The pressure is clearly ramping up ahead of the NBA Draft. Or at least the outside noise is.
Thursday morning’s sudden betting swing on major sportsbooks that tabbed Paolo Banchero as the favorite to be the top pick in the Draft sent social media for a loop. Who knows what is actually going on?
Well, one guy does. The guy around whom the pressure is building on draft night.
Orlando Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman reiterated during his pre-draft media availability that the Magic will stay “buttoned-up” and not leak anything. They do not feed the ever-expanding rumor machine. His focus is on his draft process — evaluating information and pinning down a decision for draft night.
There is, of course, some misdirection going on. Weltman does not want to tip his hand and wanted to stay open to any opportunities that might have come in the final week before the draft. That might be what is driving some of these drastic odd shifts.
As important as the top pick is for the team, it is really just a piece of the puzzle. The Magic understand this — just as they understand it with what to do with their second-round picks. Orlando is focused on the big picture as much as they are with this first overall selection.
The Orlando Magic’s focus as they prepare for the draft is on continuing their rebuild and building on the positives they had from their 2022 season.
For the first time in a while, the Magic do have some clearer goals. They are not ready to go all-in on a playoff spot. But they do not want to be in the basement anymore.
As a team, they want to continue building “the right way” and progressing. But they are in no rush to push things too quickly or set the team up for failure.
This draft pick is a piece of advancing the whole team forward.
"“When we talk about all the things that go into our draft conversations, there is no component that’s siloed,” Weltman said Monday during his pre-draft availability. “Everything affects everything else when you are looking at roster construction, the draft and free agency and everything.“The 50,000-foot view we try to take before we start to drill down on some of those is just what you asked: What are you trying to do. I think you guys know we didn’t do all the roster deconstruction that we did and have gone through what we have gone through so we can rush back to the middle.”"
There is pressure on the Magic. Pressure they are putting on themselves as much as anything else.
In the moments after the Magic played their final game of the 2022 season, coach Jamahl Mosley challenged his team to “level up.” It was abundantly clear a 22-win season would not be acceptable again. The Magic are expecting more.
Is that making the playoffs? Probably not quite yet. But the team would like to be playing for something later in the season and not watching the Lottery odds late.
Weltman is trying to find that balance between continuing to let his roster grow organically and pushing them to do more. And this is clearly the balance that is weighing on him most ahead of the offseason.
"“We do want to get better but not at the expense of rushing back to mediocrity,” Weltman said Monday. “We do want to have something sustainable. But then you have to elevate the standard to do that. You can’t just stay at the basement level indeterminately. those are conversations that we are having. Which players do that for us. Obviously, part of this time is spent on our free-agent board. I don’t know how aggressive we will be or not. We’ll see when the time comes.”"
The first overall selection is part of this equation. Adding the influx of that high-end talent will help them pus the team forward.
Orlando is looking to increase its basketball IQ and add to the chemistry and continuity they have built. That will continue to be an important part of the process. The Magic do not seem poised to make massive changes to the roster as they aim to let their young players improve.
Their offseason moves beyond the top pick seem set to add pieces around that young core — adding a veteran through free agency or into their open cap space in a trade.
The team will spend this next season trying to figure out which players will actually impact winning. That is the baseline goal — to figure out what this team will look like when it is ready to compete and which players fit that team.
That is one of the reasons this pick has always been more about the team the Magic want to build and less on the player they pick. Both of those ideas go together as the Magic look at their bigger picture.
It is always a long climb back up to the top.
The team is not expecting the team to make a gigantic leap. The Magic want to improve but they want do not want to push the team quicker than it is ready to go. They know they have a lot of things they can cook with.
What they want to do this year is to continue building on what went right in their 2022 season. That is what helped them find moderate success before. And they still see that as a key.
"“One of the things that we really benefited from with the last iteration of our team was just that continuity,” Weltman said Monday. “And when you do what we did, you have to start that over. I feel like this summer we’re really starting to feel that. Everyone has been here a year. It’s really important. It’s the glue that we build our summers on and our development on. It’s an important factor.”"
Mosley is indeed a big part of keeping the team together and growing. It was his challenge after the season ended that was the first public statement of expectation for the team’s next steps.
He is key to maintaining the developmental momentum from last year and fostering the growth and development of the players through the offseason. Weltman said Mosley is no longer a rookie and got better as the year went on himself. He is much more involved with ideas and how to keep this team growing.
That is all part of the process. That is where the No. 1 pick will be jumping in.
He will be jumping into an atmosphere where the team hopes to keep building and improving. They want him to come into a growing environment that is still free from pressure. But one that is building toward winning and with an eye toward winning.
It is a tough thing to balance. But Thursday’s NBA Draft is just the first step in the process.