Jeff Weltman arrives to Orlando Magic ready to listen, lead

Mar 22, 2017; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic guard Evan Fournier (10) is congratulated by Orlando Magic forward Terrence Ross (31) after he made a basket in the act of getting fouled against the Charlotte Hornets at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 22, 2017; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic guard Evan Fournier (10) is congratulated by Orlando Magic forward Terrence Ross (31) after he made a basket in the act of getting fouled against the Charlotte Hornets at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic struck a new direction, hiring Jeff Weltman as its president of basketball operations. His approach will value collaboration and debate.

An eager reporter (read: me) asked new Orlando Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman a question and Weltman asked him to slow down a bit. Things move at a different pace for Weltman.

Throughout his press conference, Weltman would take a swig of the water bottle next to him on the dais to think about his answer. He said early in the press conference that is how you know you asked him a good question. Weltman, it seemed, was making sure to weigh the question and give it serious thought before diving into an answer.

There were plenty of moments when that natural pause happened during the nearly 30 minutes the media started to get to know the team’s new basketball leader and the direction he was readying to take the franchise. There were a lot of moments Weltman had to think his answer through, or perhaps give the most dreaded answer of all — I do not know.

He never said those exact words, but it was clear Weltman was still getting his head around the task he had just agreed to undertake, coming to the Magic after a 29-win season and five miserable years in a rebuild that promised results and often failed to deliver.

Weltman did have some initial thoughts on the Magic’s roster — although nothing too detailed. He said they have a lot of young players still trying to figure themselves out. It is up to his staff to help them get where they need to get. And he is confident he can get them there.

"“I think we need to do a lot of things and uplift everyone in the organization and put them in a position to do well,” Weltman said during his introductory press conference. “From our side, we need to bring in the right people. To me, when I think about what is an Orlando Magic player, I want someone who is talented and who plays for his teammates. Simple, that’s it. If we can do that, then the rest is on us. We have to bring the best out of that player. If we can get enough of those guys going in the right direction, I’m confident that we’ll build something special.”"

The details are still a bit murky. Indeed, the details of that come from the conversations he will have with coach Frank Vogel on the roster. Vogel was sitting in the front row for the press conference and still getting to know his new boss too.

The first step to righting the ship could very well be the mantra that will define Weltman’s approach and his style. Right now, he just has to listen and see what fits his preferred archetype.

Weltman was just hired Monday and so he fully admits he is playing catch up. At this point in the process both he and general manager John Hammond, who was not introduced with Weltman at Wednesday’s press conference, are learning about their roster.

When asked about the Magic’s roster and what they need, Weltman deferred, for now, offering no opinions on the state of the team. Instead, he said right now his job is to listen to what Vogel has to say about his roster and learn everything about this team from those who have been in the trenches with them for the last season.

That too will be the case when he begins diving into the draft process and talks with the staff about what the team is looking for. Weltman said he was excited to begin discussing the draft process with the Magic’s current staff and seeing how they viewed the prospects and getting their input before providing his thoughts.

The discussion about everything is just beginning as he starts to take over. But like with the roster, Weltman is ready to listen first. The back and forth is in its early stages.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Weltman will have his own opinions, but his approach will be as much about what his staff and the other people in the room have to say as much as he has to say. That is and will be an important part of his decision-making process.

"“It’s simple, we’re going to get the best basketball people in the room with the most diverse opinions we can find,” Weltman told Orlando Magic Daily. “We’re going to encourage everyone, titles are out the window, to speak their piece. We’re going to fight. And we’re going to argue. And we’re going to figure out why one guy feels one way, how things fit into what we’re trying to build, who is the right kind of person to identify as a Magic player. It could be anyone in the room who wins the argument.”"

Weltman said he plans to use a collaborative approach. He wants to encourage his staff to challenge him and have the freedom to speak their opinions and make their case. It is more important to voice this opinion than to care about the title of who is speaking it, recalling a time when a Toronto Raptors strength coach spoke passionately about a course of action in a meeting with Weltman and president Masai Ujiri, pointing to them specifically.

Weltman said he loved that interaction. He loved that this coach felt comfortable to say anything to anyone. This is the environment Weltman wants to build.

To have this kind of collaborative approach requires some patience. It requires some humility. And it requires a leader willing to listen to all opinions to make the best decision.

"“I like to say the first sign of a bad boss is he wins every argument,” Weltman told Orlando Magic Daily. “I don’t want to be that guy. I want to listen and understand where everyone comes from. I just believe if we have talented guys working together, we’ll make the right decision.”"

Weltman certainly brought in some strong personnel in hiring Hammond as the team’s general manager. Weltman worked as Hammond’s assistant general manager with the Milwaukee Bucks. Hammond has been with the Bucks for the last eight years and has more than 30 years of experience throughout the league in various roles.

Magic CEO Alex Martins noted both Weltman and Hammond’s extensive experience throughout the league. This experience was something the Magic targeted specifically in making this hire. It will provide, at least initially, the trust to make decisions.

Weltman’s approach and aims are certainly very different from his predecessor.

With Weltman, there will be no talk of culture or timeline. Those usual benchmarks and buzz words general managers use are not his goal. For culture, he prefers to talk about open lines of communication and collaboration to make decisions. He prefers everyone to be on the same page thinking about winning and working together to get there.

As for timelines? There is no timeline. The goal is simply to get better and to continue to improve.

But through all that listening and all that debating and collaboration, the decision ultimately rests on Weltman now. It is his first time in the lead chair as the organization’s face and key decision maker. All the preparation and years in front offices around the league can only provide a glimpse of what that is like.

Here, Weltman may offer the best summation of what he hopes to do. When he synthesizes all those arguments, debates and information together, he will be the one to make the call.

"“Just do it,” Weltman told Orlando Magic Daily. “I don’t know what else to say. I’ve done every part of it. Now I’ve just got to do it. And I have to show you guys that we’re going to be good and we’re going to win. I’ve got to do it. I can tell you that my whole life’s work has been in preparation for this day. And now I”ve got to do it.”"

Next: Jeff Weltman's first task is to rebuild the Orlando Magic's culture

Weltman seems ready to listen and ready to act when the time comes. Only time will tell whether this relationship and this leadership for the Magic will prove fruitful and return the franchise to its winning ways.