Notice for Orlando Magic will only come with wins

Nikola Vucevic has established himself as a solid player. But notice will only come with flash, and more importantly winning. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Nikola Vucevic has established himself as a solid player. But notice will only come with flash, and more importantly winning. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic are again getting looked over everywhere and their future is not particularly clear. Winning is the only way to solve these problems.

During a recent media session, Evan Fournier was asked about Nikola Vucevic’s impact on the team and where he can improve with the team. Fournier sat and thought about the question for a little while before answering.

The next step for Vucevic was not so much about him. It was about the team and their perception around the league.

NBA personnel already know about Vucevic and have respect for him. He is at the top of the scouting report whenever the Orlando Magic come to town or line up on the other side of the court. He is still a difficult player to stop.

Still, the Magic have been ignored even in playoff conversations despite their recent history establishing themselves as a playoff contender.

The next step for a player like Vucevic?

According to Fournier that is simply getting the national respect that he deserves. That is getting in front of people and being seen. Even Magic players have a small sense of disrespect as people predict what this team can be and what they can do.

The Magic will not be on national TV during the first half of the season. They get two NBATV games — a late December game against the Philadelphia 76ers and a Martin Luther King Day matinee against the New York Knicks. Orlando will again operate largely unnoticed.

Most people are not even predicting the Magic to make the playoffs — and possibly not even the play-in tournament. They at least acknowledge the Magic are in the mix.

Seeking dynamism

This is not so much disrespect. The Magic do not have the top-end talent that attracts eyeballs on television. No one should fault the league for not featuring the Magic — an 8-seed without a dynamic scoring option and based on fundamentally sound defense. It is not exactly great viewing.

Really, if the Magic want to earn these appearances, they have to do it through winning. And perhaps a bit more dynamism on the court. The thing the Magic were probably most known for was Aaron Gordon’s dunk contest loss.

Gordon still trades on that notoriety. He is the only player on the team with signature shoe, signing with Chinese company 361 Degrees. He also released a documentary on his preparations for the dunk contest.

That is not about to change how anyone perceives the Magic. Dunk contests are not going to get anyone to watch Magic games. Nor should they.

The only thing that matters are wins. If a team wants to be on national TV and get respect from the national media or be part of the NBA conversation, it takes star power and winning to get there. Teams that lose — unless they are tire fires in large markets like the New York Knicks — and even teams that are in the middle tier frankly get ignored.

And the Knicks have started to lose their national TV luster.

Answering the long-term questions

The Orlando Magic are solid but they are admittedly a team that still has a lot of questions about its future. And while there are promising young players, there are none of those elite-level players that generate excitement.

It is why a team like the Atlanta Hawks that finished with the worst record in the Eastern Conference are generating excitement and the Orlando Magic are not.

Trae Young draws eyeballs. And this year — after all the moves the Hawks made — they are going to see whether Young is a big enough star to push the team into the playoff picture.

Because winning is what ultimately matters.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

This is the pickle the Magic find themselves in. They are more than talented enough and good enough to make the playoffs. But they clearly need more to take the next step and get out of the first round into true contention.

ESPN is rolling out its top-100 player list before the season. The Magic will have only two players on the list — Nikola Vucevic at No. 42 (with Andre Snellings sharing Vucevic’s surprisingly good defensive statistics) and Aaron Gordon at No. 78. Fournier did not make the top-100 list despite his career season.

It is hard to win without top-end talent. And this is the area the Magic still have to improve — thus the fascination with potentially acquiring Russell Westbrook or the trade offers people have sent me on social media for James Harden. Our most successful articles on this site this offseason involved pondering potential trade options.

Finding a star is still the central focus for the team, one way or another.

Seeking the future

The Orlando Magic are hoping some of their young players will grow into those roles.

But Jonathan Isaac, perhaps the team’s most promising young player, will be out the entire season with a torn ACL. Mohamed Bamba was recently named one of the most disappointing players under 25 years old by FanSided’s 25 Under 25 project, with them conceding Bamba has shown he has a NBA skill in his shot-blocking but his injuries have kept him from truly growing.

Orlando certainly hopes rookies Cole Anthony and Chuma Okeke can become players. Anthony was considered the top prospect in this draft class at the start of the season. But both are players taken in the teens. Expectations are relatively low.

Orlando does not have the kind of young talent that points to a bright future. At least they have not proven that yet.

With just the top 10 remaining to reveal on that 25 Under 25 list, the Magic do not have anyone to mention on the list. Gordon checked in at No. 21 on that list last year (he turned 25 this year and so is no longer eligible for the list). That seems to characterize Gordon’s career — tantalizing enough to be intriguing but not productive enough to get excited about.

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As if to drive this point home, the Magic came in at No. 200 in the FanSided 250, a ranking of fandoms across all entertainment. That is ahead of several NBA teams and No. 23 in professional basketball overall (that includes WNBA teams and other pro basketball personalities).

But even that writeup notes there was not a lot to cheer for this year beyond Markelle Fultz’s re-emergence.

Waiting to emerge

The Orlando Magic may very well be a sleeping giant.

If the team got good suddenly, fans in Orlando would latch onto them quickly. If the team had a star, Orlando would become an attractive place with a solid foundation and culture for stars to glom onto.

But none of that happens without either a stroke of Lottery luck or winning. And, for now, the Magic are focused on trying to get the most out of their roster to maintain their culture and foundation rather than nuke the team and restart completely.

This tension is at the center of most debates within the fan base and likely in the Magic’s executive offices.

What Orlando is banking on is that winning even at a small level will increase the perception and value of these players. Rookies look better when they are contributing to winning environments — that is essentially how Mike Miller beat Kenyon Martin for Rookie of the Year in 2001.

If the Magic want to feel like they have a brighter future, they will want to see Cole Anthony and Chuma Okeke contributing to a team in the playoff hunt. That would suggest the team has a brighter future rather than one that is bumping up against its ceiling with veteran players.

This is really what the Magic are seeking. Orlando did not answer many of its long-term questions this offseason. The team is hoping a few young players will create a clearer path forward. But they feel at a turning point.

Notice though comes with winning. And the team needs to be figuring out a sustainable way to win and progress.

OMD Mailbag: New season, same questions. dark. Next

That remains the biggest question on the table and the toughest riddle to solve.