By John Denton
Oct. 18, 2017
ORLANDO – Immediately upon watching Boston Celtics’ forward Gordon Hayward fall and grotesquely dislocate his ankle on Tuesday, Orlando Magic coach Frank Vogel had a disturbing flashback to Aug. 1, 2014.
That’s the date when all-star forward Paul George broke both bones in his lower leg upon colliding with the basket stanchion. Vogel was George’s head coach at the time with the Indiana Pacers and he rushed to Las Vegas to be by his star player’s side after suffering such a devastating injury.
Not long after Hayward’s injury in Tuesday’s NBA-opening game, Vogel sent a text to Celtics’ head coach Brad Stevens, a longtime friend from when both of them coached in Indianapolis – Vogel with the Pacers and Stevens at Butler University. Hayward, a Butler alum, also used to work out at the Pacers’ facility in the offseason and he and Vogel knew each other on a basketball level.
“Immediately (he thought of George’s injury) because it was obviously a similar injury,’’ Vogel said. “It was a devastating (injury) to Gordon and my heart goes out to him and his family and the whole Celtics organization because nobody wants to see something like that. It was very unfortunate.’’
Magic guard Shelvin Mack was a teammate of Hayward’s on the underdog Butler team that lost to Duke in the NCAA Championship game in 2010. Also, the two friends were teammates on the Utah Jazz the past two seasons before Hayward left for Boston and Mack signed with the Magic. He was obviously very concerned about his long-time friend after seeing him go down early in Tuesday’s game in Cleveland.
“That was really tough to see, especially with the way the injury happened and with the timing because (Hayward) was looking for a fresh start in Boston,’’ said Mack, who sent Hayward a series of texts on Tuesday night. “It was very unfortunate and I look forward to talking to him over the next few days.
“(Hayward) was running a play that we used to run in Utah a lot with a backdoor lob and it was just a freak accident,’’ Mack added. “Those injuries just suck and hopefully he’s able to come back after a surgery. He’s in great hands and hopefully he’ll keep his spirits high.’’
BUILDING CHEMISTRY: As the team’s longest-tenured player and one of the Magic’s unquestioned leaders, Nikola Vucevic has taken it upon himself to try and position Orlando for success this season. On Monday night, that meant opening the doors to Urbain 40 American Brasserie and Lounge, the Orlando-based restaurant that Vucevic is invested in for a players-only team dinner.
For Vucevic, the night was about good food and fellowship in an attempt to better the Magic’s team chemistry. Orlando has seven new players on the roster – nine including two-way players Adreian Payne and Jamel Artis – and Vucevic knows if the team can build close bonds it could help this season when adversity invariably hits.
“It went well and I think anything that we can do like team dinners can build our chemistry and get us closer,’’ said Vucevic, who picked up the tab for his teammates. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that it will translate to the court, but it can help. I thought it was a good thing for us to do right before the season, getting a good meal together and spending some time together off the court.
“I am a big believer in chemistry. It doesn’t mean that you will win just because you get along off the court, but maybe it will help us,’’ he added. “Doing things like that can only help us. You have to have good chemistry if you want to be a good team and all of the best teams seem to have good chemistry. The biggest way team chemistry helps is when things don’t go well and it’s about how you handle it as a team. That will our biggest test – if things start to go south, how will we handle it. Hopefully, we’ll be better (with chemistry) than last season.’’
NEW LEADERSHIP: President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman and GM John Hammond, who were hired in late May to get the Magic back to their winning ways, do most of their work behind the scenes during the season, but the two veteran NBA execs have made their presence felt with the team this preseason.
One or both usually attend Magic practices and they regularly talk with Vogel or Orlando’s players on a daily basis. Hammond even addressed the squad as a whole at the end of training camp, praising them for helping one another out on the court and encouraging them to keep it up throughout the NBA’s marathon-like regular season.
Weltman and Hammond, who are working together for a fourth time at the NBA level, have also made several behind-the-scenes additions to the Basketball Operations staff, addressing areas of need in an attempt to make the Magic as prepared as possible for games.
“They beefed up the analytics team, they beefed up the medical team and they’ve given me more resources to add player development (coaches) and video guys,’’ Vogel said. “They are a resource-oriented group who believes in pulling no punches and giving us everything that we need to be at our best.’’
Added veteran forward Evan Fournier: “Most of their work gets done upstairs, but they have changed of things. They are really engaged and they talk to us all the time about the way that they want to see us play.’’
STORYBOOK START: Miami Heat rookie Matt Williams Jr. admitted on Wednesday that it’s downright surreal that his first game in a NBA jersey came just a few miles from here he starred at Orlando Jones High School and, most recently, UCF.
Williams Jr., who was signed to a two-way contract meaning he will spend the season at the NBA and G League levels, was expecting to have as many as 30 family and friends at Wednesday’s game even though he was a longshot to see playing time. The support from those people means the world to him, Williams said.
“Who would have written this script? I’m from Orlando and I’ve been here my whole life, I went to high school here and got blessed to get a scholarship to UCF and now I have an amazing opportunity here with the NBA,’’ said Williams, one of the nation’s top 3-point shooters last season while at UCF. “It all feels good and my hometown fans are doing a good job of keeping me humble and letting me know I still have a lot of work to do. It just feels good to have my hometown behind me and supporting me and my Orlando base has been so positive.’’
UP NEXT: The Magic will be back on the practice floor on Thursday before departing for New York City. Orlando plays the Nets in Brooklyn on Friday night and then faces LeBron James and the Cavaliers in Cleveland on Saturday.
The Magic have 28 of their first 50 games on the road – the most away games in the NBA during that stretch to open the season.
Orlando will be back at the Amway Center most of next week when it hosts Brooklyn (Tuesday) and the San Antonio Spurs (Oct. 27).
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