Arnie Kander refreshes Orlando Magic’s performance training

Chuma Okeke was among the players who traveled to Colorado to meet with the Magic's new head trainer, Arnie Kander. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports
Chuma Okeke was among the players who traveled to Colorado to meet with the Magic's new head trainer, Arnie Kander. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports /

The biggest acquisition the Orlando Magic made this offseason was not a player on the court.

The team’s roster stayed relatively the same after last year’s 34-48 season, which included that encouraging 29-28 finish to the season. The Magic are betting on internal development to improve the roster and push the team up toward the postseason.

If the theme of the upcoming season is about internal development then that is where the team needed to make its biggest gain.

That will come in the form of someone most Magic fans will not ever see.

Perhaps the biggest change to the Magic this offseason was not the promotion of Anthony Parker to general manager to replace John Hammond (who is moving into an advisory role and will still be at least partially involved with the Magic and their decisionmaking).

Instead, the biggest change was hiring Arnie Kander as vice president of player performance and wellness.

The Orlando Magic’s new VP of player performance and wellness shared his philosophies about helping players improve and perform at their peak.

Considering the number of injuries the Magic have had the past three years, injury prevention, rehabilitation and player performance is probably one of the most important things the Magic can invest in. Indeed, it is something the team has invested in.

Going to Kander, a 24-year veteran in the NBA most notably with the Detroit Pistons during their championship heydey in the mid-2000s, represents returning to someone with real basketball experience.

In Jeff Weltman’s tenure, he has sought to reach the cutting edge. He hired David Tenney as the team’s high-performance director after several years with the Seattle Sounders of MLS. Tenney revolutionized a lot of training practices for soccer.

When David Tenney left he promoted Lindsay Winninger to the team’s high-performance director position. Her background was in rehabilitation having worked with skier Lindsey Vonn in her recovery from a torn ACL.

The public does not know all the work they do. And injuries are still fairly random. But without a doubt, the injury questions surrounding this team have been the overarching story for the last three years at least.

The practices and philosophies for training might be fairly the same — sports science is still sports science as players try to make the most of their bodies and recover from the league’s grueling schedule.

Still, it is valuable to have someone now who has worked with NBA players before and for an extended time. Not to mention someone who has worked for a championship organization.

What Kander is doing so far is still getting a baseline and learning the team’s routines. He spoke about that and a lot more with the Orlando Magic’s Jake Chapman on the AdventHealth High Performance Podcast:

Among the things Kander discusses is how he tries to get players to take ownership of their routines. He wants players to understand the why of their routines rather than just going through them. Once they do that, then the process becomes theirs.

That is important to impart especially on a young team that is still establishing its routines and its process to get ready for games and the season.

Kander invited several players to his home base in Colorado — Jett Howard, Anthony Black, Kevon Harris and Chuma Okeke all were confirmed on the little trip — to do some baseline testing and bond with the players he would be working with.

That is a big thing for him. First, to make sure they are providing the right kind of care to the players (he told a great story about Tayshaun Prince and how they figured out he had some bad reactions to the healthy food they were giving him).

But most importantly, he feels it is important to make sure players bond and work together as they go through their workouts and recovery. That has been part of the process he has started implementing — whether that is the group trip to visit him in Colorado or the obstacle courses he has set up at the AdventHealth Training Center.

His big thing is finding ways to engage the players and test them in different ways.

Routine is important for every player, but over-repetition can be bad. He likes to challenge them with different activities. He noted that he would often have his Pistons teams play football on Sundays as a way to get their bodies moving in a different manner.

The last thing he noted is that he has been impressed with the approach of this young group. He sees the team as similar to the Pistons teams he worked with. They all have a chip on their shoulders and the desire to be great.

That is a start, of course.

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Whether all of this works and what adjustments need to be made will play out during the course of the season. But Kander brings a lot of experience working with basketball players. And that experience seems to be key.