Orlando Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman has sought advice from everywhere he can find it.
The first overall pick will do that to an executive. The first overall pick on a team still seeking its defining player and its identity will tend to ramp up the pressure to get the pick right, especially in a unique draft where there is no apparent top overall pick.
So Weltman has leaned on everything that he has learned from having a father who was an executive in the NBA, from years of his own experience in the league and even from other executives who have held the first pick. Yes, Weltman said he had someone on his staff call up executives who had previously had the first pick to ask for their advice on handling the pressure, pitfalls and intrigue that comes from the top pick.
The words of advice he has gotten have ranged from the mundane — you do not turn in a school paper on Monday when it is due on Friday, keep all options and revisions open — to the profound — do not get married to a specific pick or idea with the top pick, other executives advised.
Weltman repeated a truism that gets said every time around draft night: the draft looks vastly different the day before just as it would the day after. All that matters is what happens on the night of the NBA Draft.
"“Conversations happen, new information gets unveiled, there are just so many things that go into this,” Weltman said Monday during a press conference. “It’s talent, it’s fit. It’s character. It’s the projection. it’s where the league is going. There are so many things that factor into a conversation like this. You could literally go on for months more arguing it.”"
The countdown is on to Thursday as everyone waits to see what the Magic will do in what is a rare contested race for the top pick in this draft — offering, in reality, three different visions for this team.
All the words and aphorisms and years of experience though will eventually turn to Weltman. All the pressure to get the pick right and add the best player the team can will fall on him. And squarely on him. That is where Weltman wants it more than anything else.
The Orlando Magic are still making their decision with the top pick. As time ticks to the NBA Draft, the Magic are still weighing everything in front of them and all the possibilities.
The unassuming way Weltman answered questions Monday as the Magic prepare for this critical pick is very much of the Weltman way.
That is what comes from trusting the preparation and process the team has. And even three days ahead of draft day, Weltman would still describe the team as in the “early stages” of their draft process.
That might be relative. Because there is still a lot of information to gather and meetings to discuss everything about the draft in the days ahead.
But the Magic are the ones in control.
"“Most importantly, we get to do what we want,” Weltman said Monday. “And that’s the real benefit of having the number one pick. It really hasn’t altered the process a whole lot. We do our work and try to be as careful as we can and as thorough as we can. I don’t think having the number one pick has changed the way that we work.”"
Weltman said he expects the Magic to make their pick ultimately — adding that he is surprised trades even get done with how complicated they can be. However, Orlando is taking calls and the team knows it is the gatekeeper if someone is determined to get to the No. 1.
That is the power of winning the Lottery. Orlando has the thing everyone around the league wants.
But this first overall pick presents an interesting choice that is surely adding to the complications in the lead-up to draft night.
Most drafts feature a clear-cut No. 1 pick. In this year’s draft most people would say the Magic are picking between two, if not three, unique prospects in Jabari Smith, Chet Holmgren and Paolo Banchero.
Orlando has not spent its time exclusively on the top pick for sure — most of their draft workouts centered on second-round options to build their raft database and the team is confirmed to have worked out and interviewed Smith and Holmgren. But most of the immediate focus is on what the Magic will do with the first pick.
That has certainly opened the world up to some thoughts of a trade. And, on script, Weltman said he is not closing the doors to any trade discussions — whether it be for the top pick or later on in the draft.
He said the team is still gathering information as information changes frequently. That is one of the reasons you do not lock into a decision so soon. As the deadline approaches and draft day, things change quickly.
That is undeniably where the pressure of having the top pick comes in. The Magic undoubtedly feel some of that.
There is an expectation, especially considering the Magic’s own draft history with the top pick, that this player will be some sort of “savior.” That, of course, is unfair.
But teams spend years angling for their chance at the top pick. It is hard to ignore a decade of pent-up frustration and missed opportunities. It is easy for fans to feel like this is a ticket out of the doldrums of the bottom of the league.
What is important to Weltman is that he feels the team will exit the draft with a good player.
"“I never would put the pressure on anyone picking 15, 8 or 1 that you are getting a franchise guy,” Weltman said Monday. “I don’t think that’s fair to a guy who has played a minute in the NBA yet. I’m very confident that we are going to get a guy with size, talent, IQ, skill, character, everything that we want to be about. We are going to add him to our group of already exciting young players. We will put him in a position to fully maximize his potential. From there, it goes where it goes.”"
Predicting stars is indeed folly. Weltman is content to pick the best player the team can find, bring the characteristics the team is looking for and help the team take its next steps.
The pressure is certainly squarely on Weltman to find the right player or the right deal to accomplish that. But Weltman, as ever, is sticking to the process that got him here. He is going to live or die on his decision-making and nothing seems to have him wavering.
But there is still a long way to go before Thursday. And that will have Weltman patiently waiting for every last morsel before making the final decision.