There is understandable excitement surrounding the Orlando Magic.
Even with external expectations still fairly low — a recent power ranking from NBC Sports had the Magic as the worst team in the Eastern Conference — the team still has a great belief in what they are building and how things are coming together.
Those vibes were apparent throughout Summer League. Jamahl Mosley and his staff were minding the Summer League team. But essentially the whole team rolled into Vegas at some point to be around the Summer League squad and to get an eye on the top overall pick.
That was something everyone acknowledges is very rare. And the Magic feel like their culture is in a very good place. It is in a very good place for the team to continue growing.
At this point, everyone just wants to start the season and get things going.
So it is important then to understand what the expectations are for this season. And it always goes back to the final word Mosley gave his team as they exited the season — with a win over the Miami Heat.
The Orlando Magic have a mission to level up this coming season. What that means is a focus on the details as a young team aims to improve.
It is as vague as “the team needs to get better.” That part is abundantly obvious after a 22-win season. But the team also made it clear even then that the team would face some winning pressure. Another season spent largely at the bottom of the standings and angling for draft picks was not going to be acceptable.
Nor should it.
The repeated message when Mosley was on the ESPN broadcast watching the Orlando Magic’s Summer League game against the Oklahoma City Thundere was about learning how to win. That will be the key for the Magic this season.
The expectation for the team is to continue to improve individually. But it will also be to improve as a unit and hold each other accountable.
What does leveling up mean? It is all about learning the details and staying locked in more and more to perform at the highest levels.
Last season was about the team learning how to work and enjoy the process together. This season is about learning how to hold each other to a standard and meet even the baseline expectations.
This was the point Mosley reiterated when he hopped on the Road Trippin’ Podcast while he was still in Vegas. What the outlines and goals for this season — and what “leveling up” means — are becoming a whole lot clearer:
“It’s hard to say expectations because we’re going to be better. We’re going to have to be better. I keep telling our guys and the saying for me is just level up. They keep saying, ‘What does that mean?’ We’re going to compete more, we’re going to pay attention to detail, hold each other’s feet to the fire more on the court where they understand that level of how we’re going to play. Not making the same mistakes over again.”
A lot of that improvement should come from experience. Where last year the team was just letting everyone get a taste of the NBA and pointing them in the right direction, this year seems like the team is going to hold players to a higher standard.
The team wants to be playing more meaningful games and decrease the times they get blown out — Orlando had 14 losses of 20 points or more last season. The team wants to be taking steps toward competitiveness and winning meaningful games (Orlando was 13-20 in clutch situations last year).
But the bigger piece of this puzzle is the details and honing in on what will help the team win.
When Jalen Suggs rolled onto the podcast later in the show, Richard Jefferson asked him what he wanted to improve on. Suggs detailed all the various things he wanted to improve — his ball-handling, his shooting.
But he started with consistency. That is where he first latched onto when asked directly about this question.
Certainly, Suggs struggled throughout his rookie year because of injury. But it was a struggle too because his shot came and went and he was sometimes loose with the ball. Some of that is expected for a rookie guard especially.
Now armed with his first season of experience, there has to be a focus on improving in those areas and being more precise with them.
As Jefferson explains, skill work can take years to build through repetition, but the areas where a player can control their consistency is through their playmaking and defense. Both are areas that Suggs showed plenty of ability and can still improve.
In that case, Orlando should see a good jump from their second-year guard. Especially if he can stay healthy — Suggs said on the ESPN broadcast of their Summer League game against the Sacramento Kings he was back doing on-court work after his ankle surgery earlier this offseason, and he reaffirmed that during the Road Trippin’ podcast appearance.
But that is the same mindset everyone will need. Everyone will need to be focused on what they can do well and how they can repeat that success over and over again. To Mosley’s point, they will need to be able to hold each other accountable and expect more from each other on the court while supporting each other in the process.
That is part of what happened last year. There was the moment in January when Wendell Carter spoke up in the locker room unprompted to keep the team focused after the team lost early leads and let games get away from them in the second half.
Orlando did not win that third quarter, but the team held serve and held the lead, eventually winning 114-95.
It was a critical moment for the team and a critical moment in this team’s development. Orlando hopes it will not hit those lows again. But it is important to know that the players will police themselves some and help push each other back in the right direction.
Now comes the part of everyone understanding what the right direction is and how to row in that direction more and more. That will be one of the disadvantages of the team’s youth and age. Orlando will have to figure this out on the fly and learn these lessons without the benefit of experience.
That will take attention to detail and a tremendous amount of trust in Mosley and his coaching staff that they are pushing things in the right direction.
They have done a good job with that first step. They have built a culture where everyone cares and everyone wants to build and grow together. Now comes the focus of that culture into winning.
That is going to take attention to detail this team has not shown quite yet. It is something they will have to learn. And their ability to hone in on these details and stay focused on them will be the key to their success this year.