After a six year playoff absence, the Orlando Magic finally returned to the postseason last year. However, while the Magic exceeded regular season expectations, they still suffered a thrashing in the first-round of the playoffs, proving they still have a long way to go. This year, the Magic will look to build on last season’s successes, hoping to develop players while continuing to have success on the court.
First and foremost, the Magic’s most important goal for the 2019-20 season is to return to the postseason. Ever since Dwight Howard left the team in 2012, the franchise was stuck in a seemingly eternal mediocrity, constantly ending each season with a pick in the high lottery.
Last year, they finally broke out of the Eastern Conference cellar, making the playoffs, and bringing hope back to a city that hadn’t seen a competitive basketball team in over half a decade. In order to prove last year wasn’t a fluke, the Magic must build on their momentum and return to the postseason once again.
By accomplishing this, the Magic’s young core will gain even more valuable postseason experience, and the organization can be confident in continuing to build with what they have instead of contemplating another complete rebuild.
In addition, the Magic should strive to win the Southeast division again after last year’s triumph. After seeing the Heat, who entered the league just a year before the Magic, it’s satisfying whenever Orlando finishes on top of the division standings, especially after watching their division rivals win two NBA titles while Orlando was struggling in the post Dwight Howard-era.
Even though their South Beach rivals improved by adding Jimmy Butler this offseason, the Magic’s core should still be enough to overcome the Hassan Whiteside-less Heat. The Magic should also hope to stay ahead of the young, but improving, Hawks, and most certainly above the struggling Hornets and Wizards.
While the Magic will hope for tangible success in the standings, they will also hope to see development from many of their young players.
One of the biggest goals for the Magic this year is to finally receive a breakout season from athletic forward Aaron Gordon. After a solid first four seasons with the team, the Magic committed to Gordon for the foreseeable future, signing him to a four year, $76 million contract and making him the second-highest paid player on the team.
Unfortunately, the former Arizona star failed to improve in the first year of his new contract last season, seeing a substantial downturn from his previous season. While the young forward has the ability to take over games when needed, he needs to provide consistent All-Star level performances if the Magic want to continue to build around him for the future.
While Gordon may be the most recognizable name of the team’s young core, the team also needs to develop the other members of their frontcourt of the future, especially Mo Bamba.
Bamba was selected by the Magic with the sixth pick in last year’s NBA draft, but he missed the last half of his rookie season with a stress fracture in his lower left leg. The injury was concerning for Bamba’s development, but perhaps even more worrisome was his play before he missed time. In the 47 games Bamba did play, he often looked lost on the court, posting one of the league’s worst real plus-minuses, 499th out of 514 eligible players to be exact.
While Bamba had ample time to recover after his initial injury, he again showed worrying signs in the Summer League. After playing in the opening game, Bamba was forced to sit the rest of the tournament out with “general soreness”, but he looks to be set to open the regular season.
If Bamba is going to be the franchise’s center of the future, the organization needs proof that Bamba can stay on the court and play well. While Nikola Vucevic may still be the big man of the present, the Magic hope to continue developing the raw talent and athleticism of Bamba, turning him from an injury-prone rookie to at least a solid NBA role player.
One of the biggest criticisms of the Orlando Magic in recent years has been their lack of solid, NBA-level point guards. Last season, veteran DJ Augustin controlled the starting role, but the team would struggle when subpar backups like Jerian Grant took the floor.
Now, the Magic think they may have found a long-term solution at point guard. In one of the most under the radar moves of last season, Orlando acquired former number one overall pick, Markelle Fultz. While Fultz showed flashes of promise in college, he has yet to prove himself as a capable, durable NBA player.
Fultz has been on the team’s roster since February, but he was forced to sit out much of last season while he recovered from a shoulder injury. Not much has been disclosed about his injury, but hopefully Fultz will be ready for the start of the regular season.
This season, Fultz has to prove that he can stay healthy if the Magic want to consider him the point guard of the future, something they desperately need to find quickly in order to pair with their developing frontcourt.
The Magic need to find out if Fultz is the answer, hopefully redeveloping Fultz’s confidence while keeping him on the court.