The Orlando Magic have operated in anonymity for a long time.
Their decade-long journey through a rebuild sought a star to build around. They needed a guiding light. In the meantime, the team kept losing.
There were missed draft picks and false starts. There was a brief glimmer of hope and a two-year playoff run, but nothing that felt permanent. The team never could quite get over the hump.
The switch from Rob Hennigan to Jeff Weltman brought some stability to the team. They had an experienced hand to guide them. But they still needed that it factor.
Weltman slowly put together his team, using the tools he mined from his reset trade in the spring of 2021. Drafting Franz Wagner acted as an accelerant in many ways, giving the team a young star. Winning the No. 1 pick and selecting Paolo Banchero gave the team a new life.
The Magic’s 34-win season last year brought a glimmer of long-term hope the Magic have been waiting for since their last star in Dwight Howard — all due respect to Nikola Vucevic — left in 2012. The team could see a pathway not only to the postseason but to contention on a year-to-year basis.
The Magic spent the whole offseason touting their potential playoff credentials. Training camp was spent talking openly about the team’s ambitions.
And that has set the tone for a big season for the Magic. Orlando kept its team together, losing only two players from last year’s roster and both out of the rotation. Expectations are at a high for the Magic this year.
It sets up a critical season for the team’s development and growth.
In short, this is the final season for the Magic before it is time for decisions to be made. The Magic have been growing as a team without having to pay players. But with this upcoming offseason of 2024, tough choices that will alter the franchise will be made.
It is time for Jeff Weltman to finish his evaluations and make decisions.
The Orlando Magic appear set to take a major step forward this year. For president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman, this is the final year of evaluation before his real work can begin.
Recently, Jeff Weltman has done a great job in the draft drafting Jalen Suggs, Franz Wagner and Paolo Banchero. He has made some critical trades, acquiring Wendell Carter in the Nikola Vucevic trade and giving a second chance to Markelle Fultz. That is how the team’s core was built.
But the team stood pat this offseason. The Magic brought back their entire roster, betting on internal improvement to grow from last year’s 34-win season.
This summer Jeff Weltman signed veteran Joe Ingles who adds shooting and is a veteran in the locker room. This was a good signing. But, other than that, he did not do much. The backup center position was something some thought would be addressed during the offseason but the Magic doubled down on their own players.
The Magic essentially are coming back with the same roster and now there are more questions to be answered. The Magic are no longer playing to mine talent, they are playing to win games. And so how the roster fits together becomes important.
Now in a time when Markelle Fultz and Cole Anthony will potentially become free agents at the end of the year, it seems Jeff Weltman has made precautions with selecting Anthony Black sixth overall in this recent draft along with Jett Howard. Both of these rookies seem as if they are going to be key contributors in the long run as the current team tries to take a leap which is a good strategy.
Of course, these assumptions go out the window once and if Fultz and Anthony sign their respective extensions. With the new CBA going into effect, it is going to make it harder for teams to pay multiple players, especially with Wagner and Banchero likely to sign max deals once it is their turn for extensions in 2025 and 2026.
Orlando has to be preparing for that future and trying to make the most of those two players while they are still on their bargain rookie contracts. The biggest criticism of Weltman in his tenure so far is his conservative approach.
Soon, the Magic may have to make a major move to claim their spot in the Eastern Conference.
That is not the only decision left for Weltman to make, however. There is a list of questions he is going to have to answer in the near future.
- Is Jonathan Isaac part of this team’s future?
- Is Jalen Suggs the team’s franchise shooting guard moving forward?
- Is Moe Wagner the team’s backup center?
- Is there enough shooting on the roster?
- What are the future for veterans Gary Harris and Joe Ingles?
How the team performs and player performances will answer those questions. If the Magic make the playoffs, they will be able to use a playoff series where weaknesses are exposed to improve the roster.
If Isaac performs and remains healthy, fully expect Isaac to stick around.
Jalen Suggs has improved each year and is expected to take another jump (11.3-percent jump from three last season). If Suggs improves as a shooter and turns the ball over less, then Suggs may be the answer at the shooting guard moving forward.
However, if Orlando struggles and misses the playoffs again, the roster may see a turnover where the Magic look to solidify the backcourt or let veterans move on to contenders. The Magic will look to move to find a way to make the roster work and figure out the puzzle.
In the end, it all depends on how the team performs this season. Everything hinges on what the team does this season to map out the team’s future path to what they hope will be contention.
There are tough decisions coming for Weltman and his staff. This is the last season he will have to evaluate the team before having to make them.
These are the decisions that make or break a rebuild.
The Magic have their franchise cornerstones. Weltman can not afford to make the wrong decisions and further extend the rebuild.
There is no rushing these decisions but now is the time to look at the roster closer than ever before and start to shape a contending roster.