2021 Orlando Magic Player Evaluations: Jeff Weltman pushed his chips in

There was frustration with Jeff Weltman through four years with the Orlando Magic.

Yes, the team had made the playoffs for two of his first three years. But the pace was so slow and everyone was waiting for Weltman to do something. Anything.

He came to the franchise with the promise to evaluate what the team had. But the team made only cosmetic changes on the court, although major changes behind the scenes. Hiring Steve Clifford proved to be a spark to get the most out of his team.

But it is telling that his most impactful free agent signing was a late-season addition of Michael Carter-Williams — and re-signing Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross. Those re-signings were no-brainers especially with the Magic experiencing limited success for the first time in nearly a decade.

Even after that 2019 appearance, fans wanted to see the team be more aggressive and chase something more than an 8-seed a bit more. Even if Weltman’s hands were tied with the salary cap machinations needed to hold onto this little bit of success.

Time finally ran out. The all-in deal was not coming for the Magic with the way their team was developing, struggling through injuries and stagnating.

Jeff Weltman finally pushed his chips into the center of the table and reshaped the Orlando Magic. His big decisions are still looming ahead.

Weltman finally pushed his chips to the middle. He finally worked to define the franchise and change the team’s fortunes in a significant way. Where there was always a sense maybe the team could keep muddling through with the roster and wait for an opportunity to strike, nothing emerged.

So Weltman has changed the Magic for good. Seeing the opportunity to add a top pick in this loaded NBA Draft, Weltman cut bait completely.

He moved Evan Fournier’s expiring contract to the Boston Celtics for a $17-miillion trade exception. He sent a clearly ready-to-leave Aaron Gordon to the Denver Nuggets for a second-chance young veteran in Gary Harris (expiring at the end of the 2022 season) and a promising rookie in R.J. Hampton.

The surprise, of course, was trading Nikola Vucevic. The two-time All-Star could have provided some stability to a young roster. But the return of two top-4-protected first-round picks along with Wendell Carter proved too much to pass up.

Long criticized for sitting on his hands with a playoff roster, Weltman made decisive action to pull the franchise in one way or another. He pushed his chips into the middle of the table in deciding to tear the roster down.

Weltman received three votes for the Executive of the Year Award from the NBA — voted on by the other executives in the league, Weltman got two second-place votes and one third-place vote. His peers clearly appreciated the move Weltman made.

It was not easy and something that surely needed ownership approval before doing. But no one can deny that Weltman did a good job resetting the roster.

He has a cadre of young players in Jonathan Isaac, Markelle Fultz, Cole Anthony, R.J. Hampton, Wendell Carter and Mohamed Bamba to work with as the team started to build things up.

The Magic were already sinking down the standings before the trade, but the trades cemented their place at the top of the Lottery. Orlando finished with the third-worst record in the league and the top odds to win the NBA Draft Lottery.

On top of that, Orlando cleared its salary books. While the Magic will not have money to throw around this offseason, they will have plenty and potentially max cap space to hit the big free-agent summer of 2022.

As far as things go, Weltman positioned the Magic very well to restart a rebuild. He has young talent to work with, cap room to spend in the near future and a top draft pick. That is a good place to start.

A lot of those pieces start to fall into place with Tuesday’s NBA Draft Lottery though. Whether the Magic’s rebuild will be a quick success or something that requires a lot more work will be up to where the ping pong balls bounce. But Weltman has put the team in the best position he can for it.

Weltman deserves credit for the nimbleness to shift the team’s focus and take the hand that he was dealt. That is how he spent much of his time as the team’s president of basketball operations. The team experienced some small success and Weltman, backed into a salary cap corner, pushed forward with it.

When it was clear that reached the end, he quickly turned back and got good returns to reset the franchise. Weltman’s flexibility will be valuable and it deserves praise.

But it is impossible to evaluate Weltman’s season without considering where the team started.

Orlando had playoff ambitions and believed it had a team capable of competing. Injuries certainly halted that progress and kept the team from perhaps competing for more as several players believed in postseason comments.

There is still no denying the failures that occurred this season and the roster that was built up that caused those failures.

Weltman had few resources to add to his roster. But the few resources he used did not return much.

Al-Farouq Aminu was his most high-profile signing. While injuries kept him from playing very much, the Magic ultimately got nothing for him in two seasons before moving him on to his next team (he picked up his player option for the third year of that contract).

Orlando struggled to shoot and were one of the worst shooting teams in the league. They are still a team lacking shooting. And that is undoubtedly a skill that he neglected in building the team up despite that obvious need and the obvious direction the league was heading.

Weltman’s decision to quickly rebuild got him out of jail and reset the table. But Orlando got to the point where that was necessary partly because of decisions Weltman made. The Magic hit a dead end because of these decisions — along with stagnation from some of the Magic’s key players.

JEFF WELTMAN

President of Basketball Operations, Orlando Magic

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Jeff Weltman should get credit for how quickly he was able to shift and knowing it was time to pull the plug — even if there were plenty calling for that decision sooner.

He did a good job building a playoff team from the rubble of the Rob Hennigan era and pressing it as far as it would go. He certainly had other considerations in deciding to stick with the team and it is a fair argument whether it was the right one or not.

But now Weltman has turned the team’s path. Now all the decisions are before him. And critical ones lay ahead of him.

What he did to tear the team down will be less important than what he decides to build it back up. The draft pick the Magic get Tuesday will set things in motion. But so too will his decision on which coach to hire and how he decides to use the cap room he has accumulated — both in the short- and long-term.

Weltman has full ownership and control over where this team goes next. And this year will be his most important with the Magic as the team gets set to restart.