Steve Clifford’s focus is already on Orlando Magic’s internal improvement

Orlando Magic coach Steve Clifford is already at work trying to figure out ways to help the Magic improve. (Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports)
Orlando Magic coach Steve Clifford is already at work trying to figure out ways to help the Magic improve. (Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports) /

The Orlando Magic do not know when their 2021 season will start. But they are already at work to make the internal improvements to get the most of it.

The NBA season is coming closer to its end. The NBA Finals will bring some finality to a season that has taken more than a year to complete.

What happens next is still uncertain.

Commissioner Adam Silver said before Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Wednesday that he does not have a lot of answers for what the 2021 season will look like. They are aiming for a start sometime in January — Martin Luther King Jr. Day seems like a perfect fit to get things started again. But whether the season will include teams traveling to arenas or whether fans will be allowed into those buildings is still up in the air.

There is still a lot to be negotiated and figured out in the coming weeks.

The NBA Draft will take place on Nov. 18 — the virtual combine took place this week. But beyond that, nobody knows when free agency will begin (or what the salary cap will look like) or when the next season will start.

Still, the work continues.

Players have begun their offseasons, coaches have begun analyzing their teams and preparing for a season they do not know when it will start. They just know they cannot waste time waiting around for a finish line. The work never stops.

That is at least how Orlando Magic coach Steve Clifford is wired. And he is already at work with his usual offseason prep.

Clifford detailed some of that work with the Orlando Magic Pod Squad as they recapped the team’s time inside the campus, continuing efforts in the community and what the future of the NBA looks like:

Clifford said he has discussed with president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman about the direction the team needs to go and where they need to improve. He has broken down game tape from the time in the bubble and begun analyzing trends and ways the team needs to play.

More importantly, he has already started talking with individual players on what comes next for them.

From Aaron Gordon to Nikola Vucevic to even Jonathan Isaac and Al-Farouq Aminu, the Magic are already knee-deep into their offseason and looking ahead to the 2021 season. And until those offseason moves can be made, the focus is on getting better internally.

Ever the gruff optimist, Clifford still believes the team’s internal improvement can get the team where it wants to go.

Steve Clifford said he spoke to Aaron Gordon about what he needs to improve heading into offseason. He said he believes the last 14-15 games Gordon played before the pandemic stoppage were the best basketball Gordon had played in his career. Indeed, during that time, he averaged 16.8 points, 9.0 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game while shooting 46.7-percent from the field (but just 31.0-percent from beyond the arc).

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

The way he and the team were playing at that time was certainly a positive for the Magic. They were playing at a faster pace and Gordon seemed healthy for the first time all season.

Like everyone else though, Clifford recognizes becoming a more consistent 3-point shooter will unlock a significant portion of his game. That is at the center of a lot of discussions between Clifford and Gordon, Clifford said.

"“The basic tenet of offense is spacing. It’s the biggest difference between the NBA game and every other level of play. In the NBA guys are smart. They guard you to where you can shoot from. 34, 35, even 36 from three, we don’t guard guys out there either. If you are on the floor and they don’t have to guard you out to the three, there is less room on the floor for Markelle Fultz and Evan Fournier and Terrence Ross and everybody else. He can really play and pass off the dribble and it doesn’t matter if they don’t have to close him down.”"

Clifford said if Gordon could get to 37-38 percent from three, it would completely change his game. At 25 years old, Gordon could certainly still improve. But he definitely took a step back this year.

The obsession with shooting and defending 3-point shooting is certainly at the center of a lot of the projects Clifford and his coaching staff are working on right now.

Clifford will continue to have those conversations with players and make those evaluations during this long offseason. He has already done a lot of work during the hiatus to evaluate the previous season.

If there is one thing the league does not want — Clifford with time to prepare.

But everyone still has to wait until the next season to begin. Players are still going in and out of the Amway Center — Clifford said Weltman has extended invitations to upcoming free agents to continue using the AdventHealth Practice Facility.

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The work continues as the offseason picks up. When that offseason ends, nobody knows. Everyone keeps working.