Orlando Magic builds long-term habits, losing short-term results


Orlando Magic coach Jamahl Mosley is ready to experiment. It has been clear.

Whether it was the successful experience of pairing Mo Bamba with Wendell Carter or less successful experiences with RJ Hampton as a point guard, Jamahl Mosley has sought out playgroups that function consistently. He hasn’t found them yet at this point.

The Orlando Magic’s most recent loss, a 110-103 loss to the Detroit Pistons, appeared to be the coach’s biggest dud.

The Magic were sure to struggle with fatigue after five tough games in seven nights, and the second night in a row, but they had rallied to regain the lead on the road and had a seven-point lead in the third quarter.

Things quickly fell apart with a lineup that included Hampton as the point guard and neither Carter nor Bamba in the lineup. The lead changed completely as the Pistons took a nine-point lead in the fourth quarter and increased their lead to 18 in the fourth.

It wasn’t the first time fans have imposed losses on training decisions. Mosley, a rookie head coach with a young team, continues to get a feel for his squad and find the right combinations. The number of queues he has already used is proof of this.

The Orlando Magic are clearly focused on the season and what they want to build. Jamahl Mosley sacrificed some short-term success to cement that long-term vision.

The fans certainly want to see the team win. The players are certainly trying to win too. Victories remain the most tangible way to measure progress.

But despite the team’s frustrating 1-5 record, there is still a lot of optimism about the team’s departure.

Losses aside from the first two losses have been ruled out or explained due to those experimental rotation decisions, injuries the team faced, or youthful mistakes. Many of these are acceptable for a team playing with the lack of pressure to win this team is facing this year. It is still about growth and development.

And at this point in the season, Mosley is focused on the positive and the kind of identity he wants to build for his team.

The team plays these games with an eye on the bigger picture. And cementing that big picture could cost the team some wins right now.

It is not unusual. A lot of coaches take a long-term view of how they build their teams. It’s about peaking at the right time.

San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is particularly adept at keeping that focus on the long-term goals of the team.

Think about his run to the Olympics where the team struggled at first as they cemented the identity they wanted to build and then managed to dominate the knockout stages of this tournament.

He’s done it with the San Antonio Spurs throughout his career.

He pioneered load management to ensure he had fresh players for bigger games later in the season. He would try different lineups or strategies that might not always work to get the reps for them when the playoffs rolled around. He would play the deep bench players for minutes to keep them ready when the team needed them.

Mosley is not Popovich. And he doesn’t have a team that can afford to give up a few games knowing they can catch them and still make the playoffs on the road. Their goals are different.

But Orlando is also looking at the bigger picture with his team. It’s a season about developing and improving players while also cementing the identity of the team and the way they plan to play.

Anyone can clearly see this part settling down. The team plays with fire and turmoil. The bell plays that magic has boasted since training camp was a key part of the team’s identity. They had long periods of really inspiring play. And their number is even starting to increase.

There are still a lot of mistakes with young players, especially turnovers and late game execution. And the team is still clearly learning the intricacies of what they’re trying to do and how to make it cohesive.

But there are still those times when team rotation hits a stalemate and the Magic come up with lineups that just don’t provide defensive energy or an offensive push. And Orlando will still allow the races to bury the team in the early deficits.

Some of these issues will eventually be fixed due to returning player injuries. The lack of depth of the team’s playmaker particularly pleads for the return of Markelle Fultz. Part of that will be corrected with additional experience – Jalen Suggs in particular watched the role of a rookie with his bad shots and turnovers.

Mosley has to let some of these players take their pieces. But there is still a balance the team must seek.

There are many long-term cultural and identity markers to suggest that the Magic is building something intriguing. What everyone wants to see is for the team to be able to bring them together for more than just intriguing stretches. They need to see the victories.

And that part falls to Mosley as he continues to have his pace and feel as a head coach.

Mosley credited the team’s fight on Saturday for making the score more respectable. It’s not the first time he’s done it. Following the Orlando Magic’s loss to the New York Knicks, he praised the team’s fight to take the lead in the third quarter. But it also reduced a 34-point lead to 17. The game was never in doubt.

At this point, Mosley isn’t going to stretch the players too far to get a singular victory. What is clear is that he is more concerned with the key groups playing the way he wants the team to play. And in that sense, it’s hard to argue that the team hasn’t seen at least moderate success.

Whether this is a worthwhile compromise remains to be seen. But Mosley is clearly aiming for a specific mindset and style. And he wants the most important players on the team to be able to play at that high level for the minutes they are.

That way he is prepared to sacrifice some short term success. He sacrifices small-scale victories to cement that identity and have the team play at the highest level possible.

Orlando’s super-successful start-up lineup is at least a small picture of that long-term vision starting to take hold.

Of course, that’s only half the job of the coach. The team must win matches. He may not be the ultimate judge of success for this season. But Orlando should still try to win games and see that success in the short term.

Mosley’s biggest challenge, as has been said often, is balancing his rotations and making sure the team can be competitive and win games. Orlando can do this while still hitting the long term goals he is trying to achieve.

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