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Evan Fournier takes shot at LeBron’s hairline with Tweet of media day photo

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Just because LeBron James is in the Western Conference doesn’t mean you want to give him fuel for motivation when he does see your team.

Orlando’s Evan Fournier decided to have a little fun at the expense of LeBron’s hairline when Tweeting out his media day photos.

LeBron may have a whole show based in a barber shop, but he did have a little more forehead going today.

Still, Evan, is that really where you wanted to go?

Orlando has become team worth watching for first time in long time

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This is the latest of NBC’s NBA season preview stories, and we will post at least one a day on these pages until Oct. 16, when the NBA season kicks off. We will look at teams and topics around the NBA throughout the series, and today the young Orlando Magic are the focus.

A strange sensation came over me during Summer League in Las Vegas this year:

I wanted to watch Orlando Magic games.

It felt weird. It has been years since the Magic were must-watch, but I was intrigued by them and their potential. Part of it was they have zigged when the league has zagged — in a small-ball league the Magic (in Vegas and in general) went big with Mo Bamba and Jonathan Isaac. And those two, for stretches, could dominate the paint.

“The potential between me and (Isaac) is unreal, I think in Summer League we’re starting to bridge that potential into production with the small things we do,” Bamba said to NBC Sports in Las Vegas.

That carries over to this season and expands to other players — which makes the Orlando Magic interesting and worth watching.

It’s been a long time since we could say that, but the Magic have the potential for a dynamic defense this season, especially up front: Bamba, Isaac, just-resigned Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Simmons. Put all of them under the guidance of new, defensive-minded coach Steve Clifford, and the Magic can be big and defense-first in an NBA leaning more toward the Warriors’ model of small and offense first.

“To tell you the truth, I don’t even think (the team’s defensive play in Summer League) scratches the surface in terms of where Mo is going to be in a year or two years, or where I am going to be in a year or two years,” Isaac said of the team’s potential. “Physically, mentally, game wise, you throw in AG and all those guys we have on our team now, and I think we will be a defensive nightmare for a lot of teams.”

Isaac was one of the real head turners at Summer League. He missed much of his rookie season with an ankle injury, playing in just 27 games. In Las Vegas he looked healthy and like he spent time in the weight room getting stronger. He was a defensive force but was able to turn some of that into offense.

Bamba showed potential in Vegas as well, although he was more up and down and showed how he needs to get stronger and develop a better feel for the game. For example, the Suns’ No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton pushed him around physically for much of the night. But even then, Bamba blocked an Ayton shot and altered others, plus he flashed offensive potential (and in another game, showed a smooth shooting stroke from three).

“I just have to establish myself as a roller, it really opens up a lot for our team, even if I don’t necessarily get the ball it opens up guys in the corner or in spots as teams adjust to how we are playing,” Bamba said.

The Magic still are not going to be good, and there are a lot of questions to be answered. How well can both Bamba and Isaac play with Gordon (it would be hard to play all three together, with Gordon at the three, he has struggled in that role before)? Coach Clifford has said he wants to switch more and that these bigs can do it, but how will that really work in practice? Clifford also wants to see how Bamba and Nikola Vucevic pair together for stretches.

Gordon is the best player on the team, the franchise cornerstone guy who signed a four-year, $76 million contract this summer (with incentives that could bring it to $84 million). He averaged 17.6 points and 7.9 rebounds a game last season, is a competent three-point shooter who can finish at the rim like a beast.

Can one of the other young Magic players step up and join Gordon as a cornerstone? Can this team go big and become a force? Those are the interesting questions for the Magic this season, what makes them worth watching.

The rest of the team… not as interesting.

The Magic still don’t have a point guard of the future — D.J. Augustin and Jerian Grant will split the bulk of the time there — and beyond that have solid to good NBA players who are not great fits or parts of the future, such as Evan Fournier and Timofey Mozgov. Vucevic and Terrence Ross are in the final years of their contracts and the Magic will look to move them (they have tried to trade Vucevic since last trade deadline, and he could help some teams, but no deal has been found).

Orlando will lose more games than it wins this season, Bamba and Isaac will learn hard lessons. It will not always be pretty.

But there is real reason for hope, and with it this is a team worth keeping an eye on. It’s been a long time since we could say that.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Danilo Gallinari, other NBA players skipping FIBA qualifying window

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When basketball international coordinating body FIBA came up with its ridiculous soccer-style qualifying system for the 2019 World Cup — putting qualifying windows in the middle of the seasons of the NBA and other major leagues around the world — they knew that they were essentially banning most country’s best players from competing. (The USA has used a team of G-League players, for example, but it’s harder on other nations who do not have as deep a talent pool.)

There was one exception: A September 2018 qualifying window. Games would primarily fall in mid-September before NBA training camps are open but when teams have opened their facilities to players for organized runs. (For example, the USA plays on Sept. 14 in Las Vegas against Uruguay, then in Panama on Sept. 17.)

NBA players are mostly taking a pass. In recent days the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Clippers’ Danilo Gallinari, and the Spurs Marco Belinelli have all said they would not play for their respective nations in this qualifying window. The USA didn’t even consider it and will have its G-Leaguers coached by Jeff Van Gundy.

This is not universal. Jusuf Nurkic has said he will play in the Bosnian and Herzegovinian qualifiers (although we will see if that happens, he did just sign a new four-year contract with the Blazers this summer). Jordan Clarkson is playing for the Philippines in the Asian Games and is on that squad’s roster for the qualifiers. The Serbian coach has put Nikola Jokic and four other NBA players on his potential roster submitted to FIBA, but that seems more to be him covering his bases just in case, not something likely to happen. Others might jump in.

But by and large, NBA players — and the biggest names — are taking a pass. Once again, well done FIBA on finding a way to water down the quality of the product for the second most popular sport on the planet to make more money.

Some NBA players — Evan Fournier, Timofey Mozgov, others — took part in the July qualifying window.

When the USA heads to China for the World Cup next summer (it still has to qualify, but that is highly likely) it will be a Gregg Popovich-coached team of NBA stars, 35 of whom just showed up for a USA Basketball mini-camp in Las Vegas. But that is a year away, until then enjoy most nation’s second string trying to get their country there.

Report: Magic re-sign Aaron Gordon to four-year, $84 million contract

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It looks like LeBron James was the domino that needed to fall for the rest of the NBA to get in on the action of the summer.

Hours after it was announced that James would leave the Cleveland Cavaliers to join the Los Angeles Lakers, the Orlando Magic reportedly agreed to sign their own big-time free agent in Aaron Gordon.

Via Twitter:

Gordon’s deal is a 4-year, $84 million contract with no opt-outs. The contract will run through Gordon’s age 26 season.

This seems like a relatively safe bet for Gordon, who was also linked to the Indiana Pacers as a restricted free agent candidate. The Magic selected Gordon fourth overall in the 2014 NBA Draft, and it’s a smart move to retain their own budding star in the face of the current NBA landscape.

The deal makes Gordon Orlando’s highest paid player by a few million, just ahead of Bismack Biyombo and Evan Fournier.

What Gordon’s signing means for the Magic is another thing. Orlando won just 25 games last season, and although James is now no longer atop the Eastern Conference, it’s not as though Orlando will be contending soon.

They have at several contracts on their books that don’t look good in hindsight, including that of Biyombo. Nikola Vucevic has been rumored to be on the trade block, so there is still lots of roster tinkering to be done in Central Florida before the Magic are contending for a playoff spot

Elfrid Payton gets haircut

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Elfrid Payton‘s distinctive hairstyle has been blamed for his poor shooting.

That won’t be a problem now.

Former Magic teammate Evan Fournier:

Payton will be a free agent this summer. (The Suns can make restricted.) Could this actually improve his offers?

I know this: If Payton shoots better next season, his haircut will be seen as the primary reason, accurate or not.