Arnie Kander is Orlando Magic’s biggest offseason acquisition

The Orlando Magic made a big acquisition, hiring Arnie Kander to oversee the team's training and player performance staff. Mandatory Credit: Leon Halip-USA TODAY Sports
The Orlando Magic made a big acquisition, hiring Arnie Kander to oversee the team's training and player performance staff. Mandatory Credit: Leon Halip-USA TODAY Sports /

Every practice for the Orlando Magic during training camp has ended the same way.

After the team ends its post-practice shooting drills, coach Jamahl Mosley will call everyone to the middle of the court for some final words. Then comes the directive to go to the wall.

The players will make their way over to the back wall of the AdventHealth Training Center as the music on the loudspeakers starts the relatively calming tones of Bob Marley.

This new tradition comes from the Magic’s new Vice President of Player Performance and Wellness Arnie Kander. Kander will proceed to lead the team through various grounding and stretching exercises to bring the team down after their practice.

It is not a long or big routine. And some players probably take it more seriously than others. But it is one of the many changes that Kander is already bringing to the team.

There is undoubtedly a new approach to how the Magic recover from practices, workouts and games. There is undoubtedly a new approach to injuries too.

The Orlando Magic did not make many changes this offseason. The one change they did make hiring Arnie Kander as the team’s VP of Player Performance will have major effects throughout the franchise.

For a team that has dealt with massive injuries for the last three years — they were second in the league in games lost to injuries last year and first in the league in games lost to injuries in 2021 according to Man Games Lost — this could be the most important addition to the Magic’s roster.

During media day, several players were already extolling the difference Kander was making.

"“He’s changed the whole building,” Jalen Suggs said at media day. “I tell him all the time, he’s the most humble person ever, he’ll just tell you he’s just being his best self. That’s what I respect about him the most. . . .I think everybody has bought in, not only us as players but the staff, the front office, everyone in this building. His energy was felt when he came in. Every day I want to reciprocate that. It’s been a fun journey.”"

Kander brings with him years of NBA experience, including being part of a championship team.

He spent 23 seasons with the Detroit Pistons joining the team in 1992 and working with the team during their championship runs in the mid-2000s. He last worked in the NBA full-time in the 2016 season with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He has consulted with the Detroit Pistons and Cleveland Cavaliers and worked individually with players since then.

He is, as the Magic described in their press release, responsible for overseeing the team’s high-performance staff, “including the management of athletic training services, injury reduction and rehabilitation programming, strength and conditioning, sports science and recovery, and player nutrition.”

This is obviously a big role. But it is also clear he has a different approach to this process too. There is a lot more focus on the individual and on mindfulness and grounding.

During an interview with Jake Chapman in August, Arnie Kander described how his approach helped Tayshaun Prince cement his place in the starting lineup by discovering he had a rare allergic reaction to a common ingredient often considered healthy. Using that kind of science helped peak his performance.

He invited Chuma Okeke, Kevon Harris, Jett Howard and others on a trip to Colorado during the offseason to mix things up and get some players out of the training center and give them a new perspective.

That is the kind of perspective he seems to be giving everyone.

"“Arnie is a phenomenal person,” Wendell Carter said at media day. “He’s someone who brings great energy into any room he walks into. He brings us a different type of outlook on life. He’s into meditation. He’s into mental health. He’s big on the things outside of the court. When you get on the court, it makes things easier for us. He is someone who is able to take any situation that you are in and make it a positive. That’s someone I can look forward not just to work on my body but just for a mental aspect of it.”"

Suggs echoed those sentiments, crediting Kander for helping him shift his focus off of basketball when he leaves the court. Suggs did plenty of this work on his own, but Kander certainly helped him reinforce the themes Suggs was using to reset himself.

It puts a spotlight on how everything is connected — health, the player, the person. If anything has changed it is that. Kander has tried to treat the whole person just as much as the player it would seem.

No team knows how much of a connection there is between performance and health than this Magic team. Every team knows this reality. But Orlando essentially had a growing playoff season in 2020 derailed with injuries and then their whole team upended after injuries dropped the team down the standings in the 2021 season.

Orlando has struggled with injuries as the team tries to establish its rebuild.

To a man, every player would say they would have made the postseason last year if not for the injuries that sank the team to a 5-20 start. If there is confidence within the team without having proven themselves as a postseason team, it is because they already went 29-28 to close the season and they had injuries as the reason for their slow start.

Winning became far more common with several impressive wins in the process — including home wins over both NBA Finals participants.

Orlando believes it is a far more mature team now and that has only solidified the confidence of what the team is capable of doing this season.

But they know health is a big part of that. It is something the Magic have not had. It is essential to their success.

"“I hope our greatest strength is health because it has been our greatest weakness the last few seasons,” president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman said. “We may not have those All-NBA guys on our roster, or at least they haven’t been exposed to that yet. I feel the togetherness, I feel the skill set, I feel the versatility, the depth. We already showed we can be a high-level defensive team and I feel that will ratchet up this season. We have the kind of team that the coach can look down the bench and win a different way every night.”"

Both Weltman and Carter said this is the healthiest the team has been since they retooled their roster and Carter arrived in those trades in 2021. Everyone is confident that with health this team can accomplish something special this season.

As Paolo Banchero put it, the team did not really have a training camp last year because of how many injuries they had. Their ability to compete and get after it in camp this year is different because everyone has come in healthy — Kevon Harris and Caleb Houstan are the only players missing time with relatively minor injuries (a sore knee and a sprained ankle).

Orlando spent much of last season piecing together lineups throughout the season. It was not just the major early season injuries to Cole Anthony and Markelle Fultz or Jonathan Isaac’s long-awaited but short return. Gary Harris missed 24 games. Wendell Carter missed 25 games. There are some long-term and recurring injuries to handle and try to avoid.

Kander will play a big role in keeping this team healthy and doing his best to prevent injuries or nip issues early. It is critical to the team’s season.

There will be injuries though throughout the season. And the Magic will have to be prepared to handle them — both on the court and off the court. Every team has to handle injuries throughout the course of the season.

Only time will tell whether this new approach will handle those injuries correctly or prevent them from occurring in the first place.

For an offseason that saw few changes though, there was a big change to the Magic organization. Kander is someone who has brought a new perspective to the team and refreshed the outlook in the building.

Next. Everyone knows the Orlando Magic are coming soon. dark

When the Magic look back at this season, they may see Kander as a big factor in their success.