Orlando Magic’s New Year’s resolution is to win more

Orlando Magic, Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Orlando Magic, Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports /

It is a simple directive, no?

The point of the game is to win and teams just do not go out there to go through the motions and collect a paycheck. At least the decent teams do not do that. And there should be alarm bells ringing if that is what any team is doing.

The Orlando Magic organizationally spoke mostly about development as the goal for their season. They spoke about their desire to continue to improve. To “level up,” as it were.

That is still the biggest goal for this team. They still want to see this team improve and get better. They want to see young players emerge as potential stars and players for this team and holes they know they need to fill. They want to see who will step up to the plate.

This is a season of discovery.

But it also needs to be a season of taking that necessary next step. It needs to be a season where the team starts to put those puzzle pieces together. And while there is still some experimenting and tinkering to go as the Magic find their identity and their style, there is still that bottom line.

The Orlando Magic are still a developing team and still have a lot of growth to make. But as they look ahead to 2023, the team should make this year about winning first and foremost.

This year’s goal is to win. The Magic are in the process of shedding the “development tag” and beginning to put together the makings of a postseason team.

That carrot is still out there for the team — after games on New Year’s Eve, the Orlando Magic are just 3.5 games behind the Chicago Bulls for the final Play-In spot. The team saw how quickly it could separate itself from the bottom of the standings and move up a tier in the postseason chase by just stringing together wins — winning eight of nine climbed them into this position.

And so this calendar year for the Magic is truly about that most simple and basic thing. Their goal this year is to win more and build the consistency that comes with winning.

Of course, the Magic are not about to dramatically change their roster to get there.

The team is not going to make any wild moves at the trade deadline meant to push this team into that postseason cameo, as valuable as that might be. The team still has its bigger focus in mind. They want to properly evaluate the team they have and get a better sense of what can work with this group.

Winning would be a byproduct of this process. But the Magic, as president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman said repeatedly during the preseason, are not going to skip steps in this process. They are still in the experimenting and figuring things out stage of their rebuild.

As the Magic prepare for the second half of their season, they are still in this process. Orlando has not seen its roster fully healthy yet. There are pieces to the puzzle that still need to come in place.

And this year is about figuring out how to make those pieces fit together in whatever way they can.

But what the Magic have seen in the first half of the season is very clearly the beginnings of a winning roster. It is not just the win streak that brought tons of confidence and optimism over the last two weeks — an optimism that some very frustrating losses have dulled as the team has gone on a three-game losing streak.

They have seen Paolo Banchero set several marks that the Magic have not seen from a rookie since Shaquille O’Neal as he has staked himself as the clear-cut favorite to win Rookie of the Year. Franz Wagner too has emerged as a burgeoning young star with a steady drumbeat of scoring from all areas of the floor.

The team has also embraced an experimental style that uses its forwards as key playmakers. The Magic have not been afraid to get funky with their lineups and to give them their chances to succeed or fail. The team has been willing to explore the limits and shortcomings of its roster.

Those experiments will still come. The team has yet to see Wendell Carter on the floor alongside Markelle Fultz, Franz Wagner and Paolo Banchero. And, of course, the team has yet to reintroduce Jonathan Isaac to this group.

There is still a lot to do for this team and things to tinker with as the team prepares for a critical offseason to begin that turn toward building a winning and more playoff-capable team.

This year’s Magic team can show the front office how close they really are to that goal and how aggressive they can and need to be this offseason.

Banchero and Wagner have already seemingly reached a near-All-Star level with their play, giving the team a critical foundation to build from. One that may be more ready for serious moves than initially believed.

The Magic’s six-game win streak and eight-of-nine stretch showed what this team is capable when everything comes together. Orlando is fighting to get to playing that way consistently. And right now, the team is struggling to find it as they deal with suspensions and integrate injured players back into the fold.

This is the curse of young teams of course. They will go through wild swings as they learn how to play in this league on a daily basis.

The Magic are still growing and developing. That is still what this season is about at its heart.

But the expectations need to begin to change too. Orlando has proven its potential and what it is capable of. There will be growing pains in the process and growth is not linear. But the team still wants to see itself grow.

And the only way to measure growth truly is to win. That should quickly become more of the stanard for the Magic. An expectation and a reality for this growing young team.

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For 2023, winning needs to be what truly matters throughout the organization. This is the place the team needs to take its biggest step and biggest growth.