Orlando Magic recalibrating expectations but process remains the same at No. 18

The Orlando Magic are in a new position, drafting 18th this year and searching for room for a rookie. But their process remains the same even if expectations might be different.
The Orlando Magic were not at the NBA Draft Lottery for the first time in quite a while. That changes the expectations for the draft but does not change the process.
The Orlando Magic were not at the NBA Draft Lottery for the first time in quite a while. That changes the expectations for the draft but does not change the process. / David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

For much of the last decade, the Orlando Magic and their representatives were among the group that huddled in a hotel ballroom in Chicago hoping and praying for luck to turn their way.

The NBA Draft Lottery is where the league's non-playoff teams gather to dream about the quick climb. For the Magic, in the decade since Dwight Howard left, this was a familiar room. And for pretty much every year, they left that room in disappointment—and then failed to find the star they needed to build around with the pick they did receive.

Last year, the Magic went to that room feeling good about their place in the league. They had won the Lottery a year earlier and had the Rookie of the Year in Paolo Banchero. The Magic believed they were in that room for the last time in several years.

They won the sixth pick, selecting Anthony Black eventually—and added the 11th pick in Jett Howard for good measure—and that was how the Magic exited the Lottery.

Everyone knows what happened this season. All the rebuilding and draft picks and collecting of young talent at last coalesced into a playoff team.

As the Magic return to the draft, they are in a very different place. They are not picking sixth or in the Lottery. They got the benefit of being a 47-win playoff team and getting to Game 7.

The Magic sit with the No. 18 pick heading into Wednesday's NBA Draft (the second round takes place a day later on Thursday). It is a different space for the Magic.

Yet, it is not. The process for Orlando remains the same. What the team hopes to achieve on Draft night and with their pick has not changed.

"You're right, 18 is different than where we've been picking more recently," Jeff Weltman said Monday. "You have to recalibrate your expectations to that. I think we're looking at some good players at 18. Our guys have been working really hard on the draft. It started about this time last year. It's the culmination of all of their efforts. They do great jobs. We do a lot of great background work. The person is as important to us as a player. Picking 18 is different than picking in the Lottery."

Some players have found success at the No. 18 pick. Nobody is ever in a position to pass on the opportunity to add talent to the roster. But the pool of players you are picking from is different.

This is not the top of the draft in other words. Fans are going to have to recalibrate expectations going from selecting a player who could one day develop into a star to picking someone the team hopes they can develop into a solid role player.

Still, the goal remains the same. The Magic want to find a player who will contribute to the team. They want to find someone they can grow and build alongside their group and help them take the next step.

"I think it's always important to get your draft picks right if you can," Weltman said Monday. "It's a chance to add a good young player who will continue on the legacy of what you are trying to build—on the court, off the court, in the locker room. The beauty of the draft is you get to bring somebody in who becomes what the Orlando Magic are about from Day One. Hopefully, if that person and player can grow into that and become a meaningful player for your team is worth its weight in gold."

This year's draft in that regard has gotten something of a bad reputation. Most people think of draft classes in terms of their upside, Weltman said. And this is a draft that is not considered particularly strong at the top.

But there is still a lot of confidence in the draft where the Magic are picking. Weltman said this feels to him like a "more typical draft." The players are there, he said, the Magic just have to find them.

That could mean hunting for their typical big playmaking wings like they could find in Colorado forward Tristan Da Silva, G-League Ignite forward Ron Holland, French forward Tidjane Salaun or Kansas forward Johnny Furphy.

It could mean looking to bolster the guard group by looking at Providence guard Devin Carter, Duke guard Jared McCain or Pitt guard Carlton Carrington. They could look to add shooting with Miami wing Kyshawn George or Baylor 3-and-D wing Ja'Kobe Walter or Creighton forward Baylor Scheierman.

They could be looking to boost their depth at center with Indiana big man Kel'el Ware, Purdue center Zach Edey, Duke big man Kyle Filipowski or Baylor shot-blocker Yves Missi.

They could see if some big name like injured point forward Nikola Topic falls to them. Or invest in a prospect like French wing Pacome Dadiet.

There are a lot of options. And ultimately the Magic's decision comes down to the person they want to add to the team and how they feel they can best develop them.

That is part of the dilemma for the Magic ahead of the draft.

"We pride ourselves on the development of young players," Weltman said Monday. "I think we do that well. It's something we spend a lot of time on planning, orchestrating and mapping out for each guy here. We have a lot of guys whose careers we have to navigate. Adding another one is something we have to discuss. The better your team is and hopefully we can maintain the level that we got to last year, you start to recalibrate what that looks like when you are not drafting in the Lottery. How you develop players may be looked at a little differently."

This is another way the Magic are in a new space and another way expectations have to be calibrated some.

Orlando, after all, still has two second-year players trying to crack the rotation in Black and Howard. Black was pressed into playing early in the season thanks to injuries on the roster. Howard never got his chance, spending most of his season in the G-League.

Weltman said Howard still had a great year and accomplished the growth they wanted to see from him. But he still has to prove himself in the NBA. And they still need to clear a path.

The Magic may have the patience and the time to let a player develop and grow. They have the space to give them time to get acclimated to the pro game. Or they could earn their way directly into a team that is competing for something.

That is a different place for the Magic. It is something different for this team. It requires some different thinking.

But it also requires the same thinking. The Magic need to find their player. They need to find the person and player that fits them best.

Next. Magic free agency beyond 06.24.24. Orlando Magic free agency about beyond 2024. dark

Everything for the Magic has indeed changed. But in some ways, the process has not. And that product of that process gets developed Wednesday.