The Orlando Magic finished another losing season singing a familiar refrain.
Despite dropping 60 games, posting the worst record in the Eastern Conference and missing the playoffs for the third time in five years, the club insists it’s latest overhaul is headed in the right direction.
“From when we walked into the building on Day One, we talked about how we were going to compete at a high level, defend at a high level, work every day and have fun doing it,” first-year coach Jamahl Mosley noted Sunday. “That’s what we’ve done.”
The Magic dropped 27 of 32 games to start the season and never won three games in a row, yet Mosley said a young team that played most of the season without two of its best players never got discouraged.
“Practice (Saturday) felt like Day One. There was an energy, an enthusiasm, a joy for being on the court with one another throughout the day,” the coach said before Sunday night’s finale against the Miami Heat.
“And I think it was about what we’ve talked about from the beginning. It’s about us getting better every single day. Whether we win or lose, we’re putting that work in every single day,” Mosley added. “These guys have embraced that, and they have embraced each other.”
In a sense, this season was doomed from the start with Jonathan Issac and Markelle Fultz, two of the young players the Magic are trying to build around, on the mend from serious knee injuries.
Issac tore his left anterior cruciate ligament when the pandemic-interrupted 2019-20 season resumed in the Disney bubble. He’s missed all of the past two seasons and only played 136 games since being drafted five years ago..
Fultz tore his ACL in January 2021 and was sidelined almost 14 months before returning late this season and playing well enough to gradually work his way back into a starting role.
Team president Jeff Weltman and general manager John Hammond remain committed to building through the draft after trading veterans Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon in March 2021 for future first-round picks in 2023 and 2025.
The current roster includes eight players selected in the first round of the past five drafts, including Fultz (No. 1 overall by Philadelphia in 2017) and Wendell Carter Jr. (seventh by Chicago in 2018).
Isaac (sixth, 2017), Mo Bamba (sixth, 2018), Chuma Okeke (16th, 2019), Cole Anthony (15th, in 2020), Jalen Suggs (fifth, 2021) and Franz Wagner (eighth, 2021) are Orlando picks.
Suggs and Wagner showed flashes of promise as rookies this season. The 6 foot-10 Carter looks like part of the future, too, after averaging a confidence-bolstering 15 points and 10.5 rebounds in 62 games.
“All the young teams in the league — the Memphis Grizzlies, the Phoenix Suns, the Cleveland Cavaliers — I feel like we’re right there,” Carter said.
“Especially with us being so young, it gives us the opportunity to really mold everyone,” Carter added. “I feel like we’re in a perfect opportunity where everybody understands what everybody is capable of, and we all like each other.”
WORK TO DO
Despite insisting there are signs of progress, this the seventh time in the past 10 seasons the Magic have won fewer than 30 games.
Orlando has had five different coaches and only posted one winning record (42-40 in 2018-19) during that span. The franchise hasn’t won a playoff series since 2010.
Suggs was the fifth pick in last year’s draft out of Gonzaga. He earned a starting job right away, but would up missing 34 games due to various injuries. He shot just 36% and averaged 11.8 points and 4.4 assists in 48 games..
Wagner, the 8th pick out of Michigan, averaged 15.2 points in 79 games. He started the first 74 games before being sidelined by an ankle injury.
GET IN THE GYM
Mosley said one of the team’s priorities is improving its perimeter shooting.
The Magic finished 28th in the NBA in field-goal percentage at 43.4, including 33.4 from 3-point range.
Fultz (23.5%, Suggs (21.4%) and Anthony (33.8%) all struggled from beyond the arc.
Without mentioning any names, Mosley said he wants everyone to return in September with better jump shots.
“Being able to shoot the heck out of the basketball, and coming back with that conditioning level all the way up, I think those are going to be the big keys,” the coach said.
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