Orlando Magic are the team no one talks about, but knows is coming

Franz Wagner is among the players many around the league see due for a big leap this year for the Orlando Magic. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)
Franz Wagner is among the players many around the league see due for a big leap this year for the Orlando Magic. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images) /

It is OK if the national media is not quite sure what to make of the Orlando Magic.

For the last decade, the Magic have been an afterthought. Worse than that, they have at times been a laughingstock or just so nondescript as not even worth laughing at.

There is still a bit of, “It’s just the Magic” out there.

You could hear it during the Damian Lillard discussions when several podcasts threw the Magic into trade discussions just because they needed to do something. It really became a pillaging of the Magic’s ample resources. What are they doing with them anyway?

Never mind, last season was a highly successful season that saw the team win 34 games and become the last team eliminated from postseason contention. Never mind, that they had the runaway Rookie of the Year who put himself in discussions with some all-time great players.

Still, there are plenty of those doubting the Magic. There are a lot of people dismissing what they accomplished last year or still view them as that nondescript team.

That is not how the executives in the league view this team though. That is not how a lot of observers around the league feel.

The Orlando Magic are a quiet team in the national conversations around the league. But the league executives see something different in this young team.

If you watched the Orlando Magic’s games against the New Orleans Pelicans and Cleveland Cavaliers and their broadcasts, they certainly worked hard to put the Magic over as a team on the rise and a team that is set to make noise in the Eastern Conference. It helped too that the Magic played really well in those two games.

The Magic are a team that many feel is about to make a big step this season. All those predictions saying they will not even make the Play-In Tournament are increasingly looking silly.

The NBA’s GM poll was released earlier this week and the Magic were surprisingly well-represented — mostly in categories talking about the future of the league.

The Orlando Magic received three votes for “Which team will be most improved” (the Oklahoma City Thunder received 10) and two GMs voted the Magic for “Which team has the most promising young core?” (again, the Thunder won with 22 votes).

To that point, Jamahl Mosley received a vote for “Which coach is the best manager/motivator of people?”

Furthering that point, both Franz Wagner and Paolo Banchero received votes for “Who is most likely to have a breakout season in 2023-24?” Wagner received four votes and Banchero received two votes on that front (Anthony Edwards won that polling).

On top of this, in a separate poll of 25 league executives by HoopsHype to determine which player is most likely to have a breakout season, Franz Wagner came out on top, narrowly beating Cade Cunningham. Regardless of that, Wagner is a player people around the league expect to take a major step.

FanSided also named Wagner No. 11 on its list of the top 25 players under 25, highlighting how Wagner has turned the “Jack of all trades, master of none” to an advantage for himself and his expanding slate of skills.

That was something even the ESPN crew had to acknowledge. Both Wagner and Banchero were two of the biggest risers on their annual ranking of the top 100 players in the league. Wagner went from unranked to No. 52 and Paolo Banchero jumped from No. 82 to No. 30. Yes, ESPN believes Banchero is due for a big season.

Granted then, no other Magic players reached the top 100 on ESPN even if Markelle Fultz and Wendell Carter have dotted the top 100 lists on other sites.

Orlando is still seeking notice and attention. Of course, the only way to do that is on the court.

But, the team is getting noticed. There are expectations for this team. And even the NBA diehards have to admit the Magic are doing something interesting.

They may not be the team that jumps up to title contention this season. But there is definitely an expectation that the team lays a path toward contention this season. Especially if these two young players take the step up everyone seems to be anticipating.

Nobody in Orlando will say that their ascendance is assured. There is a lot of work to do to get where the team wants to go. And president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman is not in a rush to get there. He wants to see how his group improves and particularly what steps Banchero and Wagner take.

Clearly, though, there is a sense the Magic are coming and that there is something interesting happening in the back halls of the AdventHealth Training Center. There are all the ingredients for a team that is not merely a League Pass darling, but a team that will be playing deeper into April.

What the Magic have been trying to manage is growing it patiently and not skipping steps. That is certainly why they favored continuity over jumping the gun and changing roles dramatically through trades for two young players who have shown tons of promise in the league.

The rest of the league seems to understand how good Banchero and Wagner could be and what that gives a franchise like the Magic. Even if there is still work to do.

The national media or national fans may not be chatting about the Magic or treating them as a serious threat in the grand scheme of things — five national TV games with just one on traditional TV (that February game against the Thunder right before the All-Star Break). But the rest of the league is talking and watching the Magic to see how they grow.

Next. Orlando Magic still getting their feet under them in preseason. dark

Orlando may not be a league secret much longer. This is a team that is set up for a very big season. And everyone seems to know it.