Orlando Magic are beaming about their outlook

Jalen Suggs and the Orlando Magic are looking ahead to a very bright future as their season concludes. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports
Jalen Suggs and the Orlando Magic are looking ahead to a very bright future as their season concludes. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic had a special season this year.

There is no other way to put it and no other way to see it.

The team’s record is not the indicator of the team’s success — although the Magic certainly are thrilled to see the team increase its win total into the mid-30s from the 22 games the team won last year. The statistical improvements are not even an indicator of the team’s success.

It is more of a feeling. Something that feels intangible. It is a vibe. A feeling about the future and that things are going in the right direction.

Where the Magic were a year ago was a team that had some interesting players but very little direction. The first overall pick helps make the future clearer. But now at the end of this latest season, something indeed feels different.

The outlook for the Orlando Magic has flipped in the past year as the team can point to a brighter future on the horizon as their 2023 season concludes.

This franchise and this team are absolutely glowing. The season might be ending — and ending without a postseason — but everyone cannot wait to see where this team goes next. For the first time in more than a decade, it feels like the team has a clear future.

And the team can feel that optimism and excitement as much as the fans and the national media can too. Everything has changed for the team.

"“It’s so much better,” Jalen Suggs said after Thursday’s home finale. “Just the jump that we’ve made is crazy. Knowing we were right here. . . . Now we’re not playing to build something, we’re playing to be more consistent with what we’ve already built. We continue to show what we’ve been doing and the work we’ve put in all year.”"

The team has made an incredible turnaround.

Injuries put the team in a deep hole at 5-20. Through the first quarter of the season, it definitely felt like the team was doing the same thing all over again and playing for ping pong balls. Even the number one pick playing at a Rookie of the Year level even early in the season was not enough to propel the team forward.

But things were certainly percolating early there too. The Magic were losing close games and were doing so without a point guard while testing the bounds of positionless basketball.

The addition of both Markelle Fultz and Cole Anthony crystallized the team’s vision and gave them some organization and direction. The Magic, entering their final game of the season, went 29-27. That is a long enough time for everyone to believe there is something real there that previews a playoff run in the very near future.

Orlando was, after all, the last Eastern Conference team officially eliminated from postseason contension. All with the second-youngest roster in the league.

That youth and the fact the team knows it had to go through growing pains and gain experience is part of the excitement that lies ahead. But they stuck together and made a lot out of this season. And that has changed everything for the team.

"“I’m excited about this group,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after Thursday’s home finale. “We’re excited about each other. The fans are obviously excited about what we are doing. We have such a great young group that has gotten better.“They’ve learned the level of resiliency that they have to have on a nightly basis to have success in this league. It’s a group that cares and a group that also believes they belong where we’re supposed to be. I think that’s the biggest key with this group is that they are going to continue to fight and believe in what we’re capable of doing.”"

Obviously, success starts with the players. It starts with Paolo Banchero establishing himself as the Rookie of the Year and the potential star for this franchise. It starts with Franz Wagner taking a big leap in his game.

It continues with Markelle Fultz starting to look more like the first overall pick of his draft class and reclaim the potential lost to injury. Or with Wendell Carter providing a solid base defensively and a solid screening presence on offense, filling in all the gaps in the offense.

Or with Cole Anthony filling in his role coming off the bench, being the spark plug for this team. Or with Suggs finding his role and purpose off the bench in the role he has carved for himself as he gets healthier.

A lot of what this team needs to reach the next level is self-evident. The team needs more experience and consistency first and foremost. They made several mistakes that come with youth. They need more shooting and to add depth to their lineup so that they can play more consistently.

But this group really drew itself together. The Magic fought for each other and banded together to make the most of this season. And they all seem genuinely invested in seeing what this group can do with a full season and another year of seasoning.

"“The mood is great,” Suggs said after Thursday’s home finale. “We’ve had an amazing year, played really well, everyone has grown and matured. We are more consistent with what we’re doing. Now it’s about just locking it in. Next year it’s all on us. There are no excuses anymore. There’s not anything we can say, we’re young, we haven’t been there yet, we haven’t been in these situations, it’s about going out there and proving it to ourselves and going about our business.”"

That is all the Magic have to do is to prove themselves. That is all any young team has to do. And for much of this season, the Magic did prove themselves to be far better than anyone anticipated.

That only builds on the excitement for what this team can do next. The whole mood and outlook for this team have changed.

They have earned the privilege of the expectations that will come to them this offseason.

It is now completely on the Magic to improve and take that all-important next step. Next year, the team will have playoff expectations. The team will not be playing without pressure anymore.

They have a lot of work ahead to make good on the promise they have shown this year. It is not going to be a straight path as clear as it might be.

"“I think everybody has a common goal coming into next year,” Suggs said after Thursday’s home finale. “We’ve shown we can do it. It now is just about everyone doing what they’re supposed to do this summer and going out and accomplishing that.”"

But everyone is excited for this process and what comes next.

Fans are excited about this team — they sold out the Amway Center with the team’s highest total attendance since the 2018 season and its highest total attendance rank in the league except for the COVID years since Dwight Howard’s last year in 2012. They are buying in and see a future for this team.

They have gone through the pains of tanking time and time again hoping for a way forward. The team seems to have that way forward.

Of course, that comes with the possibilities of trades and free agency that may upset the apple cart and disrupt the chemistry that has helped make this season so enjoyable. Change is inevitable as this team looks to improve. That comes with the pressure.

But for the first time in a long time, so does the possibility of making the postseason and being a perennial player. The Magic have not felt like that for a long time.

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Orlando has indeed flipped the script and set their future up. And while this exciting 2023 season is closing, the Magic are eagerly awaiting how they will grow and develop next. Everyone sees a bright future ahead.