NBA Up-and-Comers: Orlando Magic

The Magic lost in a tough overtime battle to the Nuggets at home on Wednesday.

And while a loss is a loss, it’s apparent that the Magic are a competitive ballclub this season.

They played neck-and-neck with a very good Denver team (sans Gary Harris) on the second night of a back-to-back.

Having Terrence Ross healthy is making a big difference for their offense. Jonathan Isaac is still coming in to his own, but having him healthy is a boon defensively.

Nik Vucevic is playing out of his mind, and Aaron Gordon has clearly taken another step.

All due respect to DJ Augustin, but Orlando has arguably the worst point guard rotation in the League, and they’re still playing good basketball.

This is a team that could hover around .500 this season, and if a few things go their way, could be in the hunt to make the playoffs.

A postseason berth would be huge for this young team. While the prospect of adding another lottery pick next season sounds enticing, this long-suffering franchise needs to prioritize building a winning culture this season.

#byHOPZ: My interview with Maya Moore 🐐

Some call her the GOAT, which is crazy, because she’s only 29. But the thing is, if Maya Moore retired today, she’d easily go down as one of the five greatest female basketball players of all time. That’s no cap.

So when I was offered the opportunity to interview Moore last month, I jumped at the chance. If I was writing a feature on Moore, I would have focused the interview on her life and psyche. But Steve Marsh had already deftly penned that feature for SLAM over the summer.

Instead, since I had only a 15-minute window (and just a fraction of that time to ask basketball- and career-related questions), I decided to talk to Moore about her future with the Minnesota Lynx, who appear to be entering a new chapter.

Typically coy with her responses, Moore said she was still reflecting on the past season and hadn’t seriously considered her future yet.

In one of her responses that didn’t get published (because of incomplete audio), Moore spoke about the Seattle Storm’s quick rebuild. Just three years ago, Seattle had one of the worst records in the league. And this season, they were crowned WNBA champs.

Moore said that having the No. 1 pick (two years in a row) helped that rebuild tremendously. And Sue Bird was the integral piece, carrying the burden of leadership while Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd gained their footing in the league.

Minnesota does not have the draft assets that Seattle did. And while this is conjecture on my part, I think Moore knows it would take Minnesota longer to a complete rebuild similar to Seattle’s.

Moore may not have the stomach to spend the rest of her prime with a rebuilding franchise devoid of assets. She understands this element of the league very well. But that’s just my two cents.

Here’s Moore’s response about the Storm’s rebuild (the part that I could make out clearly). Of course, to read the rest of my interview with Maya Moore, head to

Does the Storm’s rebuild show you how quickly things can turn around with a few key moves? I believe Sue Bird even re-signed with the team at the beginning of the rebuild.

Maya Moore: You know, yes and no. I think, yes, because the difference between the best and the worst is so narrow, I think. But Sue, willing to—one of the greatest to ever play the game—her willing to commit to that rebuild, made those young players develop quicker than if she hadn’t been there.

Me being drafted to the Lynx with Lindsay Whalen, Taj McWilliams-Franklin, Rebekkah Brunson, Seimone Augustus made me be greater, quicker because I had the leadership… [inaudible]

[…] take on leadership roles that they’re not ready for [inaudible] second-year players or third-year players, you have to be able to have the luxury of having at least one great leader around you. And a No. 1 draft pick gives you really good shot at getting a championship within the first four years.”


#byHOPZ: Jonathan Isaac is on the rise‼️

Back in mid-August, I had the opportunity to speak with Magic second-year forward Jonathan Isaac over the phone.

Isaac was forced to sit out 55 games during his rookie season due to various injuries. Orlando ended up in the great tank race to the bottom, finishing the year with a forgettable 25-57 record.

Admittedly, I hadn’t seen Isaac play much his rookie season, but I knew with his size, agility, defensive instincts, offensive potential and youth, Isaac could eventually develop into an elite two-way player.

After speaking to Isaac and Magic player development coordinator Kevin Tiller for the story, it was clear that Isaac has the mentality and work ethic that will eventually help him fulfill his immense potential.

Here’s an except of the story, which ran on today:

Wearing his blue plaid draft-day jacket, palms sweating and visibly nervous, Jonathan Isaac walks to the podium to give his first sermon.

“This season is the best season of my life, but I’m not playing right now,” the 20-year-old Magic rookie tells the audience on a Sunday morning in mid-January.

Isaac injured his right ankle just three weeks into the season and hasn’t been fully healthy since. To say his rookie year hasn’t gone according to plan would be an understatement.

“There’s insecurities, and there’s doubt in my mind,” he continues. “Like, what are people thinking about me? Are people calling me a bust behind my back? Are my teammates, like, When is Jonathan going to play?”

“And I’m in the best season of my life because I’m growing [spiritually],” he says as the church erupts in applause.

The jitters quickly melt away, and Isaac delivers a message—quite naturally and authentically—about receiving God’s blessings in 2018.

The sermon, streamed on YouTube, would later headline the NBA news cycle. Viewers commented, saying they were confused—what was this? And why?

Not playing and now misunderstood, on this mid-January morning, Jonathan Isaac is the most content he’s been in his life.


Deebo or That Boy Jrue? 🤔

The question was posed on r/nba today (presumably because Sports Illustrated ranked DeMar DeRozan and Jrue Holiday the 30th and 29th-best players, respectively, in the League), and I thought it was an interesting comparison.

DeMar has three more All-Star appearances and two more All-NBA selections. He was just traded for a top-five player in the League (when healthy) Kawhi Leonard.

And yet… I think most people would rather have Holiday as their 2-guard (myself included). Holiday is a better defender (by a mile), better shooter, and gets his offense without nearly as many plays or touches.

Should be interesting to note how these players compare as other outlets (*cough cough*) release their rankings over the next month.

SLAM LINKZ 🔗 Gilbert Arenas is still a 🐐

With just over a month until the NBA season begins, things are beginning to pick up on the aggregation front.

Here’s some of what I’ve been working on today…

Gilbert Arenas Hits 95/100 Shots After Being Challenged by Nick Young 😳: Pure insanity. Hibachi is a triple-OG certified GOAT.

Ray Allen: ‘LeBron Has to Reinvent Himself’ with Lakers: I listened to Ray Allen’s HOF speech and then part of his interview with Dan Patrick. The man could have a future in commentary. Just sayin’…

Kyrie Irving Among NBA, WNBA Players Enrolled in Harvard Business Program: Athletes are more interested in business than ever. As they say, athletes want to be rappers, and rappers want to be athletes… but now they all want to be entrepreneurs!

Cassius Stanley Mic’d Up at SLAM Summer Classic 🎤: Watch out for this kid. Insane athleticism. Only knock is he’s 19 and still hasn’t begun his senior season of HS ball.

FreeWrite: Jump at the opportunity

A lot of the time, I want these free-writes to be about a topic that’s meaningful. Something that could potentially go on the blog. Something that’s well-organized and makes clear points.

But that’s not the goal of a free-write. It’s to get the brain thinking creatively.

Consider this scenario. You wake up at 5:35 a.m. Still groggy. Probably want to wake up at 7:35 or even 8:35 a.m. instead. After all, most people sleep in when they can, especially on a Sunday like today.

But you have this new mantra, “Break the chain.” Essentially, if you skip a day of moving your body (and free-writing), then you’ve “zeroed” yourself out.

You don’t have an end-goal in mind, you just know that it’s part of the process of reaching your full potential.

So you get to where you train every day, and you’re still 60 percent asleep. Can or should you expect your body to perform at its best right away? Of course not.

A free-write should not be peak writing performance. It’s a warm-up. It’s preparation for more writing. An inhibitor of writer’s block.

What I’ve honestly found about free-writing is that a topic generally comes to you by the first or second sentence. And that initial topic can inform the direction of the entire free-write session.

What I need to improve on is not going back and trying to improve my writing during the allotted time. The ideas should be able to freely flow on to the page.

If I’m going back and rewriting sentences then I’m limiting the amount of ideas that can flow through me. (I think of myself as a vessel for thoughts and ideas. I’m collecting them as they come.)

The goal, for now, is to utilize this free-writing technique all the time—including when I’m writing a feature story or perhaps a book down the line. Not only am I more satisfied with my output, but I also realize that all the self-doubt wasn’t necessary.

Writing should not be a struggle. Once you’ve learned how to type, and free-write every day, it should be done with ease. You won’t have to procrastinate until the very last minute.

You’ll want to jump at the opportunity before all the great ideas pass you by.

FreeWrite: Coffee chronicles

Coffee can be such a peculiar drink.

Just a single tablespoon (~6 grams) can drastically make a difference in the taste and flavor of the cup.

The grind size certainly matters, and I’m still experimenting with different brands and types of coffee to see what works best for me.

Using Lavazza Cafe Espresso in my drip coffee machine has a learning experience.

Five scoops (my typical dosage) with roughly 500 mL of water produced a over-extracted cup.

Four scoops with the same amount of water produced an under-extracted cup.

I’m trying not to turn this into a science experiment, but that’s what it has inadvertently become.

C’est la vie.

My digestion becomes quite sensitive to less-than-ideal extractions, so I keep working toward the correct balance.

The flavor doesn’t have to be mind-blowing. I care more about ease than doing my own pour-over. But it has to be something that agrees with my palate. For instance, I’m just not a fan of the Chock Full O Nuts brand.

Which brings me back to Lavazza Cafe Espresso. It’s an Italian brand with a lot of history. I like the flavor. But the grind is super fine.

I believe they sell medium grind for drip coffee makers, but I much prefer to buy coffee in a tin, not a bag (makes for easy scooping).

Coffee chronicles, to be continued!