Jamahl Mosley's foundation helped Orlando Magic become their best

Jamahl Mosley has always put himself in front when blame needs to be laid anywhere. That selflessness from the coach is why the Orlando Magic continue to improve and near their best.
Jamahl Mosley has established his team's culture and put it on full display during the Orlando Magic's playoff run.
Jamahl Mosley has established his team's culture and put it on full display during the Orlando Magic's playoff run. / Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

It was an unexpectedly dour night in Charlotte back on April 5.

The Orlando Magic had come rip-roaring into the Queen City to face one of the worst teams in the league fresh off a huge road victory over the New Orleans Pelicans. They came in expecting a win as they continued their Playoff push.

To say that the 124-115 loss was disappointing is an understatement. Even amid this tight playoff series against the Cleveland Cavaliers, fans point to that loss as something that cost the Orlando Magic homecourt advantage and a chance to win.

As Mosley sat down to meet the media that evening after the disappointing loss, he put the blame on himself. He told the media it was he who did not do enough to prepare his team. This close to the Playoffs, it was a stunning loss for a team that was still fighting for its postseason fate — and nobody knew yet how deep the team would fall with just about a week left in the regular season.

The coach was self-reflective as he tried to make sense of his young team's inconsistency in that moemnt. He was prepared to fall on the sword to ease the pressure on the team.

"Everything... intensity. That's on me though," Mosley said after that loss to the Hornets. "I've got to do a better job getting them prepared for what they are going to see from a team that the week before had beaten a very good basketball team and had been in very tight ball games. I have to do a better job preparing them for what the situation was going to be tonight."

The Magic heard that message and whatever messages came after to bounce back against the Chicago Bulls the following Sunday. When Mosley speaks about the team's commitment to each other and their by-committee approach, it is something the team absorbs and buys into completely.

Mosley will take the arrows for the team's missteps but still hold them accountable. He will guide and teach them in critical moments while still giving them the space to make mistakes and learn still.

The team has a high standard that is clear that everyone must meet. But the team has ownership over the whole process.

Mosley has done a lot to bring the best out of the Magic. He has taken every setback in stride as a learning opportunity all the while delivering a team that has progressively improved in his three years at the helm.

The Magic have had some good fortune with their draft picks of course. They have put together a promising young roster. But Mosley has tied those pieces together in a significant way. The foundation Mosley has built has led to this resurgence and to the doorstep of advancing out of the first round of the Playoffs.

Mosley has his players' back and the team has his back. The Magic respond to his challenges.

"I don't think nobody liked it," Markelle Fultz said after the Magic's win over the Bulls in April. "That speaks to the character of Coach Mose. He cares about all of us. He feels like when we fail, it's on him. I honestly feel like that's how a lot of the guys feel. When we don't do what we're supposed to do, we feel like we let him down. Although he said that, we understood that it was on us. He did an unbelievable job getting us prepared for the game. It's a partnership that we have. We have to do it all together. It speaks to his character and the unity of this team. We have to keep moving forward and learn from our mistakes."

That is a trust and a culture Mosley has built. It is why the Magic have stayed steady even trailing 2-0 in the Playoffs and why confidence remains despite Tuesday's close loss in Game 5.

As much as Mosley wants to credit his coaching staff and players, deflecting attention away from himself, Mosley has done something special this year.

Everyone else recognized it as Mosley finished second in both the NBCA and media voting for Coach of the Year. This Magic team took everyone by surprise with its feverish defensive effort led by Jalen Suggs and the emergence of young stars in Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner.

Mosley has passed this first challenge as a young coach. He has established a culture and a foundation for his team to keep building and keep winning. He has delivered the team to the Playoffs and they are competing.

Like his young roster, Mosley still makes mistakes. His decision to start Jonathan Isaac proved disastrous early in the series, costing the team perhaps a game in Games 1 and 2. He made a lot of key adjustments to get the team back in Games 3 and 4.

In Game 5, Mosley was maybe late calling timeouts, but many of his gambles worked, like sticking with the bench lineup early in the fourth quarter to buy extra rest for his star players.

Still, Mosley likely will look back at this series with areas he can improve, just as his team surely will too.

The toughest challenge for Mosley is still ahead. Moving from a rebuilding team to one that is solely about winning is a challenge.

The roster that the team has stood by and built the last three years is likely to see some changes. The team can clearly see its winning window is open and there is no waiting once that happens.

Mosley will have to continue to prove he can adjust tactically while still getting everyone to buy in as the pressure ramps up to deliver more immediate results advance further in the postseason.

But even in this Playoff series, Mosley has proven up to the task. All while not compromising his vision and his goals to develop this young team.

He has made critical adjustments while still empowering his players to make decisions and execute. It says a lot about his team that they remain poised under fire in this series. They may not have won Tuesday in Game 5, but the team did not wilt or back down. The Magic overcame a lot of mistakes in the process.

That starts with Mosley and how he approaches his job. It starts with his willingness to get into the fire with players in drills on occasion and build that personal connection.

"Serve. That is the only word I can think of," Mosley said after receiving a four-year extension in March. "Serve those around you. Serve those beside you. That means more in the long run. Our job as coaches is to pour into everyone around us. When you have that coming from the top down . . . it's easy to do when you can serve others and pour into other people. That's what this team is about."

Mosley will never take the credit. But his poise and calm demeanor on the sidelines as much as after games helping propel the team forward and absorb the lessons of every game is a big reason why the Magic are in this position.

Next. Magic defense back them up 05.01.24. Orlando Magic have always had their defense to back them up. dark

Like his young team, these Playoffs are a learning lesson for him too. But the foundation he has built has set the team up for years to come.