ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Change continues to be a constant theme around the Orlando Magic as the franchise searches for the right formula to return to the postseason.
But while there is a lot different about the Magic this season, it’s what hasn’t changed that gives the team optimism it can finally end its five-year postseason drought. This is the first time in most of returning players’ time with the Magic that they will have the same coach in consecutive seasons with Frank Vogel back for Year 2.
“It’s kind of like what’s understood doesn’t need to be explained,” said fourth-year forward Aaron Gordon, who is one of the Magic players experiencing having the same coach in back to back years for the first time. “You kind of get a little bit more of that with a coach in the second year. You can make eye contact and understand what you’re talking about so you don’t have to take the time to fully explain it and you just move on to the next thing.”
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Last season didn’t go how those around the franchise expected, finishing 29-53 and on the outside of the playoff race, but the hope is that the foundation was set for future success. This will be the second year in Vogel’s defensive scheme and after making the shift to small ball at midseason perhaps the players will be more comfortable in the system and Vogel will find it more natural teaching it after favoring a bigger lineup during his time with the Indiana Pacers.
Orlando returns its starting five and nine players total from last season’s roster.
“It’s just easier when you know the plays, when you know what the coach wants from you,” swingman Evan Fournier said during Monday’s media day. “I get to experience that for the first time in my career so I’m looking forward to it.”
Vogel understands the challenges the players face when the head coaches office is a revolving door. The 2014-15 season was the last time the Magic had a coach for back-to-back years in Jacque Vaughn. Neither James Borrego nor Scott Skiles started consecutive seasons as coach prior to Vogel’s arrival in 2016.
As a result the style of play and messages always seemed to change.
“Every other coach is different and has different expectations and requirements and how things are supposed to be done,” said Vogel, who recently added coaching veteran Randy Wittman to his staff as a coaching consultant earlier this month. “If you’re spending half your season just learning those nuances it pulls away from what you actually can do as a basketball player. Hopefully those things will be strengthened this year.”
But that isn’t to say there isn’t change around the franchise, because there was plenty this offseason. The front office has been revamped with the ouster of general manager Rob Hennigan and the additions of president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman and general manager John Hammond to replace him.
Orlando didn’t bring in any big-name free agents but added some gritty players who have been around winning basketball such as third-year forward Jonathon Simmons, Marreese Speights, Shelvin Mack and Arron Afflalo. Also new are No. 6 overall draft pick Jonathan Isaac and second-round selection Wesley Iwundu.
“I think they are going to improve the intensity of our daily work and the intensity and toughness of who we are on the court,” Vogel said of the free agent additions. “I’m excited to have those guys.”
The talk last season was about finally breaking through into the postseason for the first time in the post Dwight Howard era. But this year it’s about building chemistry and going through the process to be successful.
“Players, we like to say stuff that people say a lot but day to day and game after game is really the mentality right now,” Fournier said.” We have to get better each and every game. That’s how we are going to win. If we are going to be successful we have to create something and build it from the ground.”