Jeff Weltman: Offseason strengthened Orlando Magic's DNA

The Orlando Magic's offseason was a relatively quiet one. They added Kentavious Caldwell-Pope but more than that, Jeff Weltman feels the team strengthened its DNA.
The Orlando Magic believe adding Kentavious Caldwell-Pope enhances their DNA. What they really hope is that it enables their young players the berth to grow.
The Orlando Magic believe adding Kentavious Caldwell-Pope enhances their DNA. What they really hope is that it enables their young players the berth to grow. / Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

The Orlando Magic are still a young team.

They may hate hearing this still. Nobody wants to use youth as an excuse but it remains the statement that gives the team an open-ended belief in what they may ultimately become. It is what they know is the reason for many of their shortcomings.

It is the reason they feel comfortable investing a max contract in Franz Wagner, believing in the 22-year-old forward to build on his stellar (but sometimes frustrating) third season in the league. It is why they believe wholeheartedly in Paolo Banchero's development and future after his All-Star and star-making season last year.

It is why they have faith in Jalen Suggs' growth as a playmaker and creator. The team is betting on individual development and growth from 25-year-old Wendell Carter and sophomore guard Anthony Black. It is safe to say few players on this Magic roster have reached anything close to their potential.

The Magic had an opportunity this offseason with all of their cap room to make a splash. But president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman stayed relatively quiet.

He would disagree with that notion. He would argue that the Magic's summer strengthened the team's DNA. By doubling down both on the team's continuity and the team's strengths, Weltman believes he made the team better.

Not just better but significantly better. Orlando focused on strengthening its foundation in several ways this offseason.

"[Kentavious Caldwell-Pope] makes our team better and he really strengthens our DNA," Weltman said as he introduced Caldwell-Pope to the media Saturday. "We're trying to build a team of defense-first mentality, of sacrifice and togetherness, of guys who make one another better.

"Obviously KCP is a high-level shooter. He checked a lot of boxes for us. With what else we were able to do and some other guys we were able to bring back, we were able to restructure Jonathan's contract. We're trying to set this thing where we can improve our team now but also set ourselves up moving forward."

The team is adding only two players to the fold in 18th overall pick Tristan da Silva and veteran guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The team spent the rest of its summer re-signing its depth—bringing back Gary Harris, Moe Wagner and Goga Bitadze. With an eye on the future, the team restructured Jonathan Isaac's contract, extending his deal by four seasons.

The biggest money move they made was to sign Franz Wagner to a max extension. Suggs' extension may be in the offing before the season begins (and surely will come next summer if it is not done before the October deadline).

Much of Orlando's offseason was spent doubling down not only on their own players—Weltman said Saturday that continuity only matters when you are winning and the team was winning last year—but their philosophy and the things they value.

That is as much where Caldwell-Pope fits in as anywhere.

Caldwell-Pope, the biggest addition to the roster and a likely starter for the team, is someone who embodies a lot of what the team hopes to add. He brings with him a defensive mentality—forming perhaps one of the best defensive backcourts in the league alongside Suggs. He brings reliable 3-point shooting as someone who has made 40 percent of his threes in two of the last three seasons.

Caldwell-Pope was the perfect offseason addition to preserve the Magic’s identity

The Magic feel like adding Caldwell-Pope enhances these elements of the team. But more important he fits right into what the team is doing. He does not force the Magic to deviate from their growth.

The Magic were looking for players who embody their principles and their identity. The Magic are defensive team first. They are a selfless team. That is what the Magic hope Caldwell-Pope can bring.

"The biggest part is making sacrifices, being able to learn on the go, being able to switch up anything on the fly and just being relentless and humble," Caldwell-Pope on Saturday when he was introduced to the Orlando media. "Everything is going to take sacrifices to get there."

Weltman said Caldwell-Pope is going to help the team take a step forward. But the real point of this offseason was to work on the team's main project—the development of the young players on this roster.

Caldwell-Pope will add shooting and defense. But his championship experience and how valued he is as a teammate and within organizations should help the team grow more.

"I think KCP is going to help us take a step forward," Weltman said Saturday. "But part of that step forward is showing our young guys how they take a step forward. We're not going to deviate from our north star which is developing our young talent. We have a lot of young talent on our roster. Some of them are starting to break through and some of them haven't really been exposed to that process yet. We're excited about all of them. That's going to continue to be the north star that guides us."

Weltman promised after the season ended that the team was not going to compromise its "DNA" or "North Star" with its offseason maneuvering. His actions support that.

But more than that, the team's main goal is still the growth of their young players. Everything still turns back to how their young players develop. This development is embedded into their DNA and is the key part of this project.

Youth, in this instance, is the team's strength and its project. Orlando looked to the offseason as a space to keep the path clear for Banchero, Wagner and Suggs, especially, to grow and find the limits of their game. Continuity is valuable in that instance to give them some comfort to grow.

Everybody knows their responsibilities and roles and how they fit around these key young players.

The Magic are not abandoning winning or trying to get better. But they know their ticket to elevating in the Eastern Conference standings is internal improvement.

Orlando did not make a lot of additions but the team feels it has improved on both tracks.

"What we're trying to do right now is a little tricky," Weltman said Saturday. "We had a great season last year. We want to build on that and we want to move this team forward. KCP helps us do that. But we're also trying to run another race. We need to develop our young players. KCP is a rare guy who is going to be able to do both of those things for us."

Time will tell how this whole project ultimately comes together. Orlando is patiently waiting to see who their young players improve and grow and the ceiling they can reach.

The Magic spent their offseason trying to give them the best path to do so. They spent their offseason doubling down on what they believe in. They aimed to strengthen their DNA and their identity.

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In adding Caldwell-Pope and retaining much of their roster, they believe they have done so.