By Dan Savage
September 25, 2017
ORLANDO – There’s a joke among scribes that media day is similar to the first day of school.
You catch up with old friends, talk about your summer and set the tone for the rest of the year.
If the Magic’s media day message is any indication of what to expect this season, there should be plenty of passion, increased heart and hustle as well as improved camaraderie among the group.
While those topics headlined the day, there were a number of interesting tidbits from players across the roster.
Here are some of the top notes and quotes from an action packed media day:
True Grit: There’s no question that the Magic went out in search for toughness this offseason. The signings of Marreese Speights, Shelvin Mack and Arron Afflalo all reflect that. And the addition of Jonathon Simmons certainly puts it over the top.
“I love nasty,” Simmons said. “I love nasty. I love the grit. That’s where I come from. It’s just a part of me.”
Aaron Gordon agrees: “He’s just so tenacious defensively and offensively. It seems like his motor is going non-stop. To see another guy with just an intense work ethic and an intense motor, it just makes me jump for joy. I’m super excited for that and I know as a team, we’re really, really glad to have him.”
Terrence Ross added: “We are going to be defensively sound. We are going to be gritty. We have a lot of dogs on this team that are going to go out and get in your face and make it hard for the other team.”
Orlando Love: This media day, Speights and Afflalo once again reaffirmed their desire to play in this city and for this organization. The importance of that isn’t lost on Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman.
“HUGE – capital letters,” he said. “I think that where this organization is, to have guys who say ‘I want to be there. I want to wear that name on my chest.’ It might be the most important thing that you could try to find right now.”
Speights added: “It’s one of the best days of my life playing basketball to be able to that to walk in the locker room and put the (Magic) jersey on.”
All Bizness: Bismack Biyombo is not shying away from lofty goals this season. Where does he expect to find himself at the end of the 2017-18 campaign? “Among those great defensive players in the league, I am there. So I envision myself to be on top of the list of Defensive Player of the Year.”
Saint Nik: Expect a more positive Nikola Vucevic this season. After doing some self-reflection over the offseason, the Magic’s big man is going to do his best to keep his cool.
“Last season I let the frustration get the best of me too many times,” Vooch said. “I’m not going to let that happen this season … Try to help this team in any way I can. Try to stay positive. That’s something I’m going to put a big emphasis on. I think that can help not only me, but the team as well.”
Hair Quotes: There might not be a team in the NBA with more notable hair styles than the Magic, even with Evan Fournier cutting off his infamous ponytail and Mario Hezonja shaving his head. However, Elfrid Payton – when prompted by Nikola Vucevic – made it clear that one player’s luscious locks reigns supreme: “Jonathan Isaac has the best hair on the team,” he said. “We are going to crown him tomorrow.”
Moving On Up: While the majority of players were focused on the process of improving rather than playoff proclamations, Speights left no doubt that Orlando will take a step forward this season.
“We are for sure going to make a jump,” he explained. “It’s not even a question. We are going to make a jump this year. It’s all about leaving egos at the door. It’s all about about sacrificing. It’s all about competing every day. Once we do those things, the results will take care of themselves.”
Here and Now: After going through a few tough seasons with the Magic, Evan Fournier wants to make sure he’s here when Orlando finally finds itself back on top of the Eastern Conference.
“Going through losing makes you want to win even more for a team and for a city,” Fournier explained. “Honestly, let’s say 10 years from now I’m playing for another team and I see the Magic really successful, I’d be disappointed. Because when this team is going to be back on top, I want to be part of it.”
Elfrid’s Expectations: Payton comes into this season with two clear goals in mind: “I want to be better defensively. Obviously, I think that starts with me. Closing out games. We have to make sure we get the shots we want those last three minutes. I think we lost a lot of games down the stretch last year that we should have won and could have made a difference in our season.”
Super Mario: Perhaps no player on Orlando’s roster knows Mario Hezonja better than his fellow countryman Damjan Rudez. So hopefully, Rudez is right on the mark with his outlook for Hezonja’s season.
“I’m expecting big things of him,” Rudez explained. “I’m aware of his talent and I know him well. And I’m sure his ambition is huge.”
Three’s Company: Ross has longstanding relationships with both Weltman and Magic GM John Hammond. And he’s thrilled to have them aboard.
“They’re all about winning and they do it the right way,” Ross said. “They motivate, they help us with whatever we need help with, and make it just easier for us to go out there and focus on the game. They’re good people to have around.”