Will Magnay just wanted to play games.
Literally. The Australian big-man was coming off a stint in the NBA where he played three total minutes during his time with the New Orleans Pelicans and just 10 games in the NBA G-League.
In what's probably the most important off-season of Magnay's young career, a potential Olympic campaign and chase for a new NBA deal was about to be put in jeopardy by a minor operation to relieve bone spurs in his foot.
That was until that surgery was taken off the table. All of a sudden, the opportunity to play the backend of the NBL season was back, and the suitors came rolling in.
The Perth Wildcats had a unique mixture of an appealing culture, the likelihood of a deep finals run -- that equals more games -- and an elite big-man in John Mooney to work alongside. After delicate talks with the Brisbane Bullets led to a release from his previous contract with the team, Magnay officially signed with the two-time defending NBL champions on Thursday afternoon.
"There was a thought process, but, in my mind, Perth just seemed like the best fit for me," Magnay told ESPN.
"There's a definite role there for me. I guess the club's history with winning and the culture they have there is something I wanted to be a part of. I wasn't 1000 percent sure, but I was pretty certain."
Whispers of Magnay's return to the NBL began toward the end of April, and it wasn't long until the fact that he was in a Sydney quarantine hotel became public knowledge.
There was a sense that, wherever he signed, Magnay could tilt the league's title race on its head; a sentiment that wasn't lost on the isolated 22-year-old.
"It's nice to have that aura around you, where you feel like a game-changer," Magnay said. "For me, it's more (that) there's no set-out winner in the NBL. Anyone can come out and get smacked any night, any team. You see it every other week; the top team loses by 20 and it's like, 'what the hell, what's going on?'.
"I guess, to sort of try and solidify and help a team lock in a good finals spot and push for a championship; to help them win is a big reason I decided to go there. (It) also gets me more games leading up into Tokyo and, if I don't make the Tokyo team, then leading into NBA Summer League this year. It helps build confidence for myself, game fitness, all that stuff. Going to a team where I know I'm gonna get those extra games was factored into the decision as well."
Still in New Orleans after being waived by the Pelicans in the middle of April, Magnay had the opportunity to fly to Austin, Texas to work out with Boomers assistant coach, Matt Nielsen. "Playing games can't hurt", was Nielsen's message to Magnay, as the Australian national team gets set to enter a competitive and volatile Olympic campaign.
"If it comes down to you and someone else and you've played 15 games in the last two months and they haven't played in however long, there's a decision to be made there and it looks good for you," Magnay said. "I think, more than anything, personally I feel like I develop best in a team situation; being able to just keep growing my game and developing in a team environment."
In Magnay, the Wildcats get a big-man who's knowledgeable about the NBL landscape, and is coming off a unique experience in the NBA. Magnay didn't take for granted the value of simply being around the Pelicans franchise for the majority of the season.
New podcast. Will Magnay (@MagnayWill) joined me to talk about his decision to sign with the Perth Wildcats, his season with the New Orleans Pelicans, his development over the past year, John Mooney, the Boomers, and how he plans to get back to the NBA.https://t.co/q2LAFnLyr8— Olgun Uluc (@OlgunUluc) May 6, 2021
In Magnay's first practice with the team, Jaxson Hayes euro-stepped through the lane and dunked on him. "That was nice of him," he joked.
The opportunity to go up against some of the NBA's biggest bodies -- from Zion Williamson to Steven Adams -- was invaluable, and Willy Hernangómez was quick to take the young Australian under his wing.
"You learn so much so quickly and, if you don't, you kind of get lost and left behind," Magnay said.
"The speed of the games is at another level. The spacing, you've got to start understanding; on a pick-and-roll, you've got to be on the other side of the keyway, then you've still gotta close out your guy in the corner. That's what you have to do and, if you don't do it, you play the next guy.
"Valuable reps, getting smacked around by Steven Adams, trying to learn -- you can't guard Zion -- but being around him as well, freaks of nature everywhere around you, and learning how to fit in with them is special. The takeaways from it are big."
Magnay plans to bring that same sentiment when practicing against, and playing alongside John Mooney, the Wildcats' import who has emerged as one of the premier big-men in the NBL.
"He's a beast," Magnay said of Mooney. "I watched that game last night, and he just ate Melbourne up.
"I think it'll be really good, and that factors into the decision as well. Coming back and getting to play against a big of that standard every day. We're both kind of young, we're similar but very different players. I think we can challenge each other every day. That's the thing, right. You just wanna push yourself and learn how to be better every day. If we can kind of get into that mould and challenge each other, I think it can be really good."
For Magnay, the goal is progress. He knows the best way to achieve that is by playing meaningful games, and the outcome of it could be a trip to Tokyo and a new deal in the NBA.
The Brisbane-native says he's added size to his frame, and has improved his ability to hit from beyond the three-point line. Magnay knows that showing off those parts of his development is the key to the next leap in his career, and the Wildcats afforded him the best opportunity to do that.
"I try and pride myself on playing hard and playing the right way, at whatever level that is," Magnay said.
"I'll find my role, whether it's to come in and shoot; I've been working on shooting a lot. So, whether it's to come in and shoot threes and stretch the floor a bit more, or to help out in the paint, rolling hard. I've never been a player to come in and take 20 shots a game and disrupt offence and stuff; I move the ball, swing the ball, set hard screens, play the right way.
"I'm gonna do what I have to to help win games, and that's it. I'm gonna play defence, I'm gonna try and block shots, as I do. I'm not gonna try and disrupt anything that they've got going already."