Magic Taking Strategic Approach in Developing Bamba

Josh Cohen
Digital News Manager

ORLANDO – While it might have seemed somewhat odd at the time, Orlando Magic coach Steve Clifford revealed that there was a method to his madness when it came to taking promising center Mohamed Bamba out late in Wednesday’s season-opening victory.

Bamba played spectacularly well in the first official NBA game of his career, compiling 13 points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots as the Magic beat the Miami Heat 104-101 on Wednesday. His 3-pointer late in the third quarter broke a 76-all tie, his swat of a Josh Richardson layup attempt sailed out of bounds and his two follow-up dunks early in the fourth quarter gave Orlando a nine-point lead.

However, Bamba was subbed out for veteran center Nikola Vucevic with 3:37 to play, partly Clifford said, because the 7-foot center ``was exhausted.’’ Miami made a charge, getting within one point of the Magic, but Bamba didn’t return until there was only 1.6 seconds remaining for defensive purposes.

Clifford said that while the Magic are doing everything in their power to win games and the rookie will undoubtedly play a big role, the franchise also wants to be smart about how it uses the 7-foot, 221-pounder.

``The two parts with him are him being comfortable at both (power forward) and (center), which he’s doing very quickly because he’s very bright,’’ Clifford said. ``Then, the other part – and this is the tougher one to gauge – is him going from 30 games (in college) to 82 (in the NBA) is a monster. That’s where I speak closely to (Magic High Performance Director) David Tenny.

``We want him playing his best in March and April and we can’t get to February (and he’s tired),’’ Clifford added. ``These young guys, they’re shot a lot of times in their first year. So, that’s a big part of (watching Bamba’s minutes), also.’’

Clifford said it’s far too premature to even think about Bamba assuming a larger role for now. One, Clifford greatly values the contributions of Vucevic, Orlando’s starter at center for a seventh straight season. Secondly, Clifford said the 20-year-old Bamba simply isn’t ready for a promotion to the starting lineup yet.

``I want him to play 82 (games), and he’s going to be out there and playing quality minutes,’’ Clifford said. ``But he’s just not ready to play starter’s minutes against starting players. (A reserve role) is a big part of how you bring a player along. He’s in a role that’s ideal for him.’’

BORREGO’S BIG CHANCE: When Clifford was fired as head coach by the Hornets last April, Charlotte replaced him with James Borrego. That name should be familiar to Magic fans considering how Borrego stabilized the franchise in 2015 after former head coach Jacque Vaughn was fired and Borrego became Orlando’s interim coach.

Borrego proved his potential as a head coach by winning his first game with the Magic and he actually had that rebuilding roster at 6-6 after his first 12 games as interim head coach. However, a stretch of nine losses in 10 games killed his momentum and Borrego finished up 10-20 in his 30 games as Orlando’s interim coach.

``That laid the foundation for me to be standing here today,’’ said Borrego, who worked the past three seasons as an assistant coach in San Antonio. ``It gave me a confidence to know that I could be in this (head coaching) seat and it prepared me for this moment. You never know what that (head coaching) seat is going to feel like but being thrown into the fire and not knowing what to expect, it taught me to just go for it. That (success with the Magic) gave me the confidence that, `yeah, you’re ready for this and you can do this.’’’

Only three Magic players – Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon and Vucevic – remain from the Orlando team that Borrego coached on an interim basis. Fournier, for one, beamed with joy about Borrego’s opportunity in Charlottte to be a head coach.

``We all liked J.B. as an assistant and when he stepped up as the head coach, we really played hard for him,’’ said Fournier, who was limited to just two games of action under Borrego because of a hip injury at the time. ``We played hard for him because we loved him, and he was close to us. His approach was very good and he wanted to do well. We practiced hard for J.B. and we had some pretty good wins. … I always remember J.B. as a good guy. We’re happy for him, but we’re not surprised. I think it was just a matter of time until he got a (head coaching) job. I’m glad he has this opportunity.’’

STRANGE SIGHT: When Fournier turned on the scouting video of Charlotte’s season-opening loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, he felt as though he needed to rub his eyes because of the unfamiliar sight of close friend and legendary point guard Tony Parker in a teal and purple uniform.

Parker, 36, spent the first 16 years of his NBA career playing for the San Antonio Spurs, but he signed a free-agent contract with the Hornets this past offseason. The four-time NBA champion and future Hall of Famer scored eight points and handed out seven assists in his first game with Charlotte on Wednesday.

``Super weird and awkward,’’ Fournier said of seeing Parker play for the Hornets. ``Just like watching LeBron (James) with the Lakers, I was like, `Is this real?’ So, it’s going to take time to get used to (seeing Parker in Charlotte).’’

Parker and Fournier are both natives of France and the former has meant a lot to the latter’s NBA career with his advice and friendship.

``He definitely opened a lot of doors for (French players),’’ Fournier said. ``My rookie year he invited me to his house to have dinner. Every time I played the Spurs, he would invite me to his house and we’d just talk and if I ever had any questions I’d just text him. For every French player, he’s opened the doors and showed us the way. He did so many great things for French basketball and that’s undeniable.’’

UP NEXT: Orlando will follow up Friday’s game by playing its first back-to-back set of games of the season on Saturday in Philadelphia.

The Magic were scheduled to fly to the City of Brotherly Love after Friday’s game and weren’t scheduled to arrive at their hotel rooms until after 2 a.m. Meanwhile, the Sixers routed the Chicago Bulls at home on Thursday night and had Friday to rest up and prepare for Orlando.

The Magic will get a much-needed day off on Sunday before wrapping up their two-game road trip in Boston on Monday.

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.