely limiting them to five minutes at a time or thereabouts in their first few games.

Managing two goals

As the Orlando Magic prepare for the seeding round games, they are going to be managing the desire and importance of winning with protecting their long-term investments as they deal with the conditions inside the campus, recovery from injury and their own personal development.

Everyone is just trying to continue their upward trajectory and continue growing. The focus is on the team most of all.

"“We need to get back to where we were playing,” Bamba said after practice Friday. “Coach is always saying our offense was starting to take off. We need to do the same thing on defense. Just getting back into the groove and getting back into game shape.”"

Bamba was asked recently what he is working on with his game or if he is focusing on anything specifically. His response was that he is focused on helping the team win rather than adding anything new to his game.

The weight gain was seemingly enough. That has proven to be a big transition for him as a player.

But like everything else, he has to play through it to get comfortable. And the Magic are affording him some time to do so.

Bamba has had a successful run through the first two scrimmages. He has been active on both ends of the floor. Even if he is still getting his conditioning to play more minutes and a bigger role, it looks like he has made positive gains.

Next. Orlando Magic hitting critical time to find their stride. dark

In either case, the Magic are managing and seeing at least a part of their future.