From the moment the Orlando Magic took the floor at the Amway Center, something felt different about this team. Or rather, something sounded different.
As the New Orleans Pelicans lined up for their first offensive possession, they were met with a wall of noise. Not from the very robust Magic fan base — listed attendance of 17,622, which the players definitely noticed and commented on after the game and after practice Thursday — but rather from the players on the floor. They were noticeably louder, talking to each other and staying on the same page defensively.
Perhaps that is how things always were but with less confidence and focus. There is definitely more focus on the team’s communication and everyone’s responsibility to each other to keep them on task. This is what a winning team sounds like.
This is a young team — still the fifth-youngest roster in the league — and there is a lot for this team to learn. Most of the key players on the roster have never been to the postseason — Jonathan Isaac, Gary Harris, Markelle Fultz and Joe Ingles are the only players who have played in the Playoffs.
There is a lot this team does not know. And trying to find some guidance and some composure as they go through this journey to the postseason is going to be a challenge.
The Orlando Magic are still one of the youngest teams in the league. Their leadership does not come from experience but in their responsibility to and trust in each other.
One of the bigger questions in the preseason and training camp then is: How do the Magic find and build leaders? How do they step up to the plate and make sure they stay accountable and stay on task when they have never been through this process before?
That is something the Magic are consciously working on as much as they are working on things on the floor. Everyone has to find their place to lead.
"“I think it starts vocally,” Paolo Banchero said at media day. “It starts by leading by example. That’s something that me, [Jamahl Mosley], Franz [Wagner] and a couple of the other guys were talking about over the summer is how to come in and lead by example but also lead vocally and hold each other accountable. Be the voice that the team needs. That’s something we’re not afraid to do. We’ll just have to keep getting better a. Obviously we aren’t going to be perfect. As long as the effort is there, the right attitude to try to be a leader, we’ll be good.”"
That has been on display in little moments throughout training camp.
Accountability and maturity have been big buzz words throughout camp. The team wants to be able to keep each other on task and focused on their goals. There is still plenty of room for fun and personality, but the Magic are trying to be locked into their work to help them achieve their goals.
That has been a collective responsibility. And the team’s continuity has given a lot of the players ownership over that process. They are all working for each other for the thing that they have built. That has also helped them correct problems in real-time without Mosley pointing things out.
That ability to push each other and understand what the coaches are asking for certainly helps make up for any experience gap this team might have.
"“Everybody has a really good relationship with each other off the court so I think just being comfortable not calling someone out but saying out loud we need to be better at this,” Wagner said earlier in training camp. “I think everybody does it in the same way, but understanding it is coming from a positive place and we can do better.”"
That has been as big a thing as anything else for the Magic. Their leadership is built on the trust they have built with each other. It has been built on playing together and going through the struggles of last season before coming through.
Orlando is confident in its abilities because of that 29-28 finish to the season. That has fed the team into this season and helped them treat their camp with a level of seriousness. The team has progressed quickly.
And the Magic have almost all said that they are determined to make sure they get off to a strong start this upcoming season. They blame their 5-20 start for keeping them from ascending to the playoffs last year.
But they are not naive enough to think they can just run everything back and achieve that. They know there is work. This is maturity in itself.
Getting a taste of winning basketball last year has only kept them hungry. And helped them keep each other hungry.
"“I think the big thing for us is one, coming in every day and making the best out of that day,” Markelle Fultz said at media day. “But even more important is being vocal to each other and holding each other accountable and holding each other’s feet to the fire. I think everybody is ready to do that. Everybody got a small taste of that last year. This year, I think everybody is hungry and everybody is happy. I think we know how important those first couple of games are.”"
The energy in the building is certainly different. And the team can point to its leaders for that difference in so many ways. They can point to everyone for having that singular focus.
This is what leadership is looking like for the Magic. It is not one player stepping and having their voice be louder than everyone else’s. It is everyone collectively helping each other.
There are certainly players whose voices carry more weight. Wendell Carter has always been someone whose voice resonates with the team. Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner are obvioulsy the budding stars and there is an expectation they will take on more of that traditional leadership role.
Jamahl Mosley has seeming talked with all of these core players to mark the outlines for what their leadership roles will be. They are the best players and the ones who will ultimately decide a lot of games for this team.
But it also shows itself in little moments too. Everyone on the broadcast saw how a veteran like Joe Ingles can hop off the bench and give some guidance to a player alongside the coach. After practice Thursday, Cole Anthony was talking to Anthony Black with an arm over his shoulder.
Everyone is competing against each other and learning from each other. This is what the Magic’s leadership looks like. Everyone has a role to play to lift each other up.
Carter said after a training camp practice the team has made a commitment to each other to hold each other accountable. The responsibility is on everyone to step up to the plate and be a leader for this team.
"“The energy has definitely been shifted for sure,” Carter said at media day. “Going into this year, we are telling each other we are holding everybody accountable, whether that is arguments, whether it is congratulating one another, whatever the case may be. We are holding each other accountable for everything from the start of the season to the end because we want to make the playoffs. That’s the only way you can do that with a young team.”"
That has been the mission throughout training camp. Everyon has that singular focus and drive this season. No one has shied away from talk about the postseason.
Getting there will be the challenge of course. And there will be adversity to face throughout the season. The team will have to find a way to respond. They will not have experience to lean on.
Instead, they will have each other. And that is where leadership will come from this season for the Magic.