Franz Wagner had a whirlwind offseason.
An offseason that ended with him taking home a gold medal at the FIBA World Cup still has not quite hit him.
The gravity of what he and Germany accomplished was very big. Something that program had never done. And the way he and his team came together, building off their third place finish at EuroBasket the summer before, was something truly special.
The same kind of special run the Orlando Magic are hoping to build as they bring much of their own roster from last year’s 12-win improvement and largely successful season.
Franz Wagner did not arrive back in Orlando until a week ago — part of a cool-down period coach Jamahl Mosley wanted both Franz Wagner and Paolo Banchero to go through after the World Cup. Such is the life of a World Cup champion and International Man of Mystery.
The team he arrived to though was familiar. It had a lot of the same players returning. But there was something different in the air. The Magic are trying to accomplish something different and take another step.
The team might be the same, but the vibes at the Magic’s media day are different. This team is aiming to do something different. They are aiming to take that leap into the postseason and beyond.
The Orlando Magic are aiming to build off a successful season and keep growing. They may have much the same roster as last year. But the team has a more serious approach to take their next step.
To do that, the team has a level of seriousness and purpose to its approach that seems unlike anything the Magic have had in recent years. The team is the same but the vibes the team is giving off is something quite different.
"“I think we had a good vibe going last year too,” Wagner said. “I think it is important to build on what we built last year and not start from zero. I think it really helps that we have some continuity and a lot of the same faces here and people who know what the coaches want and how we played last year.”"
There was a lot to build off from last year. Orlando finished its season 29-28 after a 5-20 injury-filled start. The team had the sixth-best defensive rating in the league after Dec. 7. That was something the team felt like it could build off all offseason.
Looking back at that run, several Magic players said at media day the way the team played to close the season was proof of what this team could accomplish with a fully healthy team. They knew they could stand up to any team and felt like they entered every game knowing they had a chance to win.
That was a big step up — the level-up Mosley clearly talked about throughout last offseason and season. And it was a sure sign of the progress the team made — even beyond the 12-win improvement from last year.
Now the team is aiming to build on it.
"“Just living up to the expectations that we set for ourselves as a team,” Banchero said. “We have a lot of familiar faces in here. We have a lot of the same guys back with a couple new fresh faces. We had some success last year once we were all healthy. We’re just trying to carry that over to this season. Being able to start the season healthy is huge for us and will give us a real good look at what we can be.”"
How the team “levels up” next is the big question. This whole concept might be a “coachism” that is vague enough that the team can define success however it wants. But there are fewer and fewer vague things for this team to achieve. Nobody was afraid to say what destination this team wants to head to next.
Nobody shied away from talking about the postseason really for the first time. They all seem to understand that it will take tons of work to get there and they have to focus on the details in practice to achieve these goals.
That is why experiences like Wagner and Banchero’s run at the World Cup could be so important. It may not translate directly to the team, but the experience he and Paolo Banchero gained from playing in the World Cup could help them learn to play in pressure-packed games.
Banchero said he felt the team showed it could stand up to any team in the league. As long as the team sticks together, they are capable of winning.
That was the statement from a lot of the team. The only thing the team is lacking to achieve its goals is experience. And so there is a determination to gain that experience in any way they can.
"“You only learn through experience,” Markelle Fultz said. “For us, especially with the group of young guys that we have, for them to go through that at a young age, it only helps us. Even for myself and even some of the vet guys to see where they can help each other at. I think that was great. I think there was no better situation than to be in that position. We already have the mindset through the summer with how we are working.”"
The message from the front office and coaching staff throughout the offseason though was not on any grand notions of making the postseason or anything like that. They do not want the team to look too far ahead.
Mosley’s message has been to get better every day. He wants the team to focus on the daily work it will take to achieve these goals. It is easy to look ahead to the results at the end of the season. But those results are only built through the work every day in practice and in each game. They are built in the details it takes to win.
That is not an easy thing to do. Nor is it an easy thing to learn. That is the seriousness the team is after.
"“It’s basketball, it’s not rocket science,” president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman said. “We need to not foul as much. We need to not turn the ball over as much. We need to execute properly. It’s just growth. It’s something you assume in the NBA it’s baked in as young guys grow up, they do that stuff better. When we were healthy, we played good basketball. We need to stay healthy and play better basketball.”"
The youthful energy is certainly there for the Magic. They are not completely mature of course. They know there will be mistakes and missteps along the way. They still have a lot to learn.
But there is this determination to make this season exciting and deliver on the promise everyone believes the team has.
It starts with the work that begins in training camp Tuesday. The same team will come together with a very different mindset and belief in what is possible.
Nobody knows where this season will end. But the excitement was palpable inside the AdventHealth Training Center. So too was the determination to make it come true.
It may be the same team taking the floor for the Magic, but there is definitely a more determined and serious vibe that something is brewing for this young team. Now they just have to make good on it.