NBA

NBA PM: Orlando Magic Tempering Expectations

After failing to qualify for the playoffs last season, the Orlando Magic are taking things one day at a time, writes Cody Taylor.

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When the Orlando Magic began a new era under head coach Frank Vogel last year, expectations among each player on the roster started and ended with the playoffs.

In fact, Vogel guaranteed the Magic would become a playoff team in his first season on the job. Of course, the team fell quite short of that playoff guarantee he set during his introductory press conference and the Magic finished the 2016-17 season with a 29-53 record.

As the team gets set for a second season under Vogel’s watch, some players are tempering their expectations a bit. While each player on the roster wants to make the playoffs, some are more focused on becoming better each day and continuing to build team chemistry.

“I’m not going to put any expectations on us this season,” Nikola Vucevic told Basketball Insiders. “We did that last year and it didn’t work out really well. I’m just looking forward to us working hard, having a good training camp first and using the preseason games to build good team chemistry to get to know each other, especially with the new guys.

“I don’t know if coach is going to decide to put any new plays or new sets, I’ll try to learn all of that and work on that. I think we do have some good players here. We have some potential to do some good things, but I’m not going to put any expectations [on us]. I think we just have to work hard and try to do the best we can and hopefully good things will come out of it.”

While this season will be the second under Vogel, it’ll be the first season with president Jeff Weltman and general manager John Hammond calling the shots. The two executives opted to keep most of the roster intact as they’re in the process of evaluating players and forming a long-term game plan.

By keeping its core players together for another season, it figures to strengthen the team chemistry on and off of the court. As training camp is now underway, the team is getting an opportunity to get familiar with each other on the court. Some players have been in Orlando for a few weeks, working out and socializing, including embarking on a paintball outing together in Orlando over the weekend.

“We basically have the same core guys, so if we’re going to win, we’re going to have to do it together,” Evan Fournier told Basketball Insiders. “We’re going to have to find a way to win together and create something that works offensively and defensively – create trust and winning habits.”

Training camp is an opportunity for teams to lay a foundation for the season. For a team like the Magic, it’ll be important for the players to continue to adjust to a different system. The team began to adapt to playing smaller lineups and playing an uptempo offense midway through last season.

A big part of that change involved Aaron Gordon playing at the power forward position. The team added Serge Ibaka to the roster last season and played Gordon primarily at small forward. The team opted to trade Ibaka at the All-Star break to the Toronto Raptors in exchange for Terrence Ross. The trade allowed Gordon to move back to power forward where the team can take advantage of his athleticism against bigger defenders.

By instituting that change in the middle of the season, the team was forced to learn the new style on the fly. The results looked good at times and inconsistent other times. Now, the players have time to learn the new system and hope that can create consistent play on the court.

“Training camp is going to be really good for us because we had a new style of play halfway through the year once I got traded here,” Ross told Basketball Insiders. “Now that we get time to actually work on that, understand the basics and the fundamentals, I think that’s going to translate into more wins this season.”

As a team desperately trying to turn things around, players believe that will happen by making incremental improvements each day. If the effort is there in each game, they believe that will allow them to improve as a team.

“I want to be able to finish this season and say, ‘I did everything I could,’” Bismack Biyombo told Basketball Insiders. “If this is the result, I get to live with it and be happy. I don’t think we all did that last year. But coming back this year, we have an opportunity to do it again and let’s do it better.”

In an Eastern Conference that figures to see plenty of change this season, the Magic are hoping they can take advantage and compete for a playoff berth. With different expectations for this season, perhaps that will help take the pressure off of the team and allow for an improved season.

Alan is an experienced writer of online betting and casino guides. He is one of the main editors of Basketballinsiders.

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