From covering various Orlando Magic drafts, trade deadlines, and off-seasons, one thing has been evident time and time again under the organization’s current front office regime.
The Magic value players with an abundance of character. Yes, they value wingspan (that joke is still alive), positional versatility, a defensive mindset - sure. But they must feel pretty strongly about the player as a person first before considering the possibility of bringing them into the fold.
Like he mentions quite frequently, Orlando Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman reiterated Monday during Orlando Magic Media Day how pleased he is with the character of players up-and-down Orlando’s roster.
“We have a great group of guys,” Weltman said. “Even though their young, they have the ability to focus and work. And that’s something that sometimes has to be developed. But I think a lot of these guys have it baked in (to their approach).”
“The one thing that has stood out the most to me about these guys, even during Summer League, is their bond with one another,” Orlando Magic head coach Jamahl Mosley said Monday. “When you grow, it’s about being together - and they’re together. Wanting to be in the gym, wanting to work, wanting to get better. That’s what’s been amazing, watching them push each other to be the best that they can be.”
That bond was evident even at Media Day, where Cole Anthony and Mo Bamba shared a playful back-and-forth in the media room. After begging for the microphone to not be passed to Orlando’s second-year point guard, Bamba willingly answered a questioned posed to him by Anthony - who was doing his best impersonation of a media member. Bamba returned the favor moments later (while Anthony was being interviewed), asking the fellow New York City native about his hair-style.
Figurative Brotherhood: Orlando’s young core takes the “Chuck”
Anthony, when asked about the vacation many of Orlando’s players went on over the off-season, referred to Charleston, SC as the “Chuck” and shared that fifth-year forward Jonathan Isaac took the lead in organizing the team trip.
“We were really there to just bond and get to know each other,” Anthony added of the trip - although he jokingly said that if he would have been planning a trip - then it would have been in Hawaii. “I think we all walked away from that trip knowing the man standing next to you a little bit better than we did before.”
In case you missed it, many of the players on Orlando’s roster went vacationing late in the summer in an effort to spend time together off the court. Hanging out on the boat, listening to Miley Cyrus (“Party in the USA”), video games, dinners - just a regular epic guys trip.
“That trip was great for us,” shooting guard R.J. Hampton reiterated. “It was really fun. It wasn’t about (the) basketball, but just more about hanging out and learning about each other.”
“Closeness”, “bond”, and “chemistry” are words often thrown around in sports when describing a successful locker room.
With Orlando, those aren’t just some empty words. You can feel it. Maybe, because so many young players on the roster are going through similar NBA experiences at the same time, close relationships were bound to naturally happen. Either way, Magic players have some serious chemistry cooking.
“I think our bond is a really good (one),” fourth-year center Wendell Carter Jr. told reporters Monday. “I feel like, especially with us all being young and hungry, that we all have one goal in mind. That’s to win, and to win as a group.”
“We worked out (all summer). We put our work in: we lifted, we got up shots, we got on the court,” rookie guard Jalen Suggs told reporters. “But it was a really good ice-breaker (the trip to Charleston, SC), just ‘yo, this is everybody’. See everybody’s faces (guys I hadn’t met yet), outside of hoops, just kick it with them.”
“That trip to Charleston, it definitely helped us bond,” forward Chuma Okeke confirmed. “There wasn’t a day (on that trip) that we wasn’t together. From the boat trips on the lake to the dinners, to just chilling in each others rooms and playing games, just stuff like that. I feel like the closer we are off the court, (no doubt) that will help us play well on the court too.”
Suggs, Franz Wagner, Anthony, Hampton, Okeke, Bamba, Carter Jr., Isaac, Markelle Fultz, and Moritz Wagner. Ten players on the roster 25 years-old or younger.
There will be some serious growing pains in Orlando’s immediate future, there’s no question about that. But one thing is for certain - these guys will keep the youthful energy up at all times, and they will stay together while doing so.
Literal Brotherhood: Super Wagner Brothers
Moe Wagner and Franz Wagner: pic.twitter.com/FOuDUafDLQ— Josh Robbins (@JoshuaBRobbins) September 27, 2021
It didn’t really dawn on me what was happening until I literally saw it fifteen feet in front of me at the podium. I saw ‘Wagner Brothers” on the Media Day schedule, but it didn’t immediately register with me how cool that actually was - to be able to go through Media Day together as brothers - until it played out in real-time.
Again, come on. How many players in the history of the NBA can say an immediate relative of theirs also played in the NBA, let alone on the same team (at the same time)?
“For me, this is my first year, I was going to be excited and a little nervous anyway,” Franz Wagner told reporters Monday when asked about how special it is to be on the same team as his brother. “But, I mean, this changes the whole thing a little bit. It’s been a bit of an adjustment for us too, but it’s (mostly) been a lot of fun. We’ve never really practiced together in a team setting, so (Mo) is a really energetic guy - and I think it will be a lot of fun.”
“Sure, I can offer advice,” Moritz Wagner said when asked about advice he can provide to his younger brother as a rookie embarking on his first NBA season. “But at the same time, I’m trying to figure things out too. And second of all, he has to (make) that experience for himself. But he’s a super smart dude, he will figure it out.”
One thing that Franz has already figured out about the NBA is that the veteran player always gets their preferred jersey number, especially when that older player is also your older brother. The Wagner brothers shared in a laugh with local media members as they explained how their perceived jersey number dispute played out - with Franz taking #21 when he wasn’t sure if Moritz would be returning to the Magic, but then willingly giving it up back to his older brother when he returned to Orlando (and when #22 opened up, occupied last season by Otto Porter Jr.).
I asked M. Wagner, who re-signed with the Magic as an unrestricted free agent in the off-season, about his experience playing for his county in the Olympic Games.
“It was my first summer with the national team at that level, so for me it was very special. It really wasn’t on my radar as much this year that we could go to the Olympics,” Wagner told me when asked about his experience in Tokyo, Japan. “Obviously, you go to the qualifier thinking you can win, but then when it actually happens – reality is different than what you thought. So, it was a very unique experience, and I’m very happy that I’ve done that.”
“It was a dream of mine (to play in the Olympics); honestly, it was a dream of mine to play with my brother on the national team,” Wagner added. “And now, we kind of got that done (on the same team), but under a different circumstance (instead with the Orlando Magic). To be able to say I was part of the Olympics is very special, it was a great opportunity for me.”
Older brother Moritz stressed to the media that playing on the same team as his younger brother is not a “fairy tale”, it’s a job that both brothers are going to take very seriously. Both Wagner brothers realize what a special circumstance this is for their parents and extended family to see them carry out their NBA dreams on the same team.
“It’s a job,” Moritz Wagner said Monday. “You wake up every day to get better and win basketball games. You have to stay in reality too. It’s all cool and stuff (to play on the same team with your brother), but we go to work and take our stuff very serious.”
Make no mistake. In between the lines, older brother Moe reaffirmed that the Wagner brothers will be all business in Orlando.
Make no mistake. In between the lines, older brother Moe reaffirmed that the Wagner brothers will be all business in Orlando.
Robin Lopez is here addressing the media. pic.twitter.com/viVp73BXP4— Orlando Pinstriped Post (@OPPMagicBlog) September 27, 2021
One of the incredibly interesting dynamics that presented itself during Orlando Magic Media Day was the balance between (mostly) younger and more veteran players that marched through the Amway Center conference room Monday. Yes, the Magic will have one of the youngest rosters in the NBA this upcoming season. But one could still clearly get the sense that Orlando’s locker room was in good hands with the small but effective collection of veterans that are in place.
“I think our veterans are going to play a huge role this season,” Mosley told reports. “Not just necessarily on the court, but off the court. Working on developing how to become a professional, what it’s like to go through an 82 game season, and helping them understand the in’s-and-out’s of the game. It’s going to be a huge role for these guys - to help the younger players establish themselves in this league.”
“I’m going to be whatever the team needs me to be,” Terrence Ross told reporters during Media Day. “I spoke with (Mose) and the other coaches and that was kind of the biggest thing I relayed to them. I know that I’m the last guy here from the last regime, but whatever you guys need, I’m here for you.”
Ross (30), who has been with the Magic since the 2016-17 season (acquired at the trade deadline for Serge Ibaka), is Orlando’s longest tenured player. The veteran wing has averaged 14.2 points in 27.6 minutes per game (244 games played) with the Magic.
“It feels good (man),” Ross added when asked about his position as a veteran in Orlando’s locker room. “It’s good to see both sides of the whole picture. I came into the league in the same position these guys are in now, just being a younger guy and not seeing too much in front of me. And now, to be here in (year ten), I see a lot more of the picture . So it’s fun man, it’s a full-circle type of thing.”
Ross is flanked on the wing by another seasoned NBA veteran - Gary Harris (27) - who came to Orlando via Denver at last season’s trade deadline (was part of the Aaron Gordon/R.J. Hampton deal).
“I’m just trying to bring my experience each and every day,” veteran guard Gary Harris told reporters when asked about his role on this young team. “I remember when I was one of these young guys, and it goes fast. I’m sitting up here at 27 years-old...I feel old (comparatively), but in retrospect - I’m still pretty young. Just to come in and work, to push these guys, and to help them - I remember when I was young in the league and trying to establish myself (trying to figure things out) - there’s a lot that comes with it.”
Harris, the former 19th overall pick from the 2014 NBA Draft out of Michigan State, spent the first six and one-half years of his career with the Nuggets (325 starts, 29.1 minutes per game, 12.0 points per game).
“This is the real world,” Harris added. “This is a prestigious job that you have to take advantage of. Just being able to help these guys, make their (adjustments) and get used to playing in this league (winning in this league), trying to figure out how to win (which is the hardest thing). Coming in every day, doing the right things, listening to our coaches, figuring out how to win. It’s very hard, but it’s going to be very fun. (I’m) looking forward to helping these guys every step of the way.”
“Last year, I was the second oldest on the team (in Phoenix) too,” recently signed guard E’Twaun Moore told me when asked about his experience working with leaders such as Chris Paul, Monty Williams, and Willie Green. “I definitely helped out guys a lot during our championship run. People may not know it, but I was very vocal in the locker room, so I definitely want to bring some of that experience here. It’s all about culture.”
Moore (32) was a late summer addition to Orlando’s roster, a move that screamed veteran leadership/presence when the news broke. The 11-year veteran guard has made previous stops in his career in Boston, Orlando, Chicago, New Orleans, and most recently with the Phoenix Suns. The Chicago native has come off the bench in 407 of the 598 career games he’s participated in (7.9 points per game, 38.8 career three-point field goal percentage).
Michael Carter-Williams (29) and reserve center Robin Lopez (33) round out Orlando’s veteran core. Carter-Williams will not participate (on the floor) in training camp as he recovers from off-season surgery to repair bone fragments in his left ankle, but that will not deter the ninth-year guard from being a vocal presence inside the Magic facility. And for Lopez, well...I think we can all imagine how the 14-year big man from Fresno, CA can provide value - by keeping things in the locker room loose. And in the huddle. And on the bench. And in the media room. The man’s sense of humor is second to none (I don’t want to undersell Lopez’s potential value to provide depth at the center position as well, but he’s just so damn fun to be around).
“You are how you come into this league,” Weltman remarked Monday. “It’s our responsibility to bring our young players into the league the right way. We have a great group of veterans who have been through this (already in their careers), and they’ve expressed a desire to lead, help, and coach these young guys through doing things the right way as well.”
This was the second of a two-part rundown of Orlando Magic Media Day. ICYMI, you can check out Part I (Injury update, guard-depth, important year for two young centers) here.
Aaron Goldstone has been writing for Orlando Pinstriped Post since 2017. You can follow him on Twitter at @AaronGoldstone.