Orlando Magic ready for next evolution, not skipping steps along the way

Apr 11, 2023; Orlando, Florida, USA; Orlando Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman speaks during a press conference for the new Orlando Magic G-League stadium at Osceola Heritage Park. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 11, 2023; Orlando, Florida, USA; Orlando Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman speaks during a press conference for the new Orlando Magic G-League stadium at Osceola Heritage Park. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports /

Orlando Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman has stood in front of the assembled media ahead of the NBA Draft countless times. He has done so with mid-Lottery picks, with two Lottery picks, with the first pick.

It can be a bit rote.

As he mentioned in trade conversations around the league, you have to measure how candid you can be with your trade partners before getting serious about a deal. That probably goes double when talking to the media. Weltman is always known for being guarded. He is not one to reveal a lot of information — and certainly, not one to leak information.

This is all familiar then.

Then again, this position Weltman is in though is different. Even he had to acknowledge it.

Orlando is in a different spot now than they were last year and certainly two years ago. Optimism, growth and development will do that. Suddenly the team has some expectations and the belief that it can grow into something.

The Orlando Magic are back to preparing for the draft and hoping to add two key players. But their situation is certainly different as the team eyes a not-too-distant future.

Yet, the process for the Magic does not change. It is still about bringing in the right players through the draft and valuing the opportunity with two picks and all the possibilities it brings.

As exciting as Orlando’s future seems to be, this is not a team that is going to skip steps in the process. That always remains the same no matter where the team is at.

"“We have two Lottery picks and it’s a pretty good draft,” Weltman said Monday. “I think we’re looking at a lot of good options. We can go a number of ways both sticking to the draft or moving around a little bit. There are several options in front of us. We are still trying to assess what that looks like to us.”"

That is an executive’s way to say the Magic have a lot of options ahead of them. They are in a position of strength heading into the draft. But there is a lot to consider as Orlando tries to find the right path for the team’s future.

Ultimately what matters, as Weltman put it, is the person they pick as much as where and when they take them.

Still, there is a lot for this team still to discover. And the Magic do not seem like they want to impede that progress. At least, not completely. Orlando has a lot of players established in roles and eager to see the team grow.

"“When I say build organically, I feel like we want to keep a pathway for our young guys to develop and reach their potential,” Weltman said Monday. “We have a lot of evaluating to do this season. We have a lot of young guys who we expect to take steps. We have to evaluate our own roster and scout ourselves and look ourselves in the mirror and hopefully, we are all trending in the way we want to trend. It’s the NBA, it’s hard. Plans are one thing and execution is another.”"

That is as big of a mission statement as the Magic have for this draft. It also reveals the complexity and difficulty of the Magic’s position.

On one hand, the team feels very solidly built. They have their core pieces in Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner, Markelle Fultz and Wendell Carter along with young players to grow in Jalen Suggs, Cole Anthony and perhaps even Bol Bol.

But they also clearly need a bit more to get over the top and into the postseason. They still need to add players and internal development is not going to do it alone.

The team has to weigh which players will be able to get onto the court.

That battle between fit and need against talent and best player available is a constant debate within front offices across the league. And especially picking where the Magic are picking this high in the draft.

There are a lot of levers the team is weighing beyond the fit and best player available including character, development path, developmental timetable and how they fit into the organization. And then, of course there is that long-trod out statement of giving each player a pathway to growing into their potential with the team.

There are a lot of players to pick from obviously. But what makes the draft fascinating for the Magic is the flexibility they have. It really does feel like they could do anything and pick just about everyone.

It is not just the Magic being tight-lipped about their draft intentions, nobody can really pin down what direction the Magic will go.

And how that relates to the rest of the offseason is certainly part of that equation too.

"“We want to move the team forward,” Weltman said Monday. “I’ve said to you guys, we want to play better basketball — we want to make better decisions, we want to have our awareness and maturity level really start to elevate itself and become more of a veteran team. That said, not at the expense of doing what we’re doing, which is growing a team organically with young, talented, high-character players and maintain as much flexibility throughout the process as possible.”"

They have a young roster that is still coming together in many ways. In addition to that, they have the two picks they could add in this year’s lottery (along with the 36th pick, which still somehow feels like an afterthought, and they have somewhere between $20-$25 million in estimated cap room to use.

At this time of year, it is impossible not to think about the trade market and what the Magic could do. As Weltman put it, this flexibility and these options are well-earned. Orlando is in a position of power and flexibility that a lot of other teams do not have.

So how does this team evolve? And what role does the draft play in it?

They are in a position where the team needs to add talent but their rookies are not necessary to the process. That is a sign of the progress the team is expecting to make.

"“What you also hope for is you get to a place where rookies are not handed minutes. Hopefully, our team is growing to the place where it will be more difficult for rookies to earn their minutes. I think that is the expectation that we have.“As our team gets better, it’s not like we’re giving these minutes to 33-year-olds, but as our young guys grow and indoctrinate themselves into the NBA and winning ways, winning habits and winning routines, with health, hopefully, we get to a place where it becomes rookies have to earn their time.”"

At the end of the day, the draft is a constantly evolving and changing process. Weltman has used the line every year that the draft would be completely different from one day to the next. Information and decisions are constantly evolving and changing.

There is clearly a lot to balance for the Magic as they try to plot out their next steps. And while there are two concurrent tracks between the draft and free agency to make that happen, the draft comes first. The draft represents a big opportunity to improve the team.

And so Orlando is back where the team always is: Going through the process and the steps to make the most of this situation.

Nobody really can say what the team will do. But everyone seems to sense the team is ready for its next evolution.

Next. Draft Preview: Keyonte George adds scoring element. dark

That is a different place the Magic are standing today as they go through the final days of this draft process.