Orlando Magic have ground to make to win back their fans

Mo Bamba turnedin a season-best performance against the Cleveland Cavaliers as he believes in what the team is building. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Mo Bamba turnedin a season-best performance against the Cleveland Cavaliers as he believes in what the team is building. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports /

The way Mo Bamba talked about this season following Tuesday’s win over the Cleveland Cavaliers and the way players have continually talked about this season lends to a belief in what the team is building.

Bamba is set to become a restricted free agent at the end of the season. It is not entirely certain he will be back with the team. If he is, it will likely be in a reduced role as a spot starter coming off the bench.

Those realizations are probably far from his mind. He is just enjoying the time growing with this young team. To hear him speak about things, it seems he wants to see this team’s rebuild through and be a part of the growth.

It is easier to be all smiles after a win. Especially when Bamba set some NBA history in scoring 21 points, grabbing 12 rebounds and blocking six shots in addition to hitting five 3-pointers in the first quarter. It was one of Bamba’s best games of the season, including a big game-saving block late in the fourth quarter.

But the game still had the vibes of a team building . . . something. And even the fans in attendance could feel it.

Even if the players at the end of the game were not the players that mattered for this team moving forward. The team was still trying to be about something and showcase the kind of culture the team wants to build — one that will eventually have to be able to survive without its top players on the floor.

The crowd inside the Amway Center was behind the team that built the lead, especially as Markelle Fultz went to work in the third quarter on his way to 16 points.

This season for the Magic has not always looked this promising at the Amway Center. There have at times been notable embarrassments as opposing fans invaded the arena and made their presence known.

The Orlando Magic have had a sometimes rough season at the Amway Center. But optimism abounds as the team tries to build its foundation and bring fans along for the ride.

Jalen Suggs famously yelled at a Chicago Bulls fans sitting courtside after a big dunk, yelling “This is a Magic city.” The team is very much aware of the work the team has to do to win back fans.

But as the season has neared its end, the team has started to pick up steam and support. The things the team sees in itself started to go on display on the court.

It certainly started with Fultz’s return. Bringing back a fan favorite and a familiar face to the fold. Not to mention someone with a great story everyone following the team is behind.

The fact he played well and sparked a brief winning run for the magic helped matters. Orlando was as complete as it was going to be this season and played its best basketball of the year.

Philadelphia 76ers fans serenaded Joel Embiid with M-V-P chants during a game in December. They were shouted down in Orlando’s overtime loss in March. It became a heated environment for the team as Magic fans started to feel the confidence that comes with a team finding some direction and identity.

A team at the bottom of the standings is not necessarily going to bring fans to the arena. With just one home game remaining, the Magic are 26th in the league averaging 15,090 fans per game and 27th in average capacity at 80.1-percent.

The bottom-10 in that measure are all teams outside the playoffs except for the San Antonio Spurs.

At the end of the day, the only way any team truly can regain its fans is by winning on the floor. That is the biggest thing fans will respond to.

Selling that during a rebuild — especially the early stages when the team is still collecting the players they will ultimately build around — is difficult. There are a lot of things grabbing everyone’s attention. And it is hard to inject energy into a team at the bottom of the standings. There is a feedback loop of crowd energy and good play. It is hard to establish but it feeds itself.

All the Magic needed to accomplish this year was to show the outlines of the kind of team they want to be.

They did that by playing solid defense in the second half of the season — they rank ninth in the league in defensive rating since Jan. 1 (a span of 44 games). They have done that in the way they played as they came together and got healthier as the season advanced.

Fans have responded too. They have started to fill the Amway Center more and make their presence known. It is clearer what direction the team is trying to head now. And there at least have been enough reasons to get excited.

The fans will not be all the way back though until the team has a clearer winning path. That pressure will begin to build next year. Orlando certainly does not want a third straight year as one of the worst teams in the league.

The Magic cannot afford to waste many more years at the bottom of the standings. Fans are tired of constant rebuilding and need to see clearer progress (even if the team still needs another year of seasoning before making a playoff push).

There is not just the gap in the standings the team has to make up, it is the gap and belief in the stands they have to make up too.

Bamba and the Magic believe in what they are building. They believe in the long-term vision for the team and what they are trying to do.

Coach Jamahl Mosley has talked unendingly about the team’s togetherness and how the team has remained fighting hard for each other. These are all good early signs of the team’s ability to keep improving and their desire to make things work as they all have their eyes on the long-term.

It is hard not to like the guys when they are doing stuff like this:

Turning all of these good vibes into wins will be the ultimate test. And that will ultimately be how they make everyone believe in the grand vision they all seem to believe in.

It will be a long journey. And there will be a lot of buzz once again over whoever the Magic end up drafting in this year’s draft. That has the potential both to pick up interest and speed up the Magic’s rebuild.

Orlando knows ultimately the team will be judged by what happens on the court. If the team wants to bring the fans along, the Magic will not only play an entertaining style (which they seem to be building in earnest), but they will also deliver results on the Amway Center court too.

Next. 3 rising, 3 falling after the NCAA Tournament. dark

This is the ground floor. Everyone knows it.