Jeff Weltman, Orlando Magic shoring up the margins as they ponder their future

The Orlando Magic and their staff and decision-makers are enjoying this moment as the team prepares for the Playoffs ahead. But everyone sees the bright future ahead and the future looming above them.
Jeff Weltman and the Orlando Magic had a successful season that found them in the Playoffs. They are now pondering their future and how to keep growing.
Jeff Weltman and the Orlando Magic had a successful season that found them in the Playoffs. They are now pondering their future and how to keep growing. / Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

In some respects, the Orlando Magic were not supposed to be here.

Very few people saw the Magic still playing at this time of year, let alone waiting for the Playoffs to begin. Maybe some people began thinking this would not be the fate as the team struggled through the latter part of their season.

The most important thing was what happened then Sunday was the team played its way in. The team rallied after a slow start and fed off the energy from the home crowd at Kia Center to win their way into the Playoffs.

The game on Sunday turned into a celebration. Something the whole franchise needed as a celebration of their three years of working together since the trades they made in 2021 that reset the franchise. The Magic had finally returned to the stage.

That was the notion president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman returned numerous times as he chatted with Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi on Open Mike on Tuesday morning. This trip is a cause for celebration for the entire franchise:

"Winning brings people together and cities together and communities together," Weltman said on Open Mike. "Hopefully, we get to the place where we expect to win and we're used to winning. We're always striving to reach that next level of winning. I think we were picked to win 36 or 37 games in the preseason. I really believe the fans embracing the team, getting behind us is the reason we won 10 more games than that."

It really did feel like a team effort. Everyone could sense there was something different about this group and about this team very early on in the season. Their Playoff hopes did not seem like the usual preseason bluster.

Making good on that promise and potential is indeed a reason to celebrate. The work though is getting set to ramp up for the Playoff series. The Magic have every reason to believe they can win and keep this dream going.

But everything in the NBA is fragile. Everyone knows that.

Orlando was one half away from still having a great season but having to fight their way into the Playoffs. Things change on a dime.

And that is why even in this moment of celebration and the excitement of the postseason, Weltman and his group are thinking about the offseason. The goal is to continue to improve the team.

The job is never done as Weltman said.

"All we talk about is what's next," Weltman said on Open Mike. "We have a challenging summer. We have contracts to negotiate, free agents to look and the draft to tackle. We are constantly thinking about how we continue this trajectory and how do we not screw it up. Obviously, the pleasure that we take is giving our fans a team they can be proud of. That's really what it's all about."

That will be the biggest challenge. Now that the Magic have arrived in the Playoffs, new doors will open. Now that Paolo Banchero is an All-Star and the whole basketball world can see what the team is building, free agents may look at the team very differently.

Weltman even told Bianchi he hopes the Magic are one of those teams that a disgruntled star puts on his list of preferred trade destinations. That is kind of how big-name free agents move nowadays. Orlando has the flexibility to do just about anything this summer.

Orlando is projected to have a bit more than $40 million in cap room and possibly even more depending on what they do with Jonathan Isaac. Orlando will be planning a future with extensions for Franz Wagner and Jalen Suggs this summer -- and Paolo Banchero in the summer of 2025.

The era of maximum cap room and flexibility is coming to an end. And with the team reaching the Playoffs and competing for homecourt advantage for most of the 2024 season, the Magic are expected to be pretty active in free agency.

As much as this moment should be used to celebrate this team and this year, everyone is anticipating a really bright future and the potential to add an impact player. Orlando is avaialble to receive those kinds of players.

"We have to be very cautious and very targeted in the way that we build out our next steps," Weltman said on Open Mike. "But I will say, we definitely feel we'd be able to attract players we would not have been a couple of years ago. I don't think there is any reason we can't be thinking about how that can be a part of our planning moving forward to attract players from other teams whether that's free agency or other teams. "

The Magic have been the boogeyman for a lot of teams in the free-agent market for several years. But now they suddenly feel like real threats with how far the team has advanced in the standings and their prospects for improvement with Banchero and Wagner anchoring the way.

Reporting outside Orlando continues to connect the Orlando Magic to Golden State Warriors sharpshooter Klay Thompson as he enters free agency. And after a dispiriting 0-for-10 showing in the Warriors' Play-In Tournament loss, his future with the Warriors seems up in the air.

Magic fans have also had their eyes on shooters like Malik Monk and D'Angelo Russell. Everyone is expecting Orlando to hunt for a shooter. And there are plenty of big-man options to examine too -- like Nic Claxton or Isaiah Hartenstein.

There are a lot of options. And the Magic are expected to be active.

But their focus does not seem to be changing. It is still about fostering growth within this roster and continuing this group's growth. That is what is most important and what the Magic get out of their playoff trip.

The Magic are not about to hit the gas even as they try to push for improvement.

"Number one for us is internal growth," Weltman said on Open Mike. "When your top three scorers are 22 and under, we're not going to burn through the candle right now. We are going to slow simmer it and continue to invest in the players that we have on our roster, grow and develop them and we'll always be opportunistic, we'll always be seeking out the way to improve the team. But I have no problem with doubling down on these guys right now."

The Magic's future is still being mapped out. While everyone is focused and intent on the Playoffs and what the team can accomplish, everyone can see the team's future on the horizon. And there are going to be some tough decisions ahead -- Markelle Fultz is a free agent as is Goga Bitadze and plenty of other players may find themselves with different futures.

Next. Magic selflessness 04.16.24. Orlando Magic's selflessness guided them to Playoffs. dark

The Magic feel there is a lot of opportunity ahead for them, both in the short-term and the long-term. Their success will be determined on the margins and how they can tip things in their favor.