The Orlando Magic didn't need Victor Oladipo to be a team leader last season. Veteran Jameer Nelson served as the team's leader.
But, lately, the expectations for Oladipo have changed. The team has waived Nelson and traded away 28-year-old Arron Afflalo. Those moves, along with the decision to cut 31-year-old Ronnie Price, have left a leadership vacuum on the Magic roster.
Oladipo may have to fill that void even though he's only 22 years old and entering his second NBA season. He's the face of the franchise, and if he isn't the Magic's unquestioned leader, he's definitely one of the primary leaders.
"It's just something I need to learn," Oladipo said Thursday. "I want to be a leader of this team, and I want to help this team win. So it's something I need to work on. So what better way to do that than start now?"
By "now," Oladipo meant the Orlando Pro Summer League, which will begin Saturday. The Magic's team also includes rookie forward Aaron Gordon, rookie point guard Elfrid Payton and returning center Dewayne Dedmon.
Magic assistant coach Wes Unseld Jr., who is the head coach of the summer league team, expects Oladipo to set the tone.
"He's really stepped up just in the first two practices as far as leadership," Unseld said. "What's going to be big for him going forward is, 'This is your team. Obviously, the summer league is your platform, so we're going to go as you go.' "
Oladipo appears to be taking the role seriously.
"He's being a lot more vocal now," Dedmon said. "Even with summer league and with the younger dudes we have in here right now, he's really taken on that leadership role to full effect."
What's unclear: how that leadership role will carry over into the regular season.
Although the Magic acquired 32-year-old guard Willie Green via the waiver wire and will sign 31-year-old guard Ben Gordon in free agency, it's difficult to envision either of them becoming the locker room's alpha males.
The team will need at least one of its players to serve as a leader.
The Magic will be one of the NBA's youngest teams.
If you include Green and Ben Gordon and the rookies, and if you also account for the expected decision to waive Jason Maxiell, the Magic's average age currently is 23.8 years old.
Other candidates to help in leadership roles include center Nik Vucevic, forward Tobias Harris and big man Kyle O'Quinn, but none of them is over 24.
Oladipo is more confident than he was as a rookie, when he averaged 13.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game.
"At the end of the day," he said, "I had my share of ups-and-downs, just like any rookie would have. I had some really good games, and I had some really bad games. It was cool. But at the end of the day, I feel like I didn't even scratch the surface of how really good I can be.
"I think the biggest thing I need to work on is my leadership. The biggest thing is being poised in good and bad situations — never getting too high, never getting too low, never getting frustrated or letting anybody around me see [me] frustrated. As a leader of the team, I think that's big."
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