Denton: Rigorous Summer Workouts Ahead for Magic's Youth

Tobias Harris

By John Denton
April 18, 2014

ORLANDO – About a week or so ago, as the Orlando Magic were playing out their final string of games, conversations among players started about their offseason plans.

On most teams, those talks would be centered around trips to secluded islands, attending concerts in exotic locales or relaxing at five-star resorts.

With the Magic, the team’s gaggle of young players was already discussing a time two weeks from now when most of the team will reconvene at the Amway Center practice court for a series of grueling offseason workouts. Working throughout the summer, several of the players said, is one of the ways that the Magic hope to shorten the learning curve of being so young and improving so that they never have to go through another 20-something-win season again.

``Individually, guys want to go their separate ways for a little bit because you get tired of seeing them and you want to miss them a little, but we’ve also talked already about the designated times that we’ll come back here,’’ Magic power forward Kyle O’Quinn said. ``We’re going to be back in Orlando, get in the gym together and go to dinner together so we can keep that bond strong. We will hold each other accountable. There will be no strangers over the summer.’’

O’Quinn said he fully expects young players such as Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris, Maurice Harkless, E’Twaun Moore, Andrew Nicholson, Doron Lamb and Dewayne Dedmon at the team’s practice facility over the summer months. For example, O’Quinn and Harris live in the same apartment complex in Orlando and they usually prod one another to go work out together on a daily basis.

``(Building) takes time, but going into next year, I think it’s a time when we can expect a lot,’’ said Harris, who averaged 14.6 points and 7.0 rebounds a game after overcoming a serious high ankle sprain early in the season. ``I don’t know about playoffs or what our team will look like next season, but I know as far as myself I will hold my teammates to a very high standard this offseason.’’

Magic GM Rob Hennigan and head coach Jacque Vaughn are hoping that because Orlando’s young players have seen so much court time over the past two seasons and are planning to dedicate their summers to working again that it will help to shorten the learning curve. Oladipo played 80 games and 2,486 minutes (31 a night) as a rookie. Harkless saw action in 80 games, while Nicholson (76 games), O’Quinn (69 games) and Harris (61 games) were usually on the floor at the end of games in the tense moments. The hope is that Orlando will be better in pressure-packed fourth quarters in years to come because of the experience that the team already has.

``I think there’s no substitute for real NBA experience and you can’t replicate that type of experience in practice or a D-League game,’’ Hennigan said. ``Those are true experiences that I hope will accelerate the learning curve and that’s certainly part of the plan.’’

Added Harkless, who boosted his scoring average to 7.4 points a game while becoming much more comfortable on the offensive end of the floor this season: ``It’s about working in the offseason. And with this group, we’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of in-game experience. Having that (experience) going into the summer is very important because now we know how hard we’ve got to work.’’

O’Quinn was one of the Magic regulars at the team’s practice facility last summer, and he is a shining example of what offseason work can do for a player. A second-round pick with no NBA guarantee last season, O’Quinn evolved his game this season to the point that he was a full-time starter. He finished top-20 in the NBA in blocked shots and he earned the trust of the Magic coaching staff by becoming one of the team’s most dependable players in key moments.

But none of it – going from rarely playing as a rookie to starting the final 19 games of the season as a second-year player – is going to slow down O’Quinn’s thirst to get better over what he knows is an important offseason.

``The season is so long that I had small goals. I went from not playing to trying to get on the court. Then I tried to turn 10 minutes into 20 minutes and 20 minutes into 30 minutes. I wanted to build coach’s trust,’’ said O’Quinn, who averaged 6.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks a game. ``I take a lot of pride in what I have done. I go to the gym every day to try and get to the highest level of what my opportunity might brig. I’m happy with what I’ve done, but like coach said I want more. That comes with continuing to work, winning games as a team and showing what all our hard work can do.’’

Oladipo, who had a stellar rookie season while averaging 13.8 points, 4.1 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 1.6 steals a game, has talked for weeks about wanting to attack his offseason to become a better player. Oladipo said that his shooting stroke obviously need some work after shooting 41.9 percent from the floor and 32.7 percent from 3-point range. But he also wants to add more weapons to the arsenal such as a tear-drop shot in the lane, step-back jumper to better create space and a more refined dribble through traffic.

Oladipo said his mission has not changed since he arrived in Orlando as the No. 2 pick in last June’s NBA Draft: He wants to be great. And he is planning to do something about that this summer with more hard work.

``I’m going to work on everything because that’s how you get better,’’ said Oladipo, who said he could care less if he’s a shooting guard or point guard in the future. ``I am going to try to take a little break for a couple of weeks because they want me to, but it’s going to be hard. I will be getting right back to it real soon.’’

O’Quinn said that in time Orlando’s collection of young talent and the group’s hard work over the summer will pay off. He thinks that Orlando can push for a playoff spot next season and that the franchise won’t be far away from doing some serious damage in the postseason following another summer of improvement.

``With the losing, we’ve just tried to look at it as on-court experience. And I know that at some point, I’m going to win and this experience is going to help us win,’’ O’Quinn said. ``You’re not just going to jump on the court one day and be a winner. Sometimes you have to go through the rough times. I think that on-court experience that I’ve gotten, it will help us out in the long run.’’