The Orlando Magic are well positioned to enter the second year of their respective rebuild under Jeff Weltman and John Hammond.
With a promising core of Jonathan Isaac, Mo Bamba, and Aaron Gordon, in addition to youngsters like Melvin Frazier, Wesley Iwundu, and Jarell Martin, the Magic have the makings of what could be a team on the rise.
However, one thing continues to elude the Magic on their quest to building a culture worthy of a future contender: strong, locker room leadership.
Last season, a dark cloud hung over the Magic locker room, as players continually suggested that they needed to trust each other more, and follow the coach’s instructions. Frank Vogel lamented that his players weren’t one-on-one players, and yet, isolation scoring opportunities were more frequent than they should have been.
There were even instances of players ‘freezing’ each other out for multiple possessions at a time, for fear that the ball would lose its movement if specific players got a hold of it.
This is something that can not continue in the 2018-2019 season for the Magic’s young players to develop.
The Magic largely bring back the bulk of their core from a year ago, minus only Shelvin Mack and Mario Hezonja. Weltman and Hammond let the highly valuable mid-level exception all but go to waste, and traded future picks for a flyer on Jerian Grant.
So, with a group returned from six seasons of playoff jail, can the Magic really trust one of their returning veterans to build a winning culture?
Aaron Gordon is the leading candidate with the pedigree and the contract for such a position. At only 22 years of age, poised for an All Star level ‘18/19 campaign, and with a contract to merit the position, Gordon is uniquely suited to take a larger role both on and off court this season.
However, Gordon has different aspirations than a Tim Duncan type leader. He attacks games with more of a Kobe Bryant type mindset. He is an aggressor on the court, often seeking to take over games and shut down a team’s primary scorer on the opposite end. He is well-suited to perform as a team’s star, not necessarily as its leader.
If Summer League is any indicator, young players like Bamba and Isaac could relish and assume a leadership role quicker than most may think. Both highly intelligent, fully bought-in players who continued coaching each other and their teammates throughout games, these two building blocks have the right mindset for the job.
While it is unreasonable to assume these two will be the locker room focal points on the first night of the regular season, they should grow more comfortable as the season progresses and their play on court increases their confidence.