Jeff Weltman’s work to rebuild Orlando Magic really begins this offseason

The Orlando Magic felt they accomplished a lot in 2022. But there is a lot more growth to come to build the roster up. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports
The Orlando Magic felt they accomplished a lot in 2022. But there is a lot more growth to come to build the roster up. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports /

Jeff Weltman preached for patience from Orlando Magic fans.

That has been the message ever since Weltman arrived as president of basketball operations in the summer of 2017. He resisted calls to remake the roster at that time, restarting what Rob Hennigan could not build.

Weltman hung onto the team’s coach and instead focused on rebuilding the team’s infrastructure and organization. He waited too and developed a young team to get to its first playoff experience.

That patience paid off. Then it seemed he became too patient, waiting both on young veterans to take their next steps and for injury luck to go in his favor.

The Magic found themselves stuck unable to move forward and seeing contracts run out.

That is when the team hit the reset button. That is when Weltman asked for more patience — and got the approval of the Magic’s ownership to see it through.

The team’s future will not simply fall into their lap — even with Lottery luck. How much more patience can anyone have? The goal for the Magic is now to make progress and step forward. Every offseason is important now to push this franchise forward.

The Orlando Magic felt good about the 2022 season and the growth they made. But now comes the difficult part of making progress and improving. A task that will begin with this important offseason.

Tearing a team down is relatively easy to do. There is something of a formula to follow — collect young players, accumulate draft picks, position the team for the draft and keep the cap sheet clean.

But executing a rebuild plan takes some balance and precision.

This will be the real task for Weltman entering this offseason. He can be patient only to a point anymore. Weltman has to make the opportunities to improve the roster.

The team will be aiming to take some steps forward. There is never any standing still in the NBA, as the Magic learned when they struggled to advance out of the bottom seeds after keeping their playoff roster from 2019 for two straight seasons. Change is inevitable.

And now Weltman’s work really begins to reform and remake this roster.

A small success

The 2022 season was very much the first year of a rebuild.

The Orlando Magic went extremely young on the court and with its coaching staff, hoping to develop a future star and the outlines of a new team. They accepted that they would lose a lot of games in the process, netting another high draft pick in the process.

In that sense, the Magic’s season was a success.

Weltman, who did not have his usual general meeting with the media at the end of the season as the team opted to do exit interviews following the team’s final regular-season game rather than the day after, told Mike Bianchi on Open Mike that the team established its way of working and bought into what the coaching staff was selling. The team worked hard, stuck together and improved throughout the season.

As Weltman put it, everyone knows the team’s future is in front of them.

What that future is though is still the part taking form. And that is the part that Weltman will need to work on this offseason. Regardless of what moves the Magic make, there will clearly be a directive and a need to see the team take bigger steps forward next year.

In reality, the Magic still have not completely accomplished their goals.

"“We’re not content, we’re not satisfied,” Weltman told Bianchi on Open Mike. “Our goals remain the same which are to develop these young guys. Everybody says you need stars in this league. sometimes stars don’t always reveal themselves instantly. We’ve had guys who had tremendous growth on this team. I think this team right now has tremendous potential. This is a young, young team with everything in front of it. . . .“I don’t really think that we recalibrate our goals going into the season. We ramp them up. We challenge our guys to get better. From a team-building standpoint, we’ll look to add more.”"

The question is what does he do to make that improvement?

As Weltman pointed out with Bianchi, the team has not “pushed its chips into the middle of the table.” The team has all of its draft picks and plenty of young players to develop and grow. And Orlando has somewhere near $30-million in cap room to spend this offseason.

It still feels like the team will take the patient approach and let what they have incubate.

What is clear is the Magic need internal development and a good draft to push the team forward. But they will also need to supplement the roster, bringing in players who will support the players they actually want to build around.

Orlando has to start picking the players that the team will ultimately build around and support and supplement the team’s chosen identity.

The Magic are still figuring all this out and that may lead to the team returning this mix of young players with some veterans sprinkled in.

On-court identity forms

On the court this year, the Orlando Magic started to form something resembling a defensive identity. The team can hang its hat on having the 10th best defense in the league since Jan. 1 (a span that is more than half the season). That number was certainly hurt too by the team’s struggles to end the season.

Coach Jamahl Mosley talked at the beginning of the season about building good defensive habits. It took some time for the team to take a hold of that. There is no doubt the team has a ton of defensive talent — Wendell Carter, Franz Wagner, Chuma Okeke and Jalen Suggs all project as good defenders and Jonathan Isaac is still waiting in the wings recovering from an injury.

The one thing that even Mosley made clear in his talk with the media following Sunday’s game was the desire to add more shooting. Orlando had the worst offense in the league after Jan. 1, at the same time the defense was skyrocketing. Undoubtedly the Magic’s offensive inconsistencies were a big reason the team sank to the bottom of the standings.

Defense alone has rarely been enough to catapult a team to the next tier. And the Magic’s defense certainly was not elite to do so.

Rebuilding the right way

This is part of the challenge laying before Jeff Weltman as he looks to improve and build this roster.

The team feels capable of stepping forward. But that is far from guaranteed — regardless of the team’s Lottery results.

"“There’s never a guarantee that you turn that corner,” Weltman said to Bianchi on Open Mike. “That’s always the risk. But there is also a risk in keeping a group together that doesn’t feel like it has the momentum to break through to another level. I believe that it’s all in the relationships, it’s all in the work, it’s all in the character of the players and the connectivity of the coaches to the players. Those are obviously elements we have our antenna up for.”"

Weltman said the team studied other rebuilds around the league before going down this path to better understand the pitfalls to avoid. For now, Weltman is confident they can avoid that because the players on the team work so hard and seem to be about the right things.

Most importantly, he has faith in the people. But he knows the team needs to add more too.

And that is the challenge for the offseason.

Internal development will help with everything. And that is the hardest thing to project and predict. Especially because all of these players are so young. The team’s ultimate ceiling will depend on the work these players put into themselves.

Orlando will need to find players outside the roster to supplement them too. That will likely not mean pushing those chips to the center and spending money in free agency for the limited big names available on this market. It will also likely mean the team is not going to hunt for them in trades.

But that is all in the background as Weltman plans what is next.

Orlando Magic never lost their joy in a rough season. dark. Next

There is undoubtedly work to do throughout the roster for the Magic. There is undoubtedly a lot of work to do for the Magic and their front office.