Paolo Banchero has already had a full summer it would seem.
He was on the grid at the Miami Grand Prix a few weeks ago, where he gave former driver and trackside reporter Martin Brundle a shot at redemption after Brundle confused the soon-to-be top overall pick with Patrick Mahomes.
Indeed, everyone knows Banchero’s name now. After winning Rookie of the Year and averaging 20.0 points per game, erasing some horrid Magic history and setting several historical marks, Banchero has the Magic’s future looking different and brighter than it has in more than a decade.
One player can do that in the NBA. And Orlando believes Banchero can be that player.
Everything with this Magic team is about the future. So much of the talk entering the draft process is about how best to support and grow the young group.
Still, that future seems pretty far off. Nobody is expecting the Magic to become contenders overnight. Nobody is really expecting the Magic to be serious playoff contenders next year. They may have to settle for being the “trendy” pick and a dark horse to make their postseason debut.
The Orlando Magic are still not expected to be a playoff team. But their star, Paolo Banchero, already thinks they will be. And he does not seem prepared to accept anything less.
But Banchero will be the first to tell anyone that is not what he is thinking. That is not his timeline or timetable for the team’s success.
Everyone seems to recognize he is the future of this team. The Magic are surely going to be careful developing him and not putting too much on his plate too quickly — even avoiding major all-in moves in favor of slow-building a culture that can be sustained. Everyone senses how close this thing is but also fragile the future can be if it is not handled with some care.
Still, Banchero knows there is no time for the present. While the team is certainly eager for balance and careful planning, Banchero and his teammates believe their time is now.
Regardless of what the Magic do this offseason, Banchero and his teammates already seem determined to make the future the present.
From the very beginning, Banchero did not seem eager to wait. And getting a taste of the postseason chase this past season seemingly has only increased his eagerness to make his mark on the league.
"“Watching the playoffs, it just doesn’t feel right that we’re not on that stage — I’m not on that stage,” Banchero tells SLAM. “I just feel like that’s where I need to be. That’s where we need to be. That’s where we all want to be.“But I think this year was a step in the right direction — the vibe we had, how competitive we were all year, the teams we beat, the teams we should have beat, it just left a specific taste in our mouths. And, you know, we gotta try and get it next year. I’m excited. I think we’re all excited.”"
This echoes what Banchero said during his Rookie of the Year acceptance award.
The above quote came from his cover photo shoot in May. He told the media in Orlando after just the first week of the postseason that the team’s group text thread was buzzing with thoughts about the postseason and how much everyone wanted to be there.
It led Banchero to say in the plainest of terms that next season is “playoffs or bust” for the Magic. They do not seem willing to settle for less after going 29-28 in their final 57 games and sitting just three games out of the postseason when they were finally eliminated from contention with three games to go.
As Banchero noted, there will take a lot of work to get there. Orlando will have to add some new players to the roster to get there — the sixth and 11th picks in the upcoming NBA Draft will be major tools in that process as will nearly $25 million in cap room.
But everything always starts with the star player. It is impossible to project how Banchero will get better, but everyone seems eager to see how he does.
Banchero is already in the gym. Workout videos on social media showed him working out with other LIFT Sports Management clients in Miami while he was down there for the Miami Grand Prix.
More importantly, it will take a certain winning attitude to help the team get there. It takes a quote like the one above where everyone on this young team got a taste of winning regularly and now seemingly only wants more of it.
It takes the anecdote shared at the start of the SLAM article that Banchero has shared previously about how he was upset after his debut game despite the records and the statement he personally made.
Everyone around him was celebrating his first game. He was upset because his team lost.
That sticks with you about a person. It is not about his stats or his accomplishments, it is about what his team does.
For sure, the Magic will go as far as Banchero will take them. He is going to have to make some major improvements to get the team where it wants to go.
Banchero’s first season was full of lessons about managing the league and getting through a season where even the best teams will lose at least 20 times and more likely 30 times. But it also clearly started a hunger for him to do more.
It showed him and his team what is possible and what they are capable of. Now they will have to prove it all over again and more.
Everyone though is beginning to recognize the Magic as one of the teams of this league’s future. Everyone is starting to understand just how good the Magic can be.
He already has his eyes on the prize.
The question is how quickly. And clearly, Banchero believes the time is now for the Magic to take that big leap.
He is not going to settle for less.