When Gary Harris arrived in Orlando in March, it would have been easy for him to put his head down.
He was going from a team with championship aspirations to one just starting a rebuild. It was a story he had already been a part of. The only benefit to him at this point perhaps was a pressure-free opportunity to get healthy and reclaim his career.
Harris still has value around the league as a defender and 3-point shooter if he can get himself right again and put himself back in a position to compete at a high level.
This was an opportunity for Harris too though. This was also a chance to be at the beginning of something. And he seemed to want to be part of that process again.
Or at least share his knowledge with the team for as long as he is here.
"“I’m just trying to bring my experience each and every day,” Harris said at media day. “Just be able to come in and work and push these guys and help these guys, there’s a lot that comes with it. This is a very prestigious job that you have to take full advantage of. Just to be able to help these guys as they adjust and get used to playing in this league and figuring out how to win.”"
There is rightfully a lot of excitement about the young players on this Magic team. There is a lot of promise and the Magic have a responsibility now to develop them and put them in the best positions to succeed.
Yes, that means they are going to play and there will be some focus on getting them on the court likely at the expense of some veteran players.
But it is also evident how important veteran players are going to be too. And the veterans are embracing this role.
The Orlando Magic are a young team and they are leaning on a collection of veterans to serve as strong examples for the team. They seem ready to embrace this role.
They serve as stabilizers on the court, players whom the coach can count on being in the right spot and coaching on the floor. Especially with a rookie coach, this is a vital thing.
Already the evidence of this soft influence is clear.
Jalen Suggs said he had been talking with E’Twaun Moore about his approach to shooting floaters. Robin Lopez said he has been talking with Mohamed Bamba and Wendell Carter during drills. You can see on the court how Terrence Ross and Gary Harris are both involved in helping the young wings find their way.
Coaches cannot pass down this on-court know-how in the same way. And so veteran players are vital.
"“With the younger guys it is kind of leading by example and not really pushing too hard,” Terrence Ross said during media day. “I think one thing as a younger guy, everyone will listen to someone they respect and not someone who is always trying to force their opinion down their throats.”"
Ross said he went to the new coaching staff and asked them what they needed him to do to help. If they needed him to playmake more, he would be willing to work on his passing to help the team.
Other veteran players have also made it clear they are here to help. E’Twaun Moore said he loved helping younger players during the Phoenix Suns’ NBA Finals run last year and it was rewarding to see players grow. Robin Lopez made it clear he is happy to help the young bigs however he can.
That kind of early buy-in is critical to get everyone else to sacrifice for the rest of the team.
Of course, there is that second part of the equation too.
Veteran players always accept the role of passing on their knowledge to the next generation. That is part of the fraternity. But keeping veterans engaged with young teams focused on rebuilding rather than winning can often be difficult.
Especially since the quality veterans are the ones who want to win and these developing teams want to build a winning culture. That interest can easily wane. And even good veterans can succumb to checking out a bit as the season winds down with little to play.
But it will be essential for these young players to have veterans who are bought in and doing their part to help the team reach its potential.
So far it seems like these veteran players are accepting these roles and eager to help the team grow.
"“Just take it one step at a time,” Moore said during media day. “You can’t skip a step in trying to be great. Every day, it’s just working hard in practice, guys taking care of their bodies, having the unity to be together. Just knowing this is a process and it’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to be a process. As long as guys are hungry and want to keep getting better, this is going to be a success.”"
Ultimately, the veterans are only there to help establish habits and set a standard. The success of this rebuild will depend on the young players reaching their potential and being put in positions to succeed.
The older players are there to help along the way and also to try to keep players focused on the larger goal. That is ultimately to win.
It may not happen a lot in this early stage. Young players are notoriously inconsistent as they find their way in the league. They take their lumps early in their careers.
Finding players who can keep them focused on the right things even through all this is vital and maybe the most important role from the veteran players.
"“That’s the hardest thing in this league is figuring out how to win,” Harris said at media day. “Coming in each and every day doing the right steps, listening to our coach and pushing each other. Figuring out how to win is going to be fun.“It’s very hard, but it’s going to be very fun. I’m looking forward to helping these guys every step of the way whether it is helping our young guys and giving advice or showing them how to do certain things. I’m looking forward to embracing this role and winning as many games as possible.”"
For the team to find success this season, it will take everyone playing their role. That includes the veterans.
The team has seemingly found players who are excited about what is in store for their teammates and eager to take on this veteran role.