The first image everyone had of Jamahl Mosley after the Orlando Magic hired the longtime assistant coach was a quick video on the court.
At his heart, Mosley is an assistant coach. He made his name as a player development coach, rising from an unpaid intern with the Denver Nuggets to an assistant coach with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Dallas Mavericks.
He gained a reputation as someone who related well to players and worked them hard, helping them get better in the process.
So his first image in the Magic’s practice facility was him on the floor doing what he does best. Within hours of the Magic announcing him as their head coach and in his first days inside his new office, he was on the floor working out Mo Bamba.
This would be something of his first reclamation project. And the relationship that Mosley built that day was the same kind of hands-on approach he and his coaching staff would take.
For a rebuilding team, the Magic needed someone looking to their future. They needed someone who would see the long-term goals for a team that was going to struggle. Someone who would lay a foundation for how the team would play and focus on internal growth and development.
The Orlando Magic needed a coach to build their foundation and keep the team focused on its long-term goals. Jamahl Mosley was successful in getting buy-in to a long processs.
It was a lot for a young coach to take on.
Rebuilds, especially at their beginning stages, are extremely difficult. They can go sideways very easily. And losing can eat away at a team.
What remained the most impressive thing about Mosley is none of that seemed to matter. He seemed to have his whole team focused on the process — that same process that began on the floor with Bamba at the beginning of the season. They were focused on the daily work, putting faith the results will come as they start to come together.
The most difficult task in a season like the Magic had is to keep everyone believing in that long-term vision. But there was very little break within the team.
Every young player on this Magic team seems extremely invested in the team — Bamba, set for restricted free agency, has made it clear he would like to stay in Orlando.
How did he do this? How did he keep a team together full of the high-character guys the Magic seek through a season of struggle? How do you keep a team full of young players focused on long-term goals?
That is the miracle of this season. Of course, nobody knows whether it will translate and propel forward. That is the challenge for the team moving ahead. It remains the big question ahead for a young team.
But this was a good start.
There is no getting around it. As a coach, you are judged on your record. The Magic were 22-60 and had the second-worst record in the league. There is no denying the team struggled in every way imaginable.
Orlando finished the season 29th in the league in offensive rating (103.9 points per 100 possessions) and 19th in defensive rating (112.1 points allowed per 100 possessions). The team was 28th in the league in net rating at -8.1 points per 100 possessions.
The Magic earned every bit of their poor record. And Mosley certainly had a hand in that in some ways.
There was no doubt growing pains for Mosley.
Some of his rotations early in the season showed he was still learning how to manage a game — there were a few games where the clearly solid Wendell Carter would simply not play for long stretches in the second half. That was corrected through the course of the season as players began to emerge and improve.
Orlando’s defense, despite insistence this was the focus of training camp, struggled to start the season. In the Magic’s first quarter of the season (21 games), the team ranked last in the league in defensive rating giving up 112.0 points per 100 possessions. Defenses usually reign early in the season.
But Orlando found its defense later in the season. The Magic notably had the seventh-best defense after the All-Star Break, giving up 111.2 points per 100 possessions. It was a small raw improvement, but still a big step for a young group and something they hung their hat on as the season came to a close.
It was the greatest sign of the team’s improvement and the biggest sign of the work Mosley hoped to establish.
That was a long journey to get there. But there were plenty of other signs the Magic were building something different.
Orlando’s offense was bad. But Mosley introduced plenty of modern elements and empowered players to make decisions.
They took more threes and more corner threes than they have in a long time — the Magic were 11th in 3-point attempts per game and 19th in corner 3-pointers per game at 8.1 per game, the most for the team since 2009 and their highest rank since 2014.
Of course, the trick is to make those shots. And that is the real challenge for the team moving forward.
As if to belabor the point. The other item the Magic put their focus on was on was the team’s pace. Orlando picked up the pace especially when Markelle Fultz returned after the All-Star Break.
But all the hints of a real team and ideas to grow were there. And until the last few weeks of the season, the Magic seemed to find things.
For a team in its first year of a rebuild with a new coach, those hints were all the team needed. And the fact that so many players were playing really well toward the end of the season — whether it was Wendell Carter, Franz Wagner, Markelle Fultz or even Jalen Suggs — was a good sign that the player development chops and culture-building Mosley was hired for worked.
The Magic and all of their players believe they are building something special. And it is easy to feel all that investment.
Player Grade: B+
Jamahl Mosley exited the season with a challenge for his Orlando Magic players. There is clearly a new leaf this team wants to turn.
He asked everyone to “level up” at the end of the season as the Magic celebrated a season-ending win over the Miami Heat. Having the first overall pick changes a lot of expectations for what the team can do, even if the expectations are still modest.
Mosley did an incredible job building the team together and keeping them pushing toward the same goal. That was an incredible achievement. And even in a season full of losses, the team was compelling and interesting to watch. It was truly about the process.
But those winning expectations are coming.
And just as the players have to level up, the coach has to level up too.
Mosley still has to be the player development coach. That part will and never should go away. We will still get our videos of Mosley on the floor with his players and doing the work with them in practice or during games.
Mosley’s strength in his relationship-building. The players on this team trust him and want to work hard with him as much as for him.
But learning how to coach a winning team and making strategic choices and changes is a difficult thing to learn. This is one area Mosley struggled in his first year as a coach. But it was not his task either.
He got better with managing rotations as the season went on. Jamahl Mosley is certainly more willing to experiment with lineups and try new things — a refreshing change with this young team compared to the always strict structure under Steve Clifford.
But what no one has seen is whether Mosley can adjust his tactics and strategy on the fly. That winning pressure simply was not there throughout the season.
For the purposes of this season, Mosley accomplished the goals the team needed. They established a foundation for the approach and process they want to take to compete and play. Everyone is bought in.
The next step is going to be a bigger test for the young coach. But if there is one thing everyone knows about Mosley already is that he is going to keep working.