The Lakeland Magic have had tremendous success ever since arriving in Polk County in 2017.
In their inaugural season, they won 28 games and made the playoffs. The next year, they took a major step forward, notching 32 victories and capturing the Southeast Division title before advancing to the conference finals, where they lost a heartbreaker in overtime to the Long Island Nets.
Now in its third year, Lakeland foresees having another exceptional season. Although only four players are returning from last season’s squad, there is no shortage of confidence from the coaches, players and organization as a whole.
“We’re making really good progress,” Lakeland Head Coach Stan Heath said following one of his team’s training camp practices. “I am pleased with how hard the guys are going. I am pleased with how they are coming together as a team, as a group and moving away from the individual side of it. That’s the main thing in the G League, just getting a team to be connected, be a unit that wants to play together, play the right way and win.”
Familiar faces to keep an eye on as the season unfolds are the Magic’s pair of two-way players, Amile Jefferson and Josh Magette, as well as three players who spent late September and early October with the parent club in Orlando – B.J. Johnson, Vic Law and Isaac Humphries.
For Law, a Northwestern graduate, his time with the Magic goes back to NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. That experience helped him get acquainted with Orlando’s objectives and team identity, which he says is a perfect fit for what his strengths and on-the-court values are. Learning from the Magic’s players during training camp and the preseason also made a huge impact.
“One of the best parts of this whole process is the experience you get and the competition. I love playing against the best of the best,” said the 6-foot-7, 200-pound versatile forward, who averaged 11.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.0 assists during his four years at Northwestern. “Going up every day playing like Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac and Markelle (Fultz), it just prepares you for a whole another level that you haven’t seen yet. And it gives you somewhat of a mental edge and a physical edge coming into the G League where you play some of the talent here.”
Johnson, meanwhile, is back in Lakeland, where he appeared in 39 games last season and averaged 15.4 points while shooting 47.6 percent from the floor and 44.2 percent from 3-point range. Being already familiar with the Magic’s team concepts is creating minimal adjustments for the 23-year-old, who late last year signed short-term contracts with a pair of NBA teams, the Atlanta Hawks and Sacramento Kings.
The former Syracuse and La Salle standout has been impressed with the effort this team is showing in training camp and believes the hard work will pay off just like it did with last year’s group. He kept himself in great shape during the offseason, when he decided to rejoin the Magic.
“It’s a family-oriented organization,” he said. “I felt more comfortable with coming back to a system that I already know, with an organization that I already know and felt confident in that decision.”
The team’s starting point guard, when he’s not up with the parent club, will be Magette, one of the G League’s best passers the last few years. The Magic’s new two-way player, who led the G League in assists in 2018 and was an All-Star the prior year, was drawn to the team after playing against Lakeland and Orlando’s summer league teams in the past.
“I just thought it was a good fit,” said the 29-year-old Alabama native, who two years ago was a two-way player for the Hawks. “I enjoyed watching their team always. I respected coach (Steve) Clifford and I’m just excited to be here.”
Other notables on this year’s roster include Orlando’s 2019 first round NBA Draft pick, Chuma Okeke, who will be rehabbing in Lakeland this year, and Justin Jackson, a second round draft selection in 2018.
Lakeland will tip off its 2019-20 season on Nov. 8 in Fort Wayne. Following a three-game road trip, it will play its home opener at RP Funding Center on Nov. 16 against the expansion College Park Skyhawks.