The excitement around the Orlando Magic has not been this high in a very long time. Not since Dwight Howard departed the team in August of 2011.
The team has gone through its share of false starts and poor decision-making in rebuilds. The promise of growth and advancement never quite came to fruition. The team never felt quite complete.
The Magic never had real hopes for the postseason or any positive momentum to build on. Their one season in this interminable rebuild that gave them any hope ended in catastrophe with the head coach suddenly resigning and the team trading away valuable assets for cap room in a free-agency summer where everyone had cap room.
The Magic’s breakthrough into the playoffs came while the team was nearing the peak of its capabilities. And the team could not really advance, relying on young veterans but veterans nonetheless who had seemingly hit their ceiling.
There was never anything like this.
The Orlando Magic feel on the precipice of a big step forward and a long playoff run. But their 2024 season is not about where they end up. It is about the journey of getting there and what they will learn along the way.
There were never two players knocking on the door of legitimate stardom while still on their rookie contracts. There was never the buzz of a strong finish or even 50 games of sustained .500 basketball.
It feels like a small thing for this young Magic team. It is not the end goal. And that might be the most important point.
For as much excitement as there is for this young team coming up in the 2024 season, it is still a step in the journey. And the most important lesson — perhaps the biggest lesson that this season should impart — is that this season is just a step along the journey for this team.
Where this team ends up? Nobody quite knows that.
The national media is probably still trying to come around on the Magic. Everyone seems to recognize them as a potential team on the rise. Nobody is ready to rule the postseason out for the Magic. But they all want to see some proof before they invest in the idea.
Local fans are eager to see the team take the next step. Failing to place the team in the postseason picture is sure to get the message boards and Discord servers going. Everyone is convinced this team will make the postseason and start a long run of playoff appearances.
There is no reason for anyone not to believe this. The players certainly believe it.
But management has taken a different tact. They have tried to pump the brakes on this excitement as much as they can.
Their directive to their young team has been once again to “level up” as they did in the 2023 season. They have begun to make winning more of a priority and to learn to do things necessary to win consistently.
That is once again the directive, now under the label of playing “better basketball.” By that, president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman has spoken about playing “cleaner basketball” and reducing the team’s turnovers and mistakes.
What he has talked about is the natural growth of a promising young team. Orlando did not see the need to speed it along with any big moves. They simply wanted to give it the chance to grow, investing in what they already have and believing in what they already have.
And they have a lot to work with.
Orlando has stayed on its path and stayed focused on their players and their path. They have not gone for the “sugar high” to make the playoffs with a splashy move.
Their decisions have been steady and patient because they know there is still a journey to go and players to develop. They are not standing in the way of this team’s growth.
And so while the postseason is certainly a goal, it is not the goal for this team. The Magic want to see this team grow. They want to be along for the ride.
Paolo Banchero is already establishing his superstar bona fides. If he stays on the path his rookie year foretold, he could very well make the All-Star team in 2024 in Indianapolis.
Franz Wagner has turned in a stellar first two seasons and seems like a perfect player to pair with Banchero with his shooting and playmaking abilities.
Orlando has promising young veterans with a lot to prove in Wendell Carter and Markelle Fultz. Both needed second chances in the league and have found a home in Orlando. They still have plenty to prove as they continue to grow themselves, but have fit in well with the team’s overall bend toward versatility.
Cole Anthony emerged as a solid sixth-man option and spot starter. He found his groove last season and became much more efficient and effective for the team as his role settled down. He still has plenty of areas to grow, especially for a team that is still starved for shooting and creation throughout the roster.
Other young players are also set out with plenty to prove.
Jalen Suggs had a strong finish to his season but still has to prove he can stay healthy and contribute consistently on offense to make good on his defensive prowess. The same could be said for Jonathan Isaac and Chuma Okeke.
Anthony Black and Jett Howard are just getting added to the mix. But both have shown ways they can contribute in their early Summer League runs.
What this all says though is that this season is not so much about where the team ends up in April 2024. This season is about how they get there and who steps up to come along for the ride. This season is about seeing all of these players continue to come into their own and ultimately seeing how the puzzle all fits together.
That might be the bigger mission for the Magic’s upcoming season. They want to see how everyone reacts to the pressures of the season and how everyone grows together.
At the end of the day, some players may indeed get left behind. Some players may not be part of this team when winning becomes the sole focus and not a byproduct of their development. And that is why this season should be about the journey and the process of getting there.
Where the Magic end up is anybody’s guess. They probably could and should be a postseason team this year. That is the natural progression of their growth. But it is the journey of this growth that is the real end goal and the real information the Magic need to gather.