Cole Anthony was the first one willing to say it for the Orlando Magic.
No one will talk bolder about his belief in his teammates than Anthony. And ahead of a season that most pundits believe will end with the Magic at the bottom of the standings, Anthony is definitely not shy about his ultimate goals.
“I have a bunch of individual goals,” Anthony said during the Magic’s media day. But there is no way those are going to come true if the team doesn’t prosper first. The team goal I have set for the season is to make the playoffs. If we can reach that goal, my individual goals will all follow that.”
Anthony said it would not be easy. Nothing ever is in the NBA. It would take hard work, sticking together and some good injury luck to get there, Anthony said. But he is not going to shrink from the challenge.
Neither is this team even if the playoffs were not an overt or stated goal. What was clear was the Magic were determined to be more than what anyone else expects. And they know the work it is going to take to get there.
For a team at this beginning stage, Magic players universally spoke about the work they plan on putting in and how this will be their mantra.
The Orlando Magic expressed excitement over the prospects of the upcoming season and the work it is going to take to build their team up this year and beyond.
Everything else springs from the work they put in together.
“At the end of the day, for us, it’s just going to be: Do the work,” coach Jamahl Mosley said during media day. “I don’t think there are any speeches to get guys going. We have to show up every day and do the work. There’s no other way to look at other than get in the gym and put in the work and the results will take care of themselves.”
Mosley would prefer to keep the team focused on the here and now. He did not want to think even as far as setting rotations and lineups for the regular season. The trick is to set short-term goals and achieve those and that will build into the longer-term goals.
He said the advice he got from other coaches was not to skip the steps. He said he wants his team to dominate the simple things and build the foundation through the fundamentals.
That is certainly a good place to start considering just how young this team is in almost every facet. Expecting them to win still seems like a tall order.
Considering how much is still unknown about this team, it would be hard to predict anything about this season with much certainty.
With such a young roster, there is a lot to learn as the group grows. Everyone perhaps senses the need to keep some positivity while still setting a high standard.
The team’s goals, at least as stated by their executive leadership, had little to do with wins and losses. It is more about growth, development and learning.
“To me, success is reintegrating our injured players and developing our young players the right way so that we can then do our own evaluations on what’s going to make us win as we go forward,” president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman said during media day. “You don’t learn how to win unless you are preparing to win or expecting to win. That’s what will be a successful season for us this year.”
To do that and maintain the right course takes a bit of self-starting from players.
Seemingly echoing what Jamahl Mosley would talk about later in the day, Jeff Weltman said the thing he was most excited about from this group was their character. He praised his young group’s ability to focus on work. He said he feels a lot of the Magic’s players have that work ethic baked in.
The application of that, he said, will be important with where he is going now.
The team is going to have to embrace the grind to achieve these goals. And it may well be a multi-year process. How long the players are willing to commit to that grind will be the real question.
The new journey
Everyone can be happy at the beginning of a new season. It is getting through the hardships of the season that can test a team’s character, resolve and commitment.
But the doubt coming from the outside can certainly also be motivating. And nobody on this team seems willing to accept defeat before the season starts. As Jeff Weltman said, that attitude will be vital to the team taking its next steps.
“You can never get satisfied in this league. Figuring out how to win in this league is very hard,” veteran guard Gary Harris said during media day. “My message is don’t wait. It starts the first game of the season. Game one counts. As we get started, we’re a young team, we have to get off to a good start if we want to make the playoffs, which should be our goal.”
Harris noted the ups and downs of the season and the challenges that come with the season.
It will take staying together and being ready to work through the struggles to find this success. Harris knows from some near misses of the playoffs while with the Denver Nuggets how important each moment is for the team.
Nobody is hiding from how difficult the challenges are. But it seemed like everyone on the Magic was embracing that challenge and eager to take it on.
That happiness and that chip on their shoulder to prove a lot of people wrong was pervasive throughout the team’s media day. The Magic believed what Weltman had sold since that March day at the trade deadline that this was really the start of something.
That might simply be youthful exuberance. It might be how much everyone enjoys playing and being with each other before the crucible begins. It is easy to be happy at 0-0.
But the Magic are determined to flip the script and write one of their own. This is a blank slate for them as much as it is for the entire franchise. And they will have a hand in setting this franchise’s future.
Embrace the grind
This constant motif of the team’s work ethic and character sprang up at every turn.
Mohamed Bamba said the win is the work and this is a mantra everyone has embraced this summer. It appears to be part of the culture the team is trying to build here. Something the team can build on top of what Mosley is preaching.
If there is encouragement that came from the team’s media day, it was how excited everyone seemed to be to get started. So even if expectations are low outside the Amway Center and even if the team itself is not using wins as a measuring stick for success this season, there is something to play for and work toward.
Orlando is hungry to show off that work and make something of it.
“I’ve been so excited with just this team,” Markelle Fultz said at media day. “I think we have a super talented team. The chemistry is there. I think we’re going to shock a lot of people. I think a lot of people don’t have us doing anything. We’re not really worried about that. We’re worried about ourselves and getting better. It’s going to be fun to watch, I’ll tell you that.”
Whether the Magic shock NBA pundits or exceed expectations will be played out on the court. The Magic will have their work cut out for them to do so.
Undoubtedly though, the Magic are eager to do that work. They are eager to put in the sweat and hours to make good on these promises. Even at the ground floor.
There are likely hard days ahead despite the media day optimism, the season may not see tangible success.
But if the Magic are ready and willing to do the work, they might very well build on their promise and have whatever measures as a success this season.