When Orlando Magic players walk into the AdventHealth Training Center for the team’s media day Monday, everything will be familiar.
This will be the second season in the new training facility, so the lockers will feel familiar and a bit more worn — that new multimillion-dollar facility smell has likely worn off.
The team kept almost every player from last year’s roster, giving the team a familiar feeling of camaraderie both on and off the court of last year’s 34-win team. Coach Jamahl Mosley is back for his third season, like so many of his players now a year wiser with experience and a year more confident in his philosophies and ideas.
The Magic made the decision to lean on continuity and stability after last year’s successful season. They clearly saw the seeds of what this team can become and there was no meaningful way to improve it other than to see young players grow.
They passed on opportunities to strike it rich in trades, believing that this group had the ability to take those steps themselves.
But everything is different for this team.
The Orlando Magic will bring back a familiar group to try to grow and level up into the playoffs. But everything is different. The expectations and potential of this team will change how this team is judged this year.
Paolo Banchero made that clear when he accepted the Rookie of the Year Award and declared this season was “playoffs or bust.” That was almost certainly youthful exuberance and the high of a strong season where the Magic won more consistently. Everyone just wants more.
If the Magic’s constant goal is to level up and they were the last team eliminated from postseason contention last year, where else is the team supposed to go? What other goal should the team have?
It is not quite that the Magic have lost a free pass to make mistakes. The front office and coach Jamahl Mosley for their part have set the team’s goal this year as playing better basketball. It is a vague enough statement that the team can define success however it wants. But like the “leveling up” mantra from last year, everyone will be able to know it when they see it.
Mosley has told his team to embrace the expectations and accept that is what both the fans expect of them and what the team expects of itself. But the team has to enjoy the process and work it will take to bring out those results. The Magic are not going to make the postseason because of some birthright. It will take incredible effort and work to get there.
By its definition though, even talking more seriously about the postseason and all that entails suggests something is different. It suggests there is a bit more pressure to win and how this season will get judged is ultimately on the wins and losses.
And that is something very new for this team.
The pressure is ramping up on this team. The season is not just about the good vibes that the team promotes. Vibes are not going to win games — although they certainly do not hurt.
This season is about gaining seriousness in competition. This season is about showing maturity in a young team. It is about focusing on what it will take to win both for the short-term of this season and ultimately in the long-term for what this team will one day become.
The Magic are hoping continuity and familiarity will help give them a leg up on the competition. They are at last healthy entering a training camp, giving everyone at least a day where they can all grow together and not leave anybody behind.
This young team certainly has a determination to show what it can do and prove some doubters wrong. They too clearly feel the potential the group has. And they want to make good on that potential.
But potential is always just that. It is potential. Potential energy means nothing until it becomes kinetic energy.
And in a league where change is the only defining constant, the Magic cannot afford to stand still. Not again. There will be pressure on this roster and pressure on the front office to determine what works and what does not work for the long term.
Hanging in the background of this season is the front office seeking ways to improve this team meaningfully.
Many fans got frustrated the Magic stayed out of conversations for star players like Damian Lillard or Jrue Holiday or have stayed quiet on even high-level role players like Buddy Hield. The Magic seemed completely out of any trade discussions, choosing to work on their own players to watch them improve.
Orlando did not move either of its draft picks on draft night to add a veteran player. They used their cap room on short-term contracts they can easily get out of — a two-year, $22-million contract for Joe Ingles with a team option and the second year and a two-year, $16-million deal for Moe Wagner that reportedly has some non-guaranteed money in the second year.
The Magic put a lot of faith in last year’s 34-win team to keep improving. Barring a breakout 50-win season, that is not going to last. Orlando will have to seek ways to keep improving and getting better.
Pressure inevitably changes dynamics. Expectations inevitably change dynamics. This is not a team playing with house money anymore. This is a team with real stakes and real pressure and expectations to perform.
How will they do under those circumstances? Who steps up to the plate and who gets left by the wayside?
That changes the terms of the season. So while the roster is virtually the same and everything seems familiar, everything is indeed different.
Nothing rolls completely over from season to season. Everything has to get rebuilt — familiarity and stability help determine how fast it gets rebuilt. But there is new pressure and new focuses change the dynamics on the team.
A lot more is expected of the Magic this season. That changes how we view everything and sets the team up for an intriguing season where everyone will find up just what this team is made of and what they can accomplish.