Orlando Magic's winning window is open

The NBA's trade deadline has already unsettled waters around the Orlando Magic. Regardless of when the Magic make a move, they must realize their winning window is open and the clock is ticking.
Pascal Siakam's move from the Toronto Raptors to the Indiana Pacers is a reminder that everything for the Orlando Magic has to be about winning. No one is going to give them the chance to grow gradually.
Pascal Siakam's move from the Toronto Raptors to the Indiana Pacers is a reminder that everything for the Orlando Magic has to be about winning. No one is going to give them the chance to grow gradually. / John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

As the Orlando Magic hit the midpoint of their season, they are still more focused on themselves than anyone else. They have injured players returning to the court and feel healthy for the first time since early in the season.

They saw how good they could be when that was the case. The Magic still feel their best basketball is ahead of them just as they see their schedule opening up in their favor too.

Orlando is aware of where it sits in the standings and how tight the race is between the 4-8 seeds in the Eastern Conference too.

Entering Wednesday's game against the Atlanta Hawks, the Orlando Magic were in eighth place, one game behind the New York Knicks for seventh in the East and two games behind the Cleveland Cavaliers for fourth (and four games ahead of the Chicago Bulls in eighth).

The margin for error is going to be very tight. Every game is going to feel big the rest of the way.

The Magic's winning window is open. And everything the team points to has to be about winning and finding a way to climb the Eastern Conference standings.

If there is one thing that has undeniably changed about the Magic it is that last paragraph and the reality of the standings. Orlando has reached the midpoint of the season above .500 for the first time since Dwight Howard's departure. They are squarely in the playoff race.

That is the only goal that matters for this young team.

With a growing young player in Paolo Banchero on the cusp of his first All-Star appearance and Franz Wagner seemingly not too far behind, the Magic see a path forward. They see a team that is set to grow and expand.

This year is about making the postseason and experiencing that postseason pressure for the first time. It is about learning how to win and putting those two young future stars in winning situations.

But, to be sure, the team has bigger ambitions. The Magic do not want to be a Play-In team forever or just make first-round cameos. The team wants to advance deeper into the playoffs.

That prospect rests on Banchero and Wagner becoming stars the team can build itself around. But it also means adding to the team to improve it too.

The Magic have plenty of intriguing players but there are also clear deficiencies the team needs to address -- whether that is adding shooting to boost a lagging offense or shoring up the point guard and center positions to be better prepared for the playoffs.

Some of the team's biggest flaws are yet to reveal themselves until they get through the postseason. But everyone recognizes change is necessary for this team.

Then there is the stark reality that everyone around them is also fighting for the same thing.

The Magic are not likely to make a panicked move just to keep up with their neighbors in the standings. They have a long-term vision for this team and they need to keep executing to realize it.

But there are others vying for that same spot.

The New York Knicks acquired OG Anunoby and the Indiana Pacers have acquired Pascal Siakam. Both of those are long-term moves designed to keep those teams in the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference. The Magic may not need a direct and immediate response via transaction, but the team will have to get better.

Perhaps Orlando will find out just how far away the team is from those teams when the team reaches the playoffs.

Perhaps that is what the rest of this season is truly about finding out -- whether that is figuring out Jalen Suggs' ideal role, just how good Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner can be together, whether Markelle Fultz can be this team's leading guard or whether Wendell Carter is the answer at center.

There are a lot of questions for this Magic team to answer. And the time is very close for the team to answer them.

Does that mean the team will make a move at the deadline? That part remains uncertain.

The Magic have extolled their familiarity and continuity -- even opposing coaches have noted the Magic have a lot of that and it has helped boost the team early in the season -- and it seems to be a big value of theirs. It makes it feel unlikely the team would make a major move mid-season, especially with so many young players still finding their way.

Moe Wagner has talked repeatedly about how this team is a two- or three-year project. Something that everyone on the current roster has had a hand in.

The heart of Orlando's project still focuses on internal growth and development. Its focus is still on the players on this team. The Magic need young players to keep improving as they continue to add and tinker with the team.

Those players will surely do their part to grow and develop on the court. Now it is on the Magic to do the most to build the team off the court.

And that means continuity is slowly coming to an end. Continuity at a certain point leads to stagnation. And that means you should put stock in the rumors that Orlando could at least explore the trade market for key players like Wendell Carter and Markelle Fultz.

The team has to keep getting better. The rest of the league will not wait.

Every move and everything the Magic do in each transaction window needs to have as much of a short-term impact as a long-term impact. Orlando has to stake its place.

Banchero and Wagner will do a lot to setting that mark. The stars always do.

But they have also set a mark for the team in general. Orlando is in the playoff chase and almost certain to make the postseason this year. The Magic are certainly yearning for more.

That means everything has to be directed toward winning. That means some hard choices are coming -- perhaps even at this year's deadline.

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But that is the cost of winning. And that is all that matters now.