Southeast Notes: Magic, Gafford, Hachimura, Collins, Bridges

The Magic are being realistic about their expectations as they prepare for a season that will likely end with another trip to the draft lottery, writes Chris Hays of The Orlando Sentinel. With the league’s third-youngest roster at an average age of 24.7 years, Orlando will focus on developing its young talent rather than wins and losses.

“I don’t really set benchmark goals. I always believe that if you play the right way and play together, then the results will kind if speak for themselves,” said president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman. “Obviously, we’ve recalibrated what we’re doing right now, so with this group I do expect us to play hard. This is about growth. This is about the development of our players. It’s about a lot of young guys learning what it takes to win in the NBA.”

Weltman has upended the Magic’s roster since the March trade deadline, shipping out most of the team’s veterans in exchange for young players and draft assets. Mohamed Bamba, who is about to start his fourth season, is now second on the team in most games played for Orlando, and admitted surprise at becoming a veteran leader so quickly.

“I just try to do my part,” he said. “I don’t try to do too much, I don’t over-extend myself and when the younger guys come to me for anything, I try do the best I can to help.”

There’s more from the Southeast Division:

  • Daniel Gafford‘s three-year extension shows the value the Wizards place on their young center, observes Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington. The team also has Thomas Bryant, the starting center before being injured last year, along with Montrezl Harrell, who was acquired in an offseason trade, but management decided to make a long-term commitment to Gafford, who is now the team’s only player signed through the 2025/26 season.
  • Wizards forward Rui Hachimura has cleared the league’s health and safety protocols and has returned to the team, Hughes tweets. However, he won’t travel with his teammates to Toronto for Wednesday’s season opener, according to Ava Wallace of The Washington Post (Twitter link). Hachimura will remain in Washington and will continue individual workouts with assistant coaches.
  • Hawks big man John Collins is relieved not to have to think about his contract situation this season after signing a five-year, $125MM deal with the team over the summer, he tells Chris Kirschner of The Athletic. “It’s like getting a full, restful night of sleep. That’s what it felt like to sign the paper,” Collins said. “That relief of stress and pressure just felt like I was fully awake now. It put me in a better mood. It took me a while to understand the stress but in the moment, it’s just pure bliss.”
  • Miles Bridges didn’t work out a contract extension with the Hornets by Monday’s deadline, but he tells Rod Boone of The Charlotte Observer that he loves playing in the city. “I’m just going to continue to get better,” he said, “and hopefully I can stay with the Hornets my whole career.”
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