The Orlando Magic do not need the playoffs to know they have work to do. Jeff Weltman should have his offseason agenda set well before he has to work.
At this point, the offseason is the least of Orlando Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman’s concerns. He, like almost every other worker in the league, is cooped up at home during this era of social distancing.
The president of basketball operations handles a lot more than just managing the roster. Their purview stretches into everything dealing with the players and even some team business matters.
It was the heads of the basketball departments who started implementing plans of action and information sessions in the early days of the virus coming to American shores. And it is their direction that guides the organization through this time and eventually their return to basketball.
Separated from his players and the season on hiatus, there is probably some hand-wringing over how players are doing and coping with the crisis, let alone what their status is for basketball.
There may not be anything else to do but plan and meet — to look ahead. As every team is doing at this point. What meetings they can have with basketball staff is likely preparing for an offseason that is certain to come. . . just unknown when.
The end of the regular season and the beginning of the playoffs might have been a moment for Weltman and his staff to briefly celebrate the present moment. Weltman was there last year in Boston when the Magic clinched their playoff berth. But attention quickly turns to the next thing and the offseason ahead.
The NBA will resume its season and have its postseason in some form or fashion. But that is probably a secondary concern for Weltman and his staff. Not for the big picture.
After 65 games, there should be a pretty good sense of what this team is and just how far they can go.
Indeed, as far as the future goes for the Magic, the rest of the season is probably relatively inconsequential. Maybe a player can increase his trade value with a strong playoff showing. But otherwise, the Magic should know exactly what it has and what it needs to do next.
Orlando did not have the season it hoped for — injuries played a role — but how much better would the team have been if everybody remained healthy? And even in the 30-plus games they played before the catastrophic Jonathan Isaac injury occurred, just what could the team draw?
The bottom line is the Magic were probably not going to be much more than what they are now — the 7-seed fighting to stay around .500 and the scraps of the playoffs. They probably are not a contender to get into the top half of the East as constructed.
That is not where the team ultimately wants to be. Internal development can help them climb the ranks, but it should be abundantly clear the Magic’s roster needs some refreshing to get where they want to go.
The flaws of the current roster are pretty clear.
The team has a few players who overlap in skills and a glut at some positions. They have relied on veteran players that have seemingly peaked and struggle to create for themselves. If anything, the playoffs will probably show once again how difficult it is for the Magic to score against the best defenses.
Indeed, it is the Orlando Magic’s poor shooting and inconsistent offense that will get the most attention.
At the league’s hiatus, the Magic rank 24th in the league in offensive rating scoring 107.5 points per 100 possessions. That is at least buoyed somewhat by the 117 points per 100 possessions the Magic have scored in the 10 games after the All-Star Break.
For most of the season, the team has cratered near the bottom of the league in every major offensive category. To be sure, the Magic’s biggest skill-based need is to improve their shooting. That might be something that is hampered by their commitment to three relative non-shooters in Markelle Fultz, Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac in their starting lineup. Not that all three could not still greatly improve on that front.
The Magic’s goal for the beginning of the season was to be somewhere near the middle of the pack offensively and ride a near-league-best defense into the playoffs.
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Orlando’s offensive struggles at times have been made worse by defensive inconsistency.
Last year, Orlando finished eighth in the league in defensive rating. This year, the Magic sit 10th, giving up 108.7 points per 100 possessions.
In the Eastern Conference, that is still good enough to make the playoffs. And the Magic should not be disappointed they will likely achieve that goal. They should be disappointed by the regression or stagnation. But maybe that was expected after retaining so many of the same players.
If the goal for the Magic’s season this year was to get back to the playoffs, that goal is all but accomplished. But this franchise wants to do more. They want to grow and compete for championships someday.
And it is impossible not to come to the conclusion that the Magic have some work to do to get there still. And every offseason is a chance to get a step closer.
Mapping the course
If we know that, surely the Orlando Magic’s front office knows that. And surely they have spent their time during this hiatus — as much as they can, although probably not with the same deadline urgency — mapping out exactly how they want to take those steps.
Does that mean trying to get in on any disgruntled stars that enter the market and accelerating their timeline to win and win big? Does that mean, as Sam Vecenie and Josh Robbins of The Athletic discussed recently about trading up in the draft (subscription required and recommended) and investing in one of those players as their potential star? Does that mean trusting their internal development yet again and moving other players around to give them more responsibility?
It could inevitably be some combination of all three. Orlando needs to hit on a free agent with its limited cap space to add a veteran to bolster the young roster. The Magic need to hit on their draft pick and they need to be willing to take a risk when the right opportunity comes around for the player they covet.
It is perhaps a bit too early to speculate as to what the Magic will ultimately do. You can begin to marshall some draft targets and free agent targets to fill needs, but the NBA trade markets shift and change dramatically.
This changing market is where the playoffs perhaps would have the biggest impact for the Magic.
Whatever path the Magic want to tread, they need to be open to any possibility and explore every way to make the team better. They need to have an idea of the players they should target in the draft, in trades and in free agency. They should already have a clear idea of what the team needs to improve immediately and focus on acquiring those skills.
If Weltman and his staff in their exhaustive draft study — this year’s draft prep will undoubtedly be different without a combine or individual workouts to review players — believe their future star is at the top of this draft, they should go get him, even if it sacrifices a playoff chance in 2021.
If they believe smaller moves are all they need to foster growth from their key players, they should make moves to emphasize that. If they believe there is a free agent they have to get, they should do everything within reason to get him and fill that need.
Weltman and his group have had a very patient approach to rebuilding the Magic roster to their liking. They have spent a lot of time laying the groundwork through the team’s infrastructure and foundation.
It is hard to say it has not worked as the Magic are likely to have two playoff berths in their three years in Orlando.
Weltman is not one to rush into a decision or make a brash decision to win now. That is not the phase the team is at right now.
But they should feel some of the pressure to improve and take the team to the next step. And they should have a clear direction of what that is.
And that plan does not need the rest of the season to get finalized and mapped out for action whenever the offseason really begins.
It is clear what they must do.