Jeff Weltman: Orlando Magic don't want to lose "north star," "DNA" in offseason

The Orlando Magic are already at the center of several trade rumors and pitches as their offseason begins. Jeff Weltman though said he will be guided by the team's success as they enter a critical offseason.
Paolo Banchero and the Orlando Magic established themselves as an up-and-coming team in the league after their strong playoff showing. That will open doors for the Magic this offseason.
Paolo Banchero and the Orlando Magic established themselves as an up-and-coming team in the league after their strong playoff showing. That will open doors for the Magic this offseason. / Thearon W. Henderson/GettyImages
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The Orlando Magic's season hardly ended when the rumor mill started spinning and dragging them into its center.

That was already happening during their exciting Playoff series. Ramona Shelburne of ESPN reported the Magic were among the teams monitoring Paul George's situation. Pundits jumped in to say that the Orlando Magic were a better location for someone like George to consider if he was indeed leaving the LA Clippers.

The rumor mill kept spinning, going back to Klay Thompson once again -- a favored rumor after the trade deadline as Thompson eyes free agency and one more payday potentially away from the Golden State Warriors.

Shams Charania of Stadium reported on FanDuel's Run It Back that there is "mutual interest" between the Magic and Thompson.

Charania reports too that several veterans around the league are intrigued with the Orlando Magic after their showing in the Playoffs, forcing the Cleveland Cavaliers to a Game 7 behind a superstar showing from Paolo Banchero.

Even two months before offseason maneuvering truly begins, the Magic are already front and center as one of the more intriguing teams to watch this summer.

It was clear as the Magic parted ways at the AdventHealth Training Center on Monday that there is a lot to talk about this team's future.

As special as this group was together, the team has an opportunity to make a big splash this offseason and take advantage of this window where they will have roughly $30 million in cap room before the bills come due on Franz Wagner and Jalen Suggs (both extension eligible this summer) and Paolo Banchero (extension eligible next summer).

This is a summer where the Magic should be aggressive to improve their team. But president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman, usually patient and deliberate with his moves, is still focused on the team's development and culture.

The Magic know they have to build around their young talent

The Magic are seemingly prepared to make something happen this offseason. But they are not going to deviate from what led to their success this season.

"We don't want to lose the north star of our team," Weltman said during the team's exit interviews Monday. "Our three leading scorers are 22 and under. I know there are a lot of good things that happened to our team this year. Now it is up to us to earn our way into repeating that. We don't take that for granted. There is a lot of work that needs to be done to keep our place held and then we can build from there."

The Magic understand what led to their success. They built and grew three young players to lead them in Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner and Jalen Suggs. Their future seems to be centered around that trio and their strengths.

They made the Playoffs this year thanks to one of the top defenses in the league. While Orlando's offense lagged behind again, ranking 22nd in offensive rating, the team was clearly capable of winning on a night-in and night-out basis.

As much as there is talk about taking a big leap with some big-name free agent, the Magic understand they are still young and still committed to their development.

Even deeper into the roster, Weltman reiterated he still wants to ensure young players have a path to play โ€” referring specifically to rookies Anthony Black and Jett Howard who were out of the rotation for much of the season. The team wants to be intention about who they add.

That was a sentiment that was echoed throughout the day.

"It's got to be the right person to join this group," coach Jamahl Mosley said during exit interviews Monday. "You don't want to make moves for the sake of making moves. You have a group of young men who pull for one another, that strive for one another, that lift each other up and empower each other to do the right thing and play the right way and share the basketball and all those things. When you put pieces into that, you want to make sure it fits on and off the court."

The Magic, then, are not going to just drop their money on the table in front of somebody without thinking about what they add to the team. The Magic have a culture and an identity they are trying to cultivate.

That is not to say Orlando will not flex its muscle. Weltman understands he has cap space to use and a small window to use it before that bill for the team's young stars comes due.

The question for the Magic is what they will spend it on.

The Magic have big decisions to make this summer

Everyone will point to shooting. But the answer is a bit more complex than that. As Weltman pointed out, even though the Magic finished 24th in 3-point field goal percentage (and 29th in attempts per game), they were 15th in the league at 35.1 percent since Jan. 1.

That did not help much in the Playoffs when they struggled to hit anything, especially at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse where they shot 26.9 percent in four road games.

When it comes to shooting, the team knows part of the equation is about young players improving -- like the leap Jalen Suggs made from 32.7 percent to 39.7 percent this season. The team does not want to stand in the way of that natural internal improvement.

"I don't believe we are totally bereft of shooting," Weltman said at exit interviews Monday. "I think some of this is guys grow up, they get better, they find their rhythm. When you have a team as young as we are, this is part of developing players is shooting. They get better the longer they are in the league. I do feel that it's an area where we want to look to get better. But not at the expense of the things that cost us our DNA. There is a reason we were a good team this year and we don't want to lose that."

That is going to be a difficult balance for the Magic. Their whole summer will be about figuring out whether they can find a person and a player who is a perfect fit for the identity and core they are building while adding something new to the mix without taking away what led to success this season.

The Magic learned a lot about the character of their team and cemented a culture of togetherness and camaraderie they can further build upon. The playoffs taught a lot about this team. But even those playoff failures need the proper context.

The question for the summer is truly about how to add to what this team did, not to reform it. Where this team starts this offseason will remain the guiding light for how to build further.

"Obviously, it is a big deal to make the Playoffs," Weltman said at exit interviews Monday. "That is a big milestone for a young team. I don't look at that as a chapter. I do think that every time you achieve a milestone, you learn new information. It might send a signal to the rest of the league that they are at a certain level now. Whatever that means for teams trying to understand what you are trying to accomplish this summer from maybe free agents wanting to look at your place as a potential destination. it definitely signals to people that the Magic are coming."

If anything, the reports and rumors already circulating are a symbol of that. The Magic have arrived and will be involved in conversations that would not have been open to them last year or the year before.

Weltman said people he speaks to around the league express their excitement and eagerness to see what the Magic will do. The energy around the team and the organization radiates outward. That will surely attract something big in the near future.

Banchero's strong Playoff showing tells the league the Magic have a star that can perform at the highest levels. Getting to a Game 7 proves how close this team is winning even at a higher level.

Even if the Thompson and George rumors are agent-driven, the Magic being in those discussions makes a point about the progress the team has made and what will be available to them.

But like last offseason when the Magic sat on their cap room. This team will be patient. They know they can grow still without major moves -- although another 13-game jump is not likely without some external shock.

They are going to seek out the right opportunity, not the headline-grabbing one. The team has its mission statement to improve and what kind of team it is looking to build.

Franz Wagner bad game 7 05.07.24. Franz Wagner's horrible Game 7 will not define him. dark. Next

The Magic cannot wait forever. Their window to spend big money is running out. Weltman acknowledges that. But he also said it has to be used wisely. And that will be the task he faces this offseason.