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Aaron Gordon now face of the Magic, looks to lead turnaround

September 24, 2018
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Orlando Magic's Mohamed Bamba (5), Aaron Gordon (00) and Jonathan Isaac (1) joke around before posing for a photo at the team practice facility for the NBA basketball team media day, Monday, Sept. 24, 2018, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon figures it is time to take on some new responsibility now that is starting the season with a new coach and a new long-term contract.

After signing a four-year, $76 million contract in July, the 23-year-old forward says the responsibility for turning around the fortunes of the Orlando Magic is on him as much as anyone.

“I’m here to spearhead, to make sure it’s all-systems-go and make sure everybody is fighting every single night,” Gordon said Monday at the team’s media day. “I feel like I need to set the tempo, the energy. Energy is very contagious, and I know if my energy is low, then the next person’s energy is low, and that’s not how it’s going to be.”

The Magic have had six straight losing seasons, four of them since drafting Gordon fourth overall in 2014. They are a long way from NBA respectability, but Gordon believes they can get there under new coach Steve Clifford.

“That’s why I came back,” he said. “It’s to win with this franchise and do something special. We have the ability to do it, whether it’s going to be right away or a slow grind. Either way we’re going to get there.”

If they do, the 6-foot-9 Gordon will have to lead the way.

“I’ve talked to him about this in detail. I think it starts at the defensive end now for him,” said Clifford, who will be Gordon’s fifth head coach. “You know, he’s 19 and 8 (actually 17.6 points and 7.9 rebounds per game last season), and if he becomes a good individual and team defender with that, then he’s an All-Star caliber player.”

Gordon enters his fifth NBA season with two flatly stated goals — to be an All-Star and to be on the All-Defensive team. He acknowledged that several things would have to improve for him to reach either of those goals.

“We’re definitely going to have to win, first and foremost,” he said. “And then I’ve got to bring it every night. Coach Cliff was telling me I would bring it some nights, if it was (against) an All-Star. But if it wasn’t, then I’d be taking those nights off. I’ve got to defensive rebound better, and I think I need to up my steals.”

Hope for an upgrade in Orlando’s defense is based largely on the reach and shot-blocking abilities of their most recent first-round picks — 6-11 Jonathan Isaac and 7-footer Mohamed Bamba. But Gordon has impressed teammates by taking responsibility for leading the transformation.

“Right after he signed that contract, he was back to work. That was a really mature moment,” said veteran guard Terrence Ross. “I’m happy to see him grow and I’m happy I can be here to see him go into his prime.”

Gordon missed 24 games last season due to a variety of injuries, including two concussions. Part of his task this year is stay on the court and “to make everybody else better,” he said. “That’s the mark of a great player, that people are better around him.”

Once the season starts, the contract will be a thing of the past.

“I feel like some people would feel added pressure but I don’t,” Gordon said. “It’s a lot about reputation in this league. You’ve got to develop one and you’ve got to earn that respect as a defender and a basketball player.”

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