ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The Orlando Magic want to establish a new identity this season.
If new coach Scott Skiles has his way, it will be all about defense.
Orlando posted its third straight season of 25 or fewer victories last year, and ranked in the bottom third of the NBA in both points allowed and opponent field goal percentage. Skiles said that working to change that will be the Magic’s top priority when they officially open training camp Saturday.
It would seem that would signal a full scale culture change from previous regime, though Skiles said it’s more about taking steps to make sure it actually happens this time.
“I don’t like to use that term, because it’s like saying I’m some sort of magician, and the previous guy couldn’t do it,” Skiles said. “There’s been a lot of talk, even before I got here, about turning into a good defensive team. It hasn’t happened. And we need to do it.”
After the Magic’s most active offseason under general manager Rob Hennigan, Orlando has a roster ripe with young talent, including fifth overall draft pick Mario Hezonja.
It’s a group Henngian said is ready to show progress and one that he isn’t shy about saying could compete for the postseason. Setting such goals are necessary, he said.
“I think we’ve come to a point now where our team is ready to turn the corner,” Hennigan said. “I’ve said recently that our goal is to make the playoffs. We’re not gonna hide from that.”
They did, however, re-sign 23-year-old forward Tobias Harris to a four-year $64 million deal – locking up a young nucleus that also includes center Nik Vucevic, guards Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton, and forward Aaron Gordon.
Gordon was slowed by injuries last season, but looked impressive in summer league play, averaging more than 20 points and 11 rebounds in the three games he appeared.
That progress will be slowed at the outset of training camp as he recovers from surgery on his jaw after a horseplay incident with his brother. Though he lost about 10 pounds while he had his jaw wired shut, he said he’s about five pounds heavier that he was before the incident.
He won’t be initially cleared to participate in contact drills, but said he expects to play at some point this preseason.
While that youth may have been a crutch at times last season for the Magic, Oladipo said those days are in the past.
“We’re never saying that ever again. It’s over with,” he said. “At the end of the day we gotta win. We gotta stop using that as an excuse. We want to win and in order to win you can have no excuses. We’re locked in on winning.”
Harris is the one player in the Magic’s locker room that has seen Skiles in action up close, having played for him as a rookie in Milwaukee.
He said he expects his teammates to get a quick impression of Skiles’ no nonsense approach from the first practice.
“I think just his demeanor and nature of knowing the game is a big key,” Harris said. “He’s on you every day. Tough. And I think the biggest thing is he just holds you accountable. That’s what he’s gonna do in training camp, and that’s what he’s always done as a coach…And I think that’s what we need.”