Jeff Weltman: It’s our job to make Orlando Magic better

The Orlando Magic have established themselves as a potential winning franchise. But the goal remains to get better, even facing an uncertain offseason. Mandatory Credit: Rhona Wise-USA TODAY Sports
The Orlando Magic have established themselves as a potential winning franchise. But the goal remains to get better, even facing an uncertain offseason. Mandatory Credit: Rhona Wise-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic have established themselves as a playoff team. But after two straight first-round exits, the goal is clear. The team has to get better.

In a perfect world, each offseason would pass quietly. Teams would be satisfied with winning a championship or the growth of their team and believe they can continue growing in a never-ending upward trajectory.

Straight-line progression would make improvement inevitable until you reach the top.

There would be no need for major changes. Players would be able to settle down and put down roots, comfortable in their environment and the continuity on the roster.

Orlando Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman said continuity is something he and a team should value. It allows players to grow and build off the successes or learn from the failures of the season before.

Life is not this simple. It is not a perfect world.

There are 29 other teams scratching and clawing their way to the top. Standing still often means getting left behind.

There is a simple reality. Every team has to get better. Every team has to be better each year.

Change is a necessary and important part of this process. It defines teams and determines where they go next.

Indeed, as much as the Magic want to value continuity and a team growing together. The reality of the NBA landscape demands change. To get better, the Magic have to be willing to explore everything.

After what many considered a disappointing season, the directive is clear.

"“We’ve got to get better,” Weltman said in a teleconference with media Monday. “Our priority is always to get better. We just have to be barking up every tree, turning over every stone and finding out what opportunities there are to get better.”"

There are plenty of calls for change after a 33-40 season that saw the Magic finish eighth with a second straight five-game exit from the playoffs. The team wants to jump into the top half of the East and that seems difficult now after an offseason of few changes and a season of similar results.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

But Weltman has exhibited plenty of patience to this point.

Patience on the market

That is the patience he is still showing as the league enters the chaotic draft week.

Jeff Weltman said it was easy to resist the temptation to make a splashy move or a trade for the sake of making a trade. There is still a long-term vision for the team. Even if that is still not particularly clear as the Orlando Magic let young players grow behind veteran players on the current roster.

Jeff Weltman said the team has taken calls on several players, including the much-rumored discussions about Aaron Gordon. He takes that to mean teams like the players they have.

He said the team has had discussions about moving up and down in the draft too. These scenarios are fairly normal. Weltman said the greatest likelihood is the Magic stay where they are at No. 15.

All this is to say, Weltman seems resistant to change. Certainly resistant to change for change’s sake. But they will continue to fish for their opportunities to improve and improve the team.

"“It’s not tempting to make a trade,” Weltman said in a teleconference Monday. “It’s hard to make a trade, especially if you like your team. We were playing really well. We were a team guys didn’t want to play against in the first part of the bubble before we went through that rash of injuries. We like our group. But it’s our job to make our team better. We always have to engage and understand the value of our players and understand where we think we can get better.”"

Fans picked up the shades of Otis Smith’s infamous, “I like my team,” comment as rumors swirled about the Magic’s reticence to break up their core and chase after a big star to pair with Dwight Howard.

But it is also a picture of a reality that Weltman genuinely likes the people on this team and how they have come together, especially in the last two years.

He, like everyone else, recognizes the Magic cannot be satisfied with being at the bottom of the playoffs. So there is always the search for ways to get better.

It is the how that is still at the center of the debate for the team.

Continuity and change

Continuity and the institutional knowledge of how to play together and what coach Steve Clifford wants can foster that to some extent.

The team does not discount what that means. Especially entering an offseason that is suddenly going to speed toward its end and the beginning of a new season.

"“The great mover of teams that is often not regarded is continuity,” Weltman said Monday. “We value that. I’d rather not make a trade. But we need to get better. We pursue trades and we see what’s available. I know one GM who is fond of the expression just shuffle the chairs at the end of the deck, we don’t do stuff like that.”"

More from Orlando Magic Daily

To that point, Clifford has said he treated the coronavirus hiatus as the team’s offseason and began implementing changes to the offense that he wanted to see when the team got inside the NBA Campus.

He said recently his plan was only to make small tweaks to the Magic’s overall gameplan entering the shortened training camp.

Of course, Clifford also took to saying last year when the team returned virtually the same roster that each team and each group is different each year. No team can count on everything rolling over to the next season.

Continuity might have some value, but it is no guarantee for success. And there will inevitably be some changes. That will include integrating their draft pick, recent signee Chuma Okeke and Al-Farouq Aminu back from injury.

At this point, Weltman said all injured players from the end of last season are either ready to return or making progress to their return. He did not want to put a firm timetable for their returns.

The only lingering issue is Mohamed Bamba is dealing with the “back end of some of his COVID-related issues,” according to Weltman. But he has worked hard to put that behind him and be ready for camp.

Training camp is still two weeks away.

Change in perceptions

Change is inevitable. And the Orlando Magic know they need change to get where they ultimately want to go.

But the Magic are still somewhat building their foundation and trying to bill themselves as a place players want to play. Weltman said any move they make requires a partner — whether it is a team in a trade or a player in free agency.

"“I think over the last couple of years, our organization is viewed in a good light,” Weltman said in a teleconference Monday. “I can say that, albeit with some lower-priced free agents, we’re getting the idea that we think we’ll be able to because of the buzz around agents wanting us to draft their players. We feel that our coaches are guys they want to play for. The organization is a place they want to be. I would say we’re hopefully, and I say this that we’ve got to keep working and getting better every day, becoming a place that players want to be.”"

That has been at least part of the project of being competitive again. The Magic want their organization to be viewed as one where players can win.

And while there is a focus on improving the roster for this year and that will be part of the team’s consideration. So too will the long-term vision.

Weltman said part of their consideration is in regaining the cap flexibility to make a big move when the time is right.

Like every executive at this time of the year, they are weighing everything and going through every permutation. All with the obvious goal of getting to a championship.

Next. Evan Fournier opting in is first domino of offseason. dark

The Magic have a clear directive, even with the restrictions and rushed timetable they face. They need to get better however they can.