The Orlando Magic are not one for setting hard and fast goals for their season. At least not publicly.
They understand their team is still young and developing. They still need to get their first taste of winning and learn how to do that consistently.
Publicly, this is the Magic’s main goal. Jamahl Mosley has labeled it “leveling up” referring not only to his young roster’s need to improve but also its need to learn how to win and compete more consistently.
The one thing the Magic are not doing is placing a win total mark — although they certainly want to improve on their 22 wins last season — or a standings goal. As much as fans should be thinking and dreaming about the Playoffs or Play-In Tournament, this is not the team’s overt goal as nice as achieving that would be.
Orlando is focused on its roster and having a good season.
But the specter of the draft is always hanging over any young team. And the 2023 Draft in particular is an especially haunting one.
The Orlando Magic are hopeful for a surprising season. But likely the team still needs some seasoning and development. And so the specter of a strong 2023 Draft class is hanging over them again.
The point of pain for teams to turn their focus to draft positioning is going to be a big one this year. It is not just the arrival of 7-foot wunderkind Victor Wembanyama. It is second-year G-League Ignite guard Scoot Henderson. It is Overtime Elite guards Ausar and Amen Thompson. It is the usual cavalcade of college standouts — Dariq Whitehead, Nick Smith, Cam Whitmore among them.
The names are not so important right now — although Wembanyama and Henderson are already considered elite prospects. Teams have to see these players perform throughout the season. Especially the college players and even the Thompson twins still have data and proof they need to provide.
There is a lot still to prove and show before we get to next June’s Draft. And surprises will emerge.
But this is considered a particularly strong draft class, especially at the top. Sam Vecenie of The Athletic does not believe it is as deep as the 2021 class, but he says it should be stronger than the 2022 draft class and has particularly more players with star potential. And it has a potential generational player in Wembanyama.
There are going to be a lot of teams who decide at some point that the draft is worth more than any fleeting playoff hopes.
Nobody at this point in the offseason should be too focused on the draft. If you do not believe your team is capable of making a push for the playoffs in August, then something is wrong with the project you are building.
Orlando absolutely has the talent and the capabilities to make a push and surprise the entire league to make the postseason — just ask Markelle Fultz.
There is still no denying that this outcome would need a lot of things to happen. There is a reason most predictions for the upcoming season have the Magic falling near the bottom of the Eastern Conference with many of the early betting lines setting the Magic at over/under 26.5 or 27.5 wins.
That is certainly some improvement but maybe not as much as fans would hope for.
Part of the reason for that might well be the pull of this upcoming draft class. If the Magic are out of the Play-In chase near the end of the season, especially after their difficult March/NCAA Tournament West Coast road trip, they very well could pack things in those final few weeks of the season in the same way they did last year.
By no means should this season be considered a success if the Magic are competing for the top pick in the Draft again. Orlando has to aspire to be more than this and move beyond the deep Lottery race.
If there is a standings goal for the team it is this.
The Magic should have enough young players they are looking to develop and need to use all 82 games this season to build experience. There should be no difference in what they are trying to accomplish in Game 82 as there is in Game 1. That is where the real focus for this season is.
Still, the draft is the draft. And the promise of something unknown always exists and entices. And the Magic are still likely to put themselves in a position for one of these top picks that could further help the team.
Even more than that, Orlando has the Chicago Bulls’ pick in this upcoming NBA Draft, giving them two picks to dangle to try to move around or be more aggressive to get the team some help.
The Magic’s own draft pick is valuable in itself but having that extra draft pick should enable them to be aggressive. Or quickly reload with some young players if something is not working out this year.
The Magic have other goals than the draft though. And that is where the focus should be.
But the league is constantly looking to the future. And teams are not doing their jobs if they are not aware of what is coming down the pike.
Orlando certainly aligned its rebuild with a strong 2021 class and struck rich in 2022. It would make sense if the team also considered the 2023 Draft as the last piece of their puzzle before taking steps forward. At least as a rough outline.
That will be a sotryline hovering in the background this season. One the team can silence by making a surprise push for the postseason. But one that will remain if the team plays as expected and struggles near the bottom of the standings.
At some point, the enticement of the draft will come into play.