Through hardship and frustration Jeff Weltman sees hope for the Orlando Magic

Orlando Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman has not been the most active executive, but somebody likes the job he is doing. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Orlando Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman has not been the most active executive, but somebody likes the job he is doing. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports /

The message from president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman was clear to each player as they left the team’s exit interviews:

Get out and get away from the Amway Center.

For at least the next few weeks, the doors to the AdventHealth Practice Facility would be closed as the team re-varnishes the court. Even the basketball operations team is vacating the building and working remotely in the immediate aftermath of a frustrating 21-51 season that saw the team tear itself down and hope to rebuild again.

After the long and arduous season the Magic just went through, the first thing everyone needed was to take a breath and step back. Everyone needs the mental reset.

The Orlando Magic finished a difficult season and need to get away. But soon the work will begin and the team will be looking ahead to the bright future president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman sees.

But then, it is time to get to work again. And the Magic have a lot to do to climb back out from their rough season with this new future.

There is no telling which direction this rebuild will go. But at this beginning stages anything is possible. And their leader is optimistic about where this team is now headed as that work begins.

"“In my time here, I’ve never been more excited about the prospects of our team,” Weltman said during a teleconference with media Wednesday. “Obviously, I think we’ve raised the ceiling considerably. I never really like to discuss Lottery odds because those aren’t calculated risks, they’re just risks. We have the chance to add maybe even two quality players this year through the draft and believe wholeheartedly in all our young players. I’m really bullish on our future. I really believe it is a great time to be a Magic fan.”"

On that front, Weltman is right to be excited at the possibilities before them.

The Magic are undoubtedly shifting and putting their focus on the team’s future and their development. The team traded away veteran stalwarts in Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon at the trade deadline, signaling a new era for the franchise.

Orlando is younger than ever. Mohamed Bamba and Wendell Carter are coming to the end of their rookie years. Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz, both coming off torn ACL suffered in the last year, have plenty of untapped potential to reach for when they return. The team has rookies Cole Anthony, Chuma Okeke and R.J. Hampton who have all shown flashes of great potential.

And the team has at least a top-7 draft pick coming their way and the best odds to win the Lottery. Plus a roughly four-in-five chance of landing a second pick potentially in the top-10.

That is a lot to get excited about if you are a Magic fan. A lot of untapped potential the team needs to groom in the right way.

In Weltman’s estimation, they also have a higher ceiling they can reach than the previous team. But that is just potential. The task for the Magic now is to build that future brick by brick.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

The team’s biggest project is now about its development. It is about turning all the young players into the best players they can be. And that is the most difficult challenge for the team.

"“What you really want to see from young guys is they really want to learn how to win,” Weltman said Wednesday. “They don’t want to talk about how many points they scored. They want to understand why what they did that night fell short of winning, if that was the case. I think these guys are hungry for that.“That’s why I always refer back to the character and the work ethic. I’m very optimistic about this. I feel like we have more talent on this roster than we’ve had since I’ve been here and the ways and means to add even more. It’s up to us now to develop our infrastructure to develop these young guys and get them where we need to get them.”"

The attitude Weltman wants his team to have, and he believes they do have, is not to be satisfied with where they are at. Obviously, as a team, there is a lot to improve upon. But nobody wants to rest on their laurels. Everyone should always be trying to improve.

Every player right now is on their own path. They are all at different phases of their development curve. Some have had breakthroughs just from getting more playing time, some need some more direction in the offseason to make good on the progress they showed during the season.

Weltman has stressed that character aspect plenty. And he believes the team has desire to work hard and make good on their offseason.

"“These guys are just starting,” Weltman said Wednesday. “But they are starting with talent, they are starting with a great affinity for one another. they understand role orientation. They want to learn how to win. Even the short time post-trade, you saw that.”"

What he is referring too of course is the team’s surprising 2-3 West Coast road trip immediately after the trade.

In that run, with a then-fully healthy roster, the Orlando Magic came back from 16 down to defeat the LA Clippers on the road and held off the New Orleans Pelicans in overtime. They went toe-to-toe with an undermanned Los Angeles Lakers team. They nearly defeated the Denver Nuggets on the road to end the trip.

But the team’s energy and effort during those games, especially on defense, showed a hint of who the team can become.

Teams caught up once they got some tape on the team, but so did injuries. Terrence Ross played only six more games the rest of the season, Michael Carter-Williams only five more games and James Ennis only eight more games.

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Orlando lost almost all of the team’s holdover veterans. Players who understand best what Steve Clifford is trying to run.

The Magic did not play their full complement or look anything like they wanted to be to end the season. That was not who the Magic are.

At least, they hope that is the case.

That is the funny thing about potential, it is still undefined and unknown.

That is perhaps the part that has Magic fans and the team’s decisionmaker most excited. There is unlimited potential and a million ways this team could grow. The team’s ceiling and possibilities are much higher after having the same roster for the last three years.

"“I don’t ever want to feel like I’m trying to sell you guys something,” Weltman said Wednesday. “But I believe this is the most exciting time to be an Orlando Magic fan. I’m the most excited since I have been here and for all the reasons that I have probably said a couple of times. I believe we have a lot of talented young players.”"

Only time will tell if this is the right path and that optimism is deserved. A lot still has to come into place.

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But after such a difficult and rough season, that little bit of hope is something any team should be chasing after. And Orlando has that as the team tries to piece itself back together again.