Orlando Magic must have eye on next year’s foundation as they finish the season

Even while out with an injury, Terrence Ross is being a good veteran and trying to help young players finish their seasons strong. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
Even while out with an injury, Terrence Ross is being a good veteran and trying to help young players finish their seasons strong. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images) /

During the final days of the 2018 season, Orlando Magic coach Frank Vogel was trying to get his team to think the right things. He was not going to accept the team losing on purpose and believed his young but veteran group would gain from playing hard and trying to win.

Among the much-maligned quotes from Vogel at the end of that season — little may he have known but the new front office was about to fire him after one year working together as they sought their own stamp on the franchise — was his belief that basketball karma would take care of the team in the Lottery. That the team might be rewarded for winning by some cosmic luck.

They were not, of course.

Despite fielding a lineup on the season’s final day that was designed to make sure the team lost, the plucky Orlando Magic defeated the Washington Wizards on the final night of the season, knocking them out of a tie with the Atlanta Hawks and Dallas Mavericks for the third-best odds to win the Lottery.

Those two teams would make a trade involving the third pick (Luka Doncic) and the fifth pick (Trae Young) and set their franchises up for future success. There is no such thing as basketball karma, to say the least.

But the other point Vogel was trying to make, and a point coaches in these situations still try to make, is there is still value in these final games. Value mostly for players to build some confidence heading into their offseasons.

That was another goal for the Magic’s push to win in 2018 and it remains a key goal for the team as they navigate the final four games of their season in 2021.

The Orlando Magic acknowledge they are a rebuilding team now and they are likely drifting toward the Lottery. But they still want to see the team make some gains as they plan for their future and the offseason.

Orlando is trying to build for its future in the present any way that it can.

"“With the younger guys, you just want to get them the right perspective,” Terrence Ross said after practice Monday. “It’s tough right now. I have been in these situations coming in the first couple years in the league where your team is not playing great and the season is pretty much over. You have to find a way to find benefit in the remainder of the season.”"

As Ross noted, this is a chance for players throughout the roster to continue auditioning for the rest of the league. Everyone is always watching. And players who let go of the rope completely and do not try in these games probably say more than those that are still fighting and putting up “empty” stats.

This focus on the future and how the team builds some momentum toward the offseason more than anything.

Coach Steve Clifford said the team talked about it Monday. They have an opportunity to soak up as much information and as much experience as they can in these games to carry over to the offseason.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Undoubtedly for a young team like the Magic — featuring two rookies playing major minutes along with several other young players of interest — every time they get to take the court is a chance to get better. And the coaching staff does not want them to waste that.

It at least gives them practice at taking the right approach to games and building the confidence it will take to bounce back next season.

Nothing truly replaces game experience and for many rookies and young players this year, getting thrown into the fire without a Summer League or preseason mini-camps put them a bit behind.

They are expected to take sizable leaps after the experience they got this year and the chance for a more normal offseason this summer.

The Orlando Magic suffered a disappointing loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves in their home finale Sunday. The team was back in practice Monday trying to pick their energy back up and learn some lessons about how the NBA can humble a group and how they have to be able to bounce back.

That will be one of the biggest challenges for a young group. That is an important lesson for the team to learn and absorb now. The team still hopes losses like Sunday’s defeat sting and motivate the team to be better.

The groundwork for the team is getting built in these moments, and the Magic know it.

Many of these young players will return to the team next year. While some of the plays and tactics might change to meet the new personnel, they are still going to be about certain things. It is still going to take incredible buy-in.

That is what the Magic had the last two years to rally to make the playoffs. It is something this team needs to begin building now.

"“One of the toughest things to establish is a belief in the way you do things when you don’t have great success,” Clifford said after practice Monday. “When you win 55, 52, 53, 54, it’s still difficult in this league but guys are going to believe in what you’re doing because you’re winning most of your games. Whatever we were two years ago, 42-40 or 43-39, I think we were 9-10 games under .500, yet those guys had a belief. They fought all the way back. That’s not easy to do.“That’s one of the things you don’t want to lose. it’s hard to establish within an organization — a pride or a belief in each other and what you are doing. I think that’s what those veteran guys are trying to do.”"

That is where the Magic are going to try to get back to.

Clifford said even in 2019, he was not quite sure what his team was going to be able to do at the midpoint of the season. Their ability to stick with things and rally was a sign they were buying in and could be successful, filling in the potential Clifford felt they had but was still unsure would get realized.

Clifford and the veterans on the team are under no illusion of what this season is for this team. They are a rebuilding team. That task made all the more difficult by the limitations imposed on this pandemic season. It has not created the best learning environment for this team and these young players.

But the Magic are trying to make the most of the time they have left and leave a strong foundation for the team to grow from.

"“I just talk to them, just let them know that I know it is a tough situation that we’re in right now,” Ross said after practice Monday. “It’s not fun. You’re going to look back at this in three or four years and be at my age, which is closer than you all think, that this is one of the things that helps build your character and helps you grow.”"

Ross said there are plenty of signs. He is seeing young guys like Cole Anthony, Mohamed Bamba, R.J. Hampton and Chuma Okeke find their niche. This experience will be valuable to them in their careers.

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And the Magic hope that it will pay off for them in the offseason heading into next year.