The Magic are in a unique position this summer league.
The roster is full of players that are expected to make the roster. Second-year players Maurice Harkless, Andrew Nicholson and Kyle O'Quinn are playing major minutes. Rookies Victor Oladipo and Romero Osby are expected to be contributors next season. Doron Lamb and DeQuan Jones should fight for roster spots in training camp. And then there is Tobias Harris (out for the first two games with a very minor knee injury).
Summer League for the Magic is not just an opportunity to test out young players and experiment with different lineups but an actual and real chance to build chemistry between key players for next season and well beyond. That is something many teams do not get the opportunity to do.
"It's summer league, this is their time to play," Magic Summer League coach James Borrego said. "We don't want to get them injured. Their young, this is a great experience for them. I will try not to wear them out too much. But if they can get close to [30 minutes per game] and still be fresh and healthy, it's a decent area for us."
James Borrego has had the luxury of having several experienced players on his roster. Many expected the Magic to play very well in the Summer League because there are more NBA players expected to be on the Magic's main roster playing this week. That has not been the case as the Magic have gone 1-2 and, despite some decent play on both ends, have not quite put together a strong 40-minute effort even though they are relying heavily on regular rotation players.
That should not be concerning yet. After all, Maurice Harkless, Andrew Nicholson and Victor Oladipo will not be the primary options on offense when Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo and Nikola Vucevic get added back to the lineup.
Still, one could call the Summer League a success so far because of the chemistry and camraderie built to this point already.
"I think you can see it with us playing, the chemistry out there," Harkless said. "Victor and Roe they slid right in. Me and Victor, I think we already have have great chemistry together. We've just got to keep building and keep learning through our mistakes, take our lumps together and get better."
For a rookie like Victor Oladipo or Romero Osby, the opportunity to gain some chemistry with their future teammates has been important in their maturation and growth. Romero Osby said the veterans on teh Magic summer league roster have been very vital in helping him and Oladipo learn the ropes and understand the coaches expectations.
A big part of that is just the simple directive to work hard and play defense.
It was apparent early on that a lot of these players were working on specific things and working on getting on the same page knowing they had the opportunity to play a lot of minutes. The one are that the team has shown that energy and that camraderie is on the defensive end.
These games have been a constant rain of chatter from the Magic. Kyle O'Quinn is back there barking out command. Maurice Harkless, a typically reserved guy, is also very vocal on the defensive end. These team leaders have made defense a priority. And while it remains a work in progress after three games, the energy has generally been good.
"Just to hear that voice make the defense feel that much stronger," Kyle O'Quinn said. "Sometimes you might rattle the offense a little bit. You might say a little bit too much and the offense might not know what to do and throw a bad pass. You never know what it could lead to."
O'Quinn said defense is about talking and figuing out how to execute the coach's schemes, adjusting on the fly when needed. In Summer League that can be difficult. Whistles are plenty and the offense does have an advantage. With the exception of Tuesday's loss, Orlando has played some solid defense and have shown some growth on that end.
The learning experience is what it is all about. Selecting Victor Oladipo with the second overall pick was as much a statement about the Magic's commitment to bring in energetic players who can instill the hard-working, defensive-minded culture the Magic want to establish.
That was evident in the way Oladipo flew around the floor in his first few games on defense, picking up energy and giving energy to his teammates on that end.
"It spreads throughout the whole team," Osby said. "It's like a dunk or a charge or diving for a loose ball, when you have stuff like that going on it just brings a different type of effort to the team. Everybody wants to pick up their effort. Everybody is clapping, the coaches are excited, you're excited and you're just ready for the next play. It's a big boost."
The chirping and chatter and talking on defense is all about the team picking each other up on the defensive end and helping them know they have each other's back. That kind of chemistry translates to the other end of the floor too. Trust is being built this week for the Magic between the players that are very likely to be the team's core moving forward.
Already that trust and chemistry is being created.
"They definitely helped me a lot today," Oladipo said after the team's first game Sunday. "Without them, I probably would have been all over the place. They helped me through my mistakes and helped me be poised out there.
"I'm going to continue to have fun with them especially and grow a relationship with them. I't sgoing to be a long journey. We're looking to build a dynasty here. We're tyring to learn each other, whether it be on or off the court, and continue to enjoy each other."