With the dawn of a new season comes the restoration of great optimism surrounding a rebuilding Orlando Magic franchise. Granted, every team looks clean and prepared on media day, but a pleasant buzz surrounded this young bunch that is ready to surprise some folks this season.
With nine years in Orlando under his belt, Jameer Nelson has spent just one less year in Magic pinstripes than the rest of the roster combined. This team will undoubtedly face adversity all season concerning its lack of familiarity and overall cohesiveness.
The Magic will be aiming to rinse the bad taste of last season out of their mouths behind a revamped youth movement with Victor Oladipo in the fold. Glen Davis will be re-entering the equation, which will put Tobias Harris to the test at small forward.
It Starts at the Top
General manager Rob Hennigan has paired an exuberant young coach in Jacque Vaughn with a youthful and versatile roster capable of accomplishing much more than expected.
This isn't a team ready to roll over and set its sights on the 2014 draft. Hennigan explicitly stated the overwhelming confidence he has in this current roster with his opening statement to begin media day.
"I'm really, really excited about the season. I think our players and our coaches did a really good job over the summer of really instilling a mindset of work, discipline and consistency. I'm looking forward to building off that momentum and getting started," said Hennigan.
He also said he will be in constant contact with coach Vaughn every day to make sure this group of young guys is developing adequately.
Hennigan addressed the state of Hedo Turkoglu's contract, which is looming over the franchise. Management is working on a buyout, and his days in Orlando are done.
Rob Hennigan says #Magic are STILL working on a buyout for Hedo Turkoglu, who is listed on the roster but is not at media day— Ken Hornack (@HornackFSFla) September 30, 2013
Vaughn built off of Hennigan and reiterated the positive notions.
"There are steps to the process of getting to be wonderful. We'll continue our steps. We'll be patient but resilient at the same time...and that's the message our guys will continue to live by every day," said Vaughn.
"Defense" improvements have been mentioned a lot by Magic players and Jacque Vaughn— Presto In the Paint (@PrestoInPaint) September 30, 2013
It is great to see that the men running this team have a vision of the future but haven't forgotten about the immediate task at hand. Rebuilding is to be done one step at a time, and the next steps for this team involve cohesion and young guys making big leaps.
Continuing to Grow
There were a number of takeaways concerning individual players at media day.
For one, Tobias Harris has come back with a chiseled physique and a lofty goal.
"Going into the season, being an All-Star is definitely one of my top individual goals," Harris proclaimed. "I have the ability, and with this team that's around me, and the coaching staff being able to embrace me as a player, I think it's important to go into the season with those types of goals," he said.
Harris is also up to 240 pounds in order to play both forward spots. Strength was definitely one of his weak points, so to see him bulk up and put on a few pounds is a great sign.
Tobias Harris on Glen Davis: "He's a guy that is able to move a lot of people out the way."— Evan Dunlap (@BQRMagic) October 1, 2013
Not to be outdone, Maurice Harkless did a little growing of his own, but of a different variety.
Magic camp roster lists Maurice Harkless at 6-foot-9, 220 pounds. Was listed at 6-foot-8 and 210 last year.— NBA Reporters (@NBAReporters) September 27, 2013
It is hard to believe Harkless is still so young that he hasn't stopped growing. It is just one inch, but his overall added size will be a great asset going forward. He is not just taller but also much more muscular, just like Harris.
Andrew Nicholson has also worked on his outside shot to the point that Vaughn very well might let him launch a few three-pointers this season.
"I've been working on that all summer," said Nicholson. "It's definitely something me and the coaches have been going at for a majority of the time, so adding that to my game will definitely make me more of a threat on offense," he added.
Arron Afflalo acknowledged he needs to do a better job of executing on the court. He worked on his core during the offseason to avoid another hamstring injury and understands that knocking down the three consistently and getting to the line more will go a long way toward helping this team.
It is always a fun to see familiar faces on media day, but when younger guys come back having obviously worked on their bodies and their games, it establishes a foundation for success. Just knowing these players are driven and eager to improve is the first step toward seeing an increase in the win column.
We have all heard the saying "One bad egg spoils the bunch."
Maybe there weren't any bad eggs on last season's team, but players weren't always moving in the same direction together. With all of the injuries and new players, there were too many movable parts.
Little things like hanging out off the court and having fun on the court are vital, especially for a team as young as this one.
Nelson is the only player on this roster who has been in town for more than two seasons. The majority of other players on the team haven't even been in the league that long.
Boys will be boys. Harris and Harkless taking a bunch of the kids to the movies or doing alley-oop dunks after practice might seem insignificant at first, but it represents something much bigger.
Jacque Vaughn needs to get this group to start functioning like a real family. He needs to get them to go to war for one another night in and night out.
Last season was anything but fun. Many of the interviews and conversations were focused on the future instead of how poorly last year went.
Seeing the young core of this team come in hungry and visibly bigger and stronger will put smiles on the faces of all Magic fans. It would have been easy for these players to be complacent and accept the fact that little is expected of them, but they are ready to work.
There are obviously question marks, but this team is incredibly versatile at every position. It has the ability to play so big that it can put the now 6'9" Harkless at shooting guard while also running you out of the gym with the athletic Harris and Nicholson on the front line. Nikola Vucevic and Glen Davis will be able to dismantle teams on certain nights down low.
The addition of Oladipo was exactly the spark Orlando needed. Questions of trades down the line were brought up during the interviews, but they were mostly brushed aside by Hennigan. He acknowledged a desire to consider anything to make the team better, but Orlando is all in for this season.
Don't count on Andrew Wiggins wearing pinstripes, barring something unforeseen. These young guys aren't willing to accept the labels analysts want to put on them. They seem to truly think they can do damage and get into the playoffs, and nobody is going to tell them otherwise.
Most of all, we learned on media day that team chemistry should be a nonissue this year. The players have already felt each other out. Now, they can proceed with more pressing issues—like winning games.
What to Look For
Last year's issues with outside shooting, defense and turnovers look to be very much correctable moving forward. On-court chemistry was arguably the team's Achilles' heel last year, but if the veterans and youngsters can mesh together, this team can do surprisingly great things.
The Magic are not mailing it in this season. The talent up and down the roster cannot be ignored. With an added commitment to setting an example for the younger guys, this team can get all the parts moving in the right direction.
Furthermore, if it can translate the fun the players appear to be having off the court to joy on the court, many of the team's issues will take care of themselves.
The team had no expectations last year. There were far too many uncertainties with the newcomers and first- or second-year guys. Now, Hennigan has brought back mostly the same roster with a couple of veterans like Jason Maxiell and Solomon Jones sprinkled in for some added grit.
It looks as if expectations were managed properly on media day, but there are expectations. Management knows this team isn't ready to contend, but it is very much ready to do some heavy damage. Jumping out of the basement of the Eastern Conference into respectability is on the radar.
This Magic team is not one to sleep on. It has the ability to shock some teams and run them out of the gym.
The team may still be a year or two away, but soon we'll see just how far along it is in the rebuilding process.