Orlando Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman has stood in front of the assembled media countless times prior to the NBA Draft. He’s done that with mid-lottery picks, with two Lottery picks, with the first pick.
It might be a bit messy.
As he mentioned in trade talks around the league, gauge how honest you can be with your trade partners before getting serious about a deal. It probably goes double when you talk to the media. Weltman is always known to be guarded. He is not one to reveal a lot of information – and certainly not one to leak information.
This is well known.
Then again, this position Weltman is in is different. Even he had to admit it.
Orlando is a different place now than they were last year and certainly two years ago. Optimism, growth and development will do it. Suddenly the team has some expectations and the belief that it can grow into something.
The Orlando Magic are back preparing for the draft and are hoping to add two key players. But their situation is definitely different, as the team sees a not-too-distant future.
Still, the process for Magic doesn’t change. It’s still about bringing in the right players through the draft and appreciating the two-pick opportunity and all the possibilities that brings.
As exciting as Orlando’s future appears to be, this is not a team that is going to skip steps in the process. It always remains the same no matter where the team is.
“We have two lottery picks and it’s a pretty good draft,” Weltman said Monday. “I think we’re looking at a lot of good options. We can go a number of ways, both sticking with the draft or moving around a little bit. There are several options in front of us. We’re still trying to assess what that looks like out for us.”
It’s a manager’s way of saying that the Magic have many opportunities ahead of them. They are in a position of strength heading into the draft. But there’s a lot to consider as Orlando tries to find the right path for the team’s future.
What ultimately matters, as Weltman put it, is the person they choose as much as where and when they take them.
There is still much for this team to discover. And the Magic don’t seem like they want to impede that progress. At least not completely. Orlando has many players established in roles and eager to see the team grow.
“When I say build organically, I feel like we want to keep a path for our young guys to develop and reach their potential,” Weltman said Monday. “We have a lot to evaluate this season. We have a lot of young guys that we expect to step up. We have to evaluate our own roster and scout ourselves and look in the mirror and hopefully we all trend up the way we want to trend. It’s the NBA, it’s tough. Plans are one thing and execution is another.”
That’s as big a mission as the Magic have for this draft. It also reveals the complexity and difficulty of the position of magic.
On the one hand, the team feels very solidly built. They have their core pieces in Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner, Markelle Fultz and Wendell Carter along with young players to grow in Jalen Suggs, Cole Anthony and maybe even Bol Bol.
But they clearly also need a little more to get over the top and into the postseason. They still need to add players and in-house development won’t do it alone.
The team must weigh which players will be able to enter the field.
The battle between fit and need versus talent and the best player on the market is a constant debate in front offices across the league. And especially picking where the Magic pick so high in the draft.
There are many levers that teams weigh beyond the fit and best player available, including grade, development path, development schedule and how they fit into the organization. And then, of course, there’s the long statement about giving each player a path to grow into their potential with the team.
There are of course many players to choose from. But what makes the draft fascinating for the Magic is the flexibility they have. It really feels like they could do anything and pick almost anyone.
It’s not just the mages who are tight-lipped about their draft intentions, no one can really determine which direction the magic will go.
And how it ties in with the rest of the offseason is certainly part of that equation as well.
“We want to move the team forward,” Weltman said Monday. “I’ve told you guys, we want to play better basketball — we want to make better decisions, we want our awareness and maturity level to really start to elevate itself and become more of a veteran team. That being said, not at the expense of to do what we do, which is to grow a team organically with young, talented players of high character and maintain as much flexibility throughout the process as possible.”
They have a young roster that is still coming together in many ways. Beyond that, they have the two picks they could add in this year’s lottery (along with the 36th pick, which still somehow feels like an afterthought), and they have somewhere between $20-$25 million in estimated cap space to use.
This time of year, it’s impossible not to think about the trade market and what the Magic could do. As Weltman put it, this flexibility and these options are well deserved. Orlando is in a position of power and flexibility that many other teams do not have.
So how is this team shaping up? And what role does the draft play in that?
They are in a position where the team needs to add talent, but their rookies are not necessary to the process. It is a sign of the progress the team expects to make.
“What you also hope for is you get to a place where rookies don’t get minutes. Hopefully our team grows to where it’s harder for rookies to earn their minutes. I think that’s the expectation we have.
“As our team gets better, it’s not like we’re giving these minutes to 33-year-olds, but as our young guys grow and indoctrinate themselves in the NBA and winning ways, winning habits and winning routines, with health, hopefully, we’ll get to a place where it will be newbies who have to serve their time.”
Ultimately, the draft is an ever-evolving and changing process. Weltman has used the line every year that the draft would be completely different from one day to the next. Information and decisions are constantly evolving and changing.
There is clearly a lot to balance for the Magic as they try to plan their next move. And while there are two simultaneous tracks between the draft and free agency to make it happen, the draft comes first. The draft represents a great opportunity to improve the team.
And so Orlando is back where the team always is: Going through the process and steps to make the most of this situation.
No one can really say what the team will do. But everyone seems to sense that the team is ready for its next development.
It’s a different place the Magic stand today as they go through the final days of this draft process.