After beating the Boston Celtics on Nov. 24, Orlando Magic guard Cole Anthony proposed a nickname for his team’s dynamite second unit: “Joe Ingles and his grandchildren.”
Ingles, 36, is the most seasoned player on the roster — 29-year-old guard Gary Harris is his lone teammate older than 26 — and he’s as renowned a trash-talker as he is an offensive connector. The Magic signed him to a two-year, $22 million contract (Year 2 is non-guaranteed) last summer because they needed someone who could tie the team together.
Asked to describe Ingles, Orlando coach Jamahl Mosley listed some adjectives: “Honest. Open. Loud.” He then repeated the word “honest,” laughed and continued: “But he’s absolutely great for this group. He keeps it real with these guys about the things that we’re doing, the things that they’re seeing, what he’s seen throughout the league. And, all jokes aside, he is all about winning. And whatever that means, if he plays eight minutes or he plays 18 minutes, he’s preached the same message to this group about what we need to do to become successful.”
For a player averaging five points, Ingles has made a huge difference. He has made 50% of his catch-and-shoot 3s, but that number doesn’t capture his shooting gravity or his decision-making when the ball finds him. Ingles might not be initiating the offense as often as he used to with the Utah Jazz, but virtually all of the Magic’s rotation players have been more efficient when sharing the floor with him. In Ingles’ minutes, Orlando has scored 125.5 points per 100 possessions, which is 17.6 per 100 better than it has fared with Ingles on the bench, according to Cleaning The Glass.
When Ingles signed with the Magic, he couldn’t have known that, six weeks into the season, a team led by two forwards in their early 20s (Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner) would have the third-best record in the East and be the league’s most pleasant surprise. He watched film of last year’s team, though, and, having played against them, already knew there was real talent and upside. He talked to Mosley about what would change, what would stay the same and how he could help.
After Orlando’s nine-game winning streak, which tied a franchise record, ended at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Saturday, Ingles said that his unselfish style of play had already proven to be a good fit.
“I’ve loved the role that I’ve got here,” Ingles said. “I’ve loved every minute of living here and the organization and the players and the coaches.” Then he made eye contact with the team’s chief communications officer, who was waiting to tell him it was time to get on the bus. “And even the PR guys — to some extent.”
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity and flow.
What was your conversation with Jamahl Mosley like in free agency?
He told me I’d start over Franz. Which he lied about [laughs]. No, just the role. Obviously, being around and being in winning organizations and teams and doing what I could do in that sense to help the guys kind of process a nine-game winning streak — you lose the 10th one, now we gotta pick it up, we got a game in 48 hours. Just those type of things. And I think the other part of it, which he’s reminded me probably more than I would’ve liked him to, but still being myself out there.
Is there a balance there? You’re known as a connector, but you can also initiate offense.
Yeah, for sure. And I think early on in the year, it was a bit tough just — it’s not on anyone else but myself — just trying to kind of figure out where I could be aggressive. And a part of that was understanding these guys, too. Getting to know the players I’m playing with, getting to know Coach in-game, different to off-court, and all that. So it did take me a little while to just kind of get the flow of it. But I think having that kind of connection, trying to help these guys in that way, playing the right way for as close to 48 minutes as possible — we’ll have ups and downs, but I think for the most part we’ve done a really good job of that.
Was there a moment where it was apparent that this team was ready to win?
Yeah, I mean, I think you see patches of it in preseason. And you talk even before that. And you can see the group has flashes of it. And like I said, for this year, we’ve done a pretty good job — our record is what our record is for a reason. We’ve played good basketball. I think everyone forgets part of it: We’ve got two starters out at the moment, too. Markelle [Fultz] and Wendell [Carter Jr.] are out and J.I. [Jonathan Isaac] has been in and out a little bit. We’ve got two starters not playing and we’ve been able to do what we do, and that’s a credit to the guys stepping up but also the depth of this team. And we’ll get those guys and obviously continue to go.
You said you get sick of the “young team” label. Anthony Black is only 19, but he’s one of the young guys who makes super advanced plays. On the court, does it sometimes feel like the team is more experienced than it is?
There’s times. But I think it’s not necessarily like a dislike of the young thing. I think it’s the first thing that people go to as a negative. Like, “They’re young, they can’t win now.” Well, the flip side of that is we should run teams out of the gym, we should have more energy, we should be — there’s so many other things that people don’t [talk about]; they just think of the negative. As soon as you think of “young,” it’s like, “Oh, they’re inexperienced” or whatever. The list goes on.
It’s just a process for us to keep getting better and to keep learning. I think the narratives around our team are going to be written and going to be talked about. And obviously the guys in our locker room know what we’re capable of, and I think we’ve shown that throughout the year and we’ll continue to do that. The good thing is we do have a young group, and it’s different to what I’ve been around, but it’s a nice change, too. It’s fun. I’m the oldest by a mile, but it feels like the energy is there every day. We could’ve lost nine straight, and the group knows what we’re expecting to do.
People know you talk trash, you joke around. I’m sure primarily this is just your personality, but is part of it about keeping things light throughout the year?
Yeah. I mean, I’m going to be me regardless of anything else. I think I’ve got a good balance of knowing when to do those things and not. I think part of it is we’re in the NBA, we’re not going to win 82 games. There’s going to be ups and downs throughout the year. I think what I have been good at in my career and the teams I’ve been on [have been good at] is riding those waves and not letting one loss get to five straight. And that’s hard to do. Like we’ve got Cleveland next. You play this game, and you’re like, “F—,” you’re frustrated, and then you look at the schedule, it’s like: Cleveland. And I think, as a lot of teams know, you can’t take any of these teams for granted. You can win or lose against any team in this league. And that’s what we’ve gotta kind of lock in on as of now. It’s like we have tomorrow off and get back Monday and watch film and see what we did right and see what we did wrong and learn from it and try to change it as quick as possible so it doesn’t get into that slump of two, three, four, five games.
Los Angeles Lakers v Orlando Magic
You’ve come back from a torn ACL, and you said on a podcast that a friend sent you a story saying you were done. I know you don’t really care what some random person has to say, but at the same time, you did say you kind of needed that. Is the mentality that, if there’s something you can use for motivation, you might as well use it?
Everyone’s different. I don’t need motivation from someone tweeting or writing an article or whatever that is. I’ve been around long enough to have the right motivation in place. But throughout, I think anyone would tell you, throughout an ACL or Achilles, those long-term injuries, there are days where it’s a grind. And right when I had been given that little snippet of whatever it was, I was in a bit of — like, it was a grind. You’re doing the same thing every day for the first few months and it’s just monotonous. And it does, it just gives you this, “All right, well f— you” kind of thing. I knew I was going to do everything I could to get back. And sometimes, I mean, you see it, sometimes it’s out of your control: you can do everything right and still not be healthy. I’ve been very lucky [note: Ingles literally knocked on wood — the side of his locker — while saying this] to go through that process and play after 10 months and not have any issues so far. And really not have any issues through that 10-month period of rehab, either.
So it is a grind, and it was my first major injury. And you look at other people and you see them come back and you’re like, “Man, he looks like he’s a step behind,” and it’s like, f—, now I know why. Like, you come back and, I mean, after 10 months, I was ready to play — physically, mentally — but it still takes time. I was just telling [Danilo] Gallinari last game, who’s just gone through kind of a similar thing: After this World Cup and then a bit of a break and then getting back into it, this summer was the best I’d started to feel. And for me, it’s been about 18 months. I think he was about a yearish. It’ll continue to get better, but it is a grind. It’s frustrating. And there are days — like I said, I’ve got a wife, three kids, that’s enough motivation for me to get back, but then you see these little bits and pieces. I don’t have social media, but people send me some stuff and it’s like, “All right, well f— you. I’m going to keep doing what I do anyway, but this is a nice little motivation to keep doing these leg lifts 100 more times today.”
Playing must be much more fun than leg lifts. Klay Thompson has talked about how much he appreciates the game after missing two full seasons. You relate?
100 percent. I think for me my kids always give me a very good perspective of, like, this. We’re very lucky that I get to go home to my family and get away from this as well. And the other part is injuries. I’ve been lucky to play 18 years professionally, and to have that first major injury — and at that time, too, we were living in Utah; I’d been traded to Portland but I didn’t go to Portland ’cause I wasn’t playing anyway. So we were still living in Utah, but I couldn’t go to the facility in Utah, so I was going to a hospital there. And you’re away from the team, you’re not in the locker room, you’re not on the plane. It was great to take my kids to school and all that more often and be around for them, but, for a lot of us, this is all we know. This is our life. This is as close to another family as you’ll get, with the amount of time we spend together. I’m sure Klay had kind of a more extreme situation than I did with a couple back-to-back injuries, but it gave me a great perspective of, for one, how much you enjoy it, and then I think the other part for me was like I’m not done.
Like, you want to keep playing. I think you go through parts of your career, especially as you get older, of, like, you know the door is coming where you’re going to get pushed out eventually. I mean, I’ve thought about it. And then you get an injury like that and it’s like, well, f—, maybe this is it. You just never know. You look at Lonzo [Ball], who hasn’t gotten back yet. You look at these different injuries. Who knows what could have happened with mine? Maybe it could’ve been worse than what it was. It felt like there’s so many things that could happen. And to have it go full circle, it’s like, f—, you realize you’re not done, you want to keep playing. And to me, it gave me a bit more motivation, too. I felt good, and especially this year, coming back and feeling like myself again and being able to help this group and all that, it was a good reminder of, like, you’re not done until you’re done.
The Magic signed you to a nice contract, and last year it’s not like you scored a ton of points—
No, never have [laughs].
But the fact that they wanted to pay you to come in here and make other players better and make good decisions — do you think that itself is sort of a good lesson for younger players?
Well, I think a big part of it to me is, if you look at the 30 teams in the NBA and the draft every year, like how many guys get drafted to take over a team like that, like LeBron? There’s, what, two or three max guys on each team, depending on what team you are, and everyone else, you’ve gotta find a role. And if you don’t find a role, there will be another young guy that’ll take that role. And for me, early on, I was obviously 27 [as an NBA rookie], but it was like, “I’m going to fit into this role however it is.” And that’s not saying you don’t push the limit to try and get more minutes, more reps, more whatever it is. But the max guys are the max guys. If you go to the Lakers, Anthony Davis and LeBron are there, you’re not taking their spot. So you’ve gotta fit in and figure out how to play with those guys. I think for me it was easy to do that because I’d come from playing in Australia and Europe, and if you don’t fit into a role, like I said, there’s always someone cheaper and younger that will happily take that job.
That first team I was with, with Gordon [Hayward] and Rudy [Gobert] and Derrick Favors, for me it was about perfecting that role of helping those guys. And then you go to another team, and with Milwaukee last year it was like play with Giannis, play with these guys and try to help them. And I think the more players can realize, like, you can make so much money being a good role player. Obviously if you want to make as much money, like you want to buy this and do this — I do think in the NBA people get caught up with other people’s salaries and other people’s points, and you can’t control that, you can only control what you can do, what the team thinks about you, what the Magic believe about me. I think that the more players that can do that are the ones that stay. You look at [Udonis] Haslem’s role: His role changed and changed, he ended up not playing at all but he was still making $3-4 million a year to help these young guys. I think the more you can understand the role of the NBA and how good a life you can have from being in this locker room, yeah, it’s a pretty cool life we get to live.