The Orlando Magic are starting almost from scratch this offseason. It may take some time, but Jeff Weltman’s rebuild begins this summer.
There is a certain amount of jealousy going around the Orlando Magic fan base right now.
The Philadelphia 76ers started their long-running rebuild a year after the Orlando Magic with a similar plan of going to the Lottery. And now, just two years after winning 10 games for a season, they are 12 wins away from a NBA championship.
Their emergence was both a product of their Lottery luck, smart asset management and culture building from coach Brett Brown. All three things the Magic did not have under former general manager Rob Hennigan.
There is no looking back. Fans can debate whether the Magic tanked “the right way” or pinpoint where things went wrong. There is plenty to sort through and lament.
The Magic are trying to move on from it and move forward. They hired a new management group to put that era — and its failures — in the past.
The 2018 season was one that did not give the Magic much room to do anything. President of basketball operations Jeff Weltman said it would be one where he evaluated everything about the organization.
An injury-riddled 25-win season and it feels like the Magic are at rock bottom.
Pundits agree. In March, ESPN.com’s Kevin Pelton and Bobby Marks ranked the Magic 26th in their Future Power Rankings, lauding the team’s draft assets but deriding the team’s players. The situation for the next three years is not optimistic in their view:
“None of this can be blamed on Orlando’s well-regarded front office, led by president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman and GM John Hammond, who arrived in the Magic Kingdom last summer,” Pelton wrote for ESPN. “But it’s going to take them time to rebuild the roster. Because nearly every key player save Aaron Gordon is under long-term contract, the Magic don’t even have much salary flexibility. So Orlando will have to do what it hasn’t done since Dwight Howard: Draft and develop a star player.”
Tom Ziller of SBNation offered a similar opinion. He said the Magic had the worst outlook of the teams tanking at the end of the season mostly because of their lack of a defined core. When he wrote that post, the Magic had the second-worst record in the league. I imagine he is not any more optimistic with the Magic holding the fifth-best odds in the Lottery.
It does not take anyone outside the organization to know just how much work the Magic have to do. The desire to see the team increase their Lottery odds is as much about the state of the franchise and team as a whole than it is about adding a new player.
Everyone wants to find the easiest and quickest path to success. And that comes with winning the Lottery. Fans are looking for some hope and a reason to keep tuning in — the TV ratings say they are not doing that right now.
No one could blame them for any of this.
This is no small task for Jeff Weltman. One that will take a major overhaul of his team and its roster.
As bad as the Magic’s history has been — and as bad as last year was — this is a new day for the team. And this offseason represents the beginning of change. It is a change that is taking place throughout the organization.
The decision to dismiss Frank Vogel was a difficult one, for sure. It is hard to blame Vogel for the mismatched roster. And individual players seemed to be making progress.
But it did not seem like he was the right coach to continue that growth. It felt like Vogel was still adjusting to new NBA realities. And that is not something the Magic need right now. Right now they need a coach who is sure of what he wants and who he wants his team to be. Someone who can lay that foundation and help the team grow.
To be sure, the most important decision Weltman makes is to hire a new foundational coach. More than any player, the new coach will have a bit more permanence and set the tone for whatever changes the Magic will make.
Orlando has long had coaches that seemingly pushed the pace on the rebuild and were at odds with what management wanted or originally planned. Then again, it was sometimes hard to figure out what kind of team management really wanted. the two were never in lock step and that is absolutely necessary to a franchise’s success.
The biggest lesson from Hennigan’s five years is just how important it is to have a management and a coaching staff with a clear vision for their team. And for that vision to be the same.
That is seemingly what Weltman is doing throughout the franchise. Changing the training and strength and conditioning staff is starting things completely new too. Everyone is going to be a Weltman hire now and everyone is going to pull in the same direction.
Every piece will have its place and its purpose toward a goal. All through the same process and mindset.
So too will the players. But the change on the roster will likely be slower.
The team will have a decision to make with Aaron Gordon first. If Weltman believes Gordon is a key piece to the future, retaining him should be a no-brainer. If not, letting him walk should be equally as easy — no matter how much it might hurt fans to see another young player walk.
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And the team’s upcoming draft pick — no matter where it lands from first to eighth — will be vital. It does not have to be a foundational piece (although that would be nice). It just has to be a piece to the puzzle. Just like Jonathan Isaac is a piece.
This is all to say that no matter how you slice it, the Magic are taking just the first steps in a long process. Another rebuild.
That can be hard to hear. It can be even harder to accept.
Transformations and turnarounds can happen quickly in this league with the right combination of good coaching and strong talent.
There is at least some belief the Magic are closer than everyone appears. It was a favored saying before the summer that Orlando had “actual NBA players” and was, therefore, too good to tank. Injuries certainly sapped the team of a few wins and some momentum.
Then again, maybe that remains the problem. Maybe to rebuild the talent base, Orlando could spare to get a little worse for next season — focusing on building that base internally and through habits even without the results immediately on the court.
This will not be a one-summer fix. This may not be a two-summer fix. It may still be about waiting for the right player to take that leap. Maybe it is Aaron Gordon or Jonathan Isaac taking another step forward. Or maybe it is finding that player in the Draft.
This is just the first step. The franchise has put its full trust in Jeff Weltman.