By John Denton
May 24, 2017
ORLANDO – The son of a former ABA and NBA General Manager and someone who has worked as a video coordinator, scout, player personnel director, assistant GM, GM and vice president of basketball operations at the professional level, Jeff Weltman has been readying himself for the leadership opportunity given to him by the Orlando Magic almost since birth.
Now, as the Magic’s new President of Basketball Operations, Weltman is confident that he can use his unique gifts as a communicator, talent evaluator and team builder to help the franchise return to contending status as soon as possible.
“I’ve done every part of it and now I’ve just got to do it,’’ Weltman said on Wednesday at his introductory news conference in Orlando. “I’ve got to show (the fans) that we’re going to be good and that we’re going to win. I can go on and on and on about this and that, but I’ve got to do it. I can tell you that my whole life’s work has been in preparation for this day and now I’ve got to do it.’’
Hiring someone with the wealth of experience and proven track record of Weltman, 52, was at the height of importance for a Magic franchise that has staggered through the worst five-year stretch in franchise history. Now with Weltman – a 28-year veteran of the NBA game – and newly hired GM John Hammond – someone else who has spent 26 years at basketball’s top level – Orlando is confident that it has the management team and direction that can help the franchise make a dramatic turnaround.
“We decided that we needed to bring in experience and we looked for the greatest amount of experience that we could find out there in the market,’’ Magic CEO Alex Martins said. “I don’t think there’s any other combination, quite frankly, that we could have found that would have brought the total number of years of experience than we did (with Weltman and Hammond).
“They are as experienced as we’ve got in this league. John has won a championship and they’ve both come close,’’ Martins continued. “They’ve both rebuilt teams successfully. … The experience piece was right at the top of our list in terms of what we were looking for and I don’t think we could have combined with a greater experience level than we’ve got now with these two guys.’’
Throughout his nearly three decades of work in the NBA, Weltman has been a key decision-maker on franchises such as the Los Angeles clippers, Denver Nuggets, Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors that made major jumps in the standings. He spent the past four seasons working for close friend, Toronto President of basketball Operations Masai Ujiri, and the two of them helped the Raptors reach the 2016 Eastern Conference Finals and make the playoffs four straight years.
Now, Weltman – the son of long-time St. Louis Spirits and Cleveland Cavaliers GM Harry Weltman – will be tasked with trying to do the same thing in Orlando. The Magic failed to make the playoffs each of the past five years under the direction of GM Rob Hennigan, and it’s up to Weltman, Hammond and head coach Frank Vogel to end the franchise’s longest postseason drought in 28 years.
“I don’t believe in labeling teams or timelines; a team is going to be what it is and we’re going to make it as good as we can as quickly as we can,’’ Weltman said. “Beyond that I need to speak to Coach (Vogel) and educate myself on where we are and where our guys are in their stages of development.
“Our job is to understand how we can get better as quickly as possible, but not expediting it artificially because we want it to grow the right way,’’ Weltman continued. “We want to do it the right way and bring in the right people. I’m not going to make any promises (on win totals) or predictions that we can’t keep. The only promise that I will make is that we’ll dedicate everything that we have to getting it done.’’
Martins said the only “non-negotiable’’ in hiring a President of Basketball Operations and GM was that they be willing to work with Vogel as the Magic’s head coach. That certainly wasn’t an issue with Weltman, who has long admired the strategic work of Vogel along the sidelines in the NBA.
Vogel, who was hired a year ago by the Magic following his highly successful run in Indiana, said he’s greatly looking forward to working with experienced and proven leaders in Weltman and Hammond.
“These are very well-respected basketball men who have done a good job and who, quite frankly, know what they are doing and what they are talking about,’’ Vogel gushed. “I’m excited about the coming weeks, the meetings that we’re going to have and getting to know these guys.’’
There’s already a strong working relationship in place between Weltman and Hammond as they have worked together previously three different times (L.A., Detroit and Milwaukee). Most recently, Hammond was the GM in Milwaukee, while Weltman was the assistant GM from 2003-08. Together, they got the Bucks back in the playoffs following a long postseason drought and they hope their union will once again lead to success with the Magic.
Weltman has dedicated his life to basketball, and he vowed on Wednesday to put in the work necessary to make the Magic winners once again.
“It’s just work, man,’’ Weltman said. “All the different points of our basketball operations have to be on the same page. We have to be thinking about winning. Every decision we make has to be made toward winning. I don’t know if the end result of that is `culture,’ but it’s just about working and working hard. It’s pushing each other and not being afraid to say things. And it’s going to be on me to set up channels for everyone to communicate and help us win.’’
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