Orlando Magic have more than enough to make a push for the playoffs

The Orlando Magic and Atlanta Hawks are expected to battle for the 8-seed in the Eastern Conference. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
The Orlando Magic and Atlanta Hawks are expected to battle for the 8-seed in the Eastern Conference. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic should consider themselves among the teams battling for a playoff spot. The expectations haven’t changed.

There is a fair amount of hand-wringing going on about the Orlando Magic and their immediate future.

In an offseason that saw several of the Magic’s competitors make some major changes and potentially take steps forward, the Magic stood still. They re-signed three of their free agents — fill-in starter James Ennis and reserve players Michael Carter-Williams and Gary Clark — and shored up depth with an end-of-the-bench signing in Dwayne Bacon.

They did not make any major trades and the two biggest acquisitions were two draft picks — Chuma Okeke and Cole Anthony. Having draft picks as your biggest acquisition is usually a sure sign that some growth and development are in a team’s immediate future.

That part is true.

Many Magic fans are welcoming the idea of transitioning to young players and turning the page on the franchise’s history. It does appear that day is coming. This year will be about figuring out what the young players can do and just how much the team can rely on them for next season when Jonathan Isaac returns.

But those veteran players are still there. The team will still rely on Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon on a night-in and night-out basis.

And they have no reason to believe the expectations will change. The playoffs are still their goal. This Magic team still has more than enough to make a playoff push.

The gap between the Magic, the incumbent 8-seed, and their competition almost certainly narrowed. The team had a seven-game lead over the Washington Wizards for that final playoff spot last year despite their 33-40 record.

It would seem in a similar 72-game season that getting to 30 wins will put a team in the playoff conversation and hovering around .500 — 36 wins — will almost certainly get a team into the field or the play-in tournament.

Orlando is more than capable of doing that with the roster they have returning. A healthy team with some timely development and bounceback years from players who struggled should help the team surpass or at least equal last year’s win total.

Everyone else seems to think so too.

The Action Network posted its early win total over/unders and set the Magic’s over/under at 31.5.

That number hardly feels or seems impressive. And it is not.

A 31-win season would not be viewed as a success at all, even if it came with a playoff berth. It would represent a second straight year where the team’s record took a backslide. The team should still aim for growth and tangible progress.

But it would put the Orlando Magic ninth in the Eastern Conference, behind the Atlanta Hawks for eighth. Still good enough to make the play-in tournament.

That seems to be the going assumption entering the season that the Hawks will make this push. They acquired Danilo Gallinari and Bogdan Bogdanovic to boost an offense that was surprisingly worse than the Magic’s last year even with Trae Young. They also added Rajon Rondo this offseason and acquired Clint Capela at the trade deadline last February to bolster their defense.

The Hawks feel like a team on the rise. And Magic fans are rightly worried the Hawks’ ascendancy might mean the Magic are permanently passed over.

Still, there were other teams that are going to push for the Magic’s spot. The Washington Wizards will get John Wall back after missing all of last season. He and Bradley Beal are a potent duo.

The Chicago Bulls will have a new coach in Billy Donovan that should relate to players better while maintaining the discipline that propelled the Bulls to a top-10 defense last year. The Charlotte Hornets are set to add Gordon Hayward to a group that was energetic and difficult to handle last year.

As the Magic know, teams lower in the standings can quickly rise up with the right mix. And in this season, who really knows how things will turn out?

The Magic’s lack of star power would seemingly make their position a little less certain. Still, they are in this group. And one can easily argue the Magic are still among the eight best teams in the Eastern Conference.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Aside from the Wizards, the Magic are the only members of this group that have made the playoffs together.

John Schuhmann of NBA.com is at least an early believer in this small goal. He ranked the Magic eighth in his offseason Eastern Conference power rankings — leaving the Hawks 10th — saying until the team shakes up its core, the Magic will defend well and beat the teams they are supposed to.

That was the way the Magic made the playoffs last year — only the Bulls had fewer than the Magic’s five wins against teams with a winning record. So there is that path there.

Orlando knows what it can expect from Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier and Terrence Ross. They will provide a solid base for the team to grow from and the offensive spark this team is desperate for. With so many players returning, the foundation Steve Clifford has built should remain firm and the Magic should remain one of the better defensive teams in the league — along with a relatively low-turnover team.

The wild cards that could determine just how good the Magic will be are going to be Aaron Gordon, with his never-ending wait for stardom; Markelle Fultz making the second-year leap after his virtual rookie season last year; Al-Farouq Aminu with his recovery from a torn meniscus; Mohamed Bamba and the potential for his growth after putting on muscle during quarantine; and rookies Chuma Okeke and Cole Anthony.

Any of these things could go either way. That along with the team’s overall health, which was a problem that slowed the team throughout all of last season, will be the ultimate deciding factors on what this season becomes.

The floor for this team could just as easily fall off and the Magic could stare into the Lottery abyss.

To be sure, Orlando has stiffer competition this year for the final playoff spot than last year. And to be sure, the Magic do not want to settle for a team that gets playoff scraps. The Magic will have to find a way to grow, develop and push forward to the Eastern Conference.

The right development and improvements could still happen this year, although the evidence suggests this team is nearing its peak. A good season this year or a playoff season this year is not going to change the big-picture conclusions and decisions this team has to make.

But as a place to start, the Magic should view themselves as a playoff team. They should view this team as at the very least capable of making the play-in tournament the league has set up this year.

dark. Next. Orlando Magic should make their play for a star

Those are small goals, but the team has to start somewhere. And the expectations should remain that this is a playoff team capable of getting into the postseason despite any challenges they might be facing from others.