By John Denton
Sept. 25, 2017
ORLANDO – Jeff Weltman has as much or more experience at the NBA level than just about every executive in the league, but even he admits that this first season as the Orlando Magic’s new President of Basketball Operations will be “something of a get-to-know-you period.’’
This introductory season in Orlando for Weltman includes getting to know the passion, loyalty and strong belief that Magic fans have in their team. Weltman, who is tasked with getting an Orlando franchise that hasn’t been in the playoffs since 2012 back on track, has already learned a few things about the Magic fan base since taking over his new role in late May. Fans certainly haven’t been shy about approaching Weltman when he’s out in public to offer up opinions on the roster and ideas about what needs to be done to make the Magic winners again.
“Well, that’s happened once or twice,’’ Weltman said with a chuckle, “but it’s all been good-natured and very supportive.’’
With the Magic conducting Media Day on Monday and set to open training camp on Tuesday, OrlandoMagic.com sat down with Orlando’s new President of Basketball Operations to get a better understanding of how he is approaching this season, how his vast experience will help him run the franchise and some of his thoughts on building a team.
Click HERE to read Part I of the Weltman Q-and-A. Without further ado, here is some insight from the man charged with getting the Magic franchise turned around and in championship contention again:
ORLANDOMAGIC.COM: You and new Magic GM John Hammond have worked hard to build competition at every position so that there are players pushing others for minutes and spots in the rotation. How much will that competition make this team better?
JEFF WELTMAN: “I don’t know any other way to do it. And as a NBA player, you relish that competition and that’s how you get better and you sharpen your blade every day in practice. All of the good teams set that as one of their goals – setting positional competition internally. I hope that we’ve done that and I hope that our guys rise to the challenge of practicing hard against each other every day, lifting each other up and making one another better. When you start to have that, it’s when you start to feel the effects of a good team.’’
ORLANDOMAGIC.COM: Going into free agency, you said that because the Magic didn’t have the most salary-cap room that you’d have to be patient and opportunistic when upgrades afforded themselves. A lot of jaws hit the floor around the NBA when you acted quickly and signed Jonathon Simmons away from the Spurs. How did you pull that off?
JEFF WELTMAN: “You kind of always going into free agency or the trade deadline or the draft with the best of intentions and your own plan, but you always need a dance partner and you always need to have the right breaks fall your way. We went in with those intentions to be patient and see what the back end of free agency would look like for us, but there were no guarantees that we’d come out with a player like Jonathon, so we considered ourselves very fortunate. Coming from a winning program, Jonathon is one of the most unique stories in the NBA – if not the most unique. You talk about self-made, it doesn’t get any more self-made than him. (A $150 tryout) and he paid it. They didn’t pay him, and that doesn’t happen too often.
“So to be able to look back on free agency and say, `Wow, we landed Jonathon Simmons.’ That’s a nice get for us and I think he’ll add some toughness, competitiveness, athleticism and length. But we also don’t want to downgrade (Arron) Afflalo, (Marreese) Speights and Shelvin Mack. They’re all guys we consider to be fighters and guys when stuff starts to get tough and we know how they are going to respond and fight. That’s just a huge component of any team.’’
ORLANDOMAGIC.COM: A couple of your young guys, Elfrid Payton and Aaron Gordon, are eligible for their contract extensions. How do you approach that and how much do you need those two players to make another huge jump this season?
JEFF WELTMAN: “I won’t speak publicly about free-agency issues about our own players. We’re in contact with their agents and if something gets done, that’s great. If not, that’s great too. I’m really eager to get to know them as basketball players. I’ve gotten to know them a little, but they are two sensational kids who are extremely talented and their hearts are in the right place in terms of being just about winning. How does that look out on the court and in our locker room? I’m eager to see how that works, but I’m happy to have them here and I’m eager to see how they develop this season.’’
ORLANDOMAGIC.COM: You have a solid veteran core with Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier, Bismack Biyombo, Terrence Ross and D.J. Augustin. I know that you have been around a few of those guys before, but what are your impressions of that returning core of veterans?
JEFF WELTMAN: “The thing that excites me about that veteran core is that they are young veterans. There aren’t any old heads on this team, really. We talk about Vooch as a veteran, but I look at him as a developing, young player. Guys like T-Ross, they are young players. I would argue personally that they haven’t even hit their primes yet.
“One of the more exciting things about this team is that good blend of youth and experience and even the experience still has growth ahead of it.’’
ORLANDOMAGIC.COM: What’s been your advice to rookie forward Jonathan Isaac? How do you ensure his development while keeping the focus fully on winning?
JEFF WELTMAN: “Jonathan is a unique player and a unique kid and he has a lot of gifts on and off the court. I don’t want him to feel the weight of the world on his shoulders. I don’t want him to feel that he’s going to be made or broken in one year. It’s a process and I want him progress and feel that he’s getting better and growing into the player that he’s going to become. And I have no doubt that he’s going to become a great player, but let’s stair-step it the right way. All I’ve talked to him about is being the hardest worker and not being the best player on the team. If you become the hardest worker, be the person that you are off the court and treat everybody with respect, it will all work out for him.’’
ORLANDOMAGIC.COM: What are your goals for this Magic team? What are your thoughts about the Eastern Conference where there are two or three teams that made the playoffs last season and are now rebuilding? Do you talk or think playoffs as a goal for the Magic?
JEFF WELTMAN: “I always feel that teams that set those sort of (playoff) goals before the season are setting themselves up. In this league, you just never know what is coming at you next. For me, the goals are things that we can control. Let’s be the hardest-workers; let’s play for each other, support each other and make each other better; if we do all of those things and we stay healthy – obviously that’s a wish list – if you do all of those things, then I believe all of those other goals take care of themselves.
“I always go back to (legendary former UCLA coach) John Wooden, who never said the word `win’ and never said, `we’re going to win tonight.’ He would talk about preparing this way and that way, go through his strategy and say in timeouts that this is what we’re doing well and what we’re not doing well. Do all of that stuff and the winning kind of just takes care of itself. In this league, when you have a younger team and a team that is still blending, it’s important to keep you goals about things that you can control.’’
ORLANDOMAGIC.COM: You added Marreese Speights, who can come off the bench and give the Magic piles of points in a hurry. How much of an underrated addition was he for the team?
JEFF WELTMAN: “To have a stretch big these days, it’s a great arrow to have in your quiver. To be able to look down the bench and see a big who can spread the floor and Mo has done that at a high level.
“The other part that I love about Mo is that he was dying to be here in Orlando. Mo is a local guy and he was telling us as we were going through the (free-agent) process about how proud he’d be to put that Orlando jersey on and wear it across his chest. So I’m happy to have him here on a lot of levels.’’
ORLANDOMAGIC.COM: You have talked about how important it will be to this team having several veteran fighters in the locker room such as Arron Afflalo, Jonathon Simmons, Shelvin Mack and Speights. How much will those players set the tone for this team daily in practice and in games?
JEFF WELTMAN: “I think every team needs guys like that and I don’t think you are a successful team without guys like that. I think they’ll help the coaches because teams have to find energy. One constant talking to every coach is them saying, `Guys, we have to match their energy tonight!’ Over an 82-game season that’s sometimes easier said than done and you need those guys who are going to be fighters every night for you.’’
ORLANDOMAGIC.COM: Several elite players have gone from the Eastern Conference to the West this offseason. There could be a scenario this season where a couple of West teams with winning records miss the playoffs while a couple in the East with losing records get into the postseason. How do you think the East will stand up this season?
JEFF WELTMAN: “There’s no hiding place in the NBA. Even some of the teams that have taken a few years to turn the corner, such as Philadelphia, they could be really good. A lot of teams are getting there and we all saw what Boston did in free agency. I think the East is an extremely tough conference. It doesn’t have the Golden State Warriors in it and you can say the West is best as long as the defending champions are in it. But I’d say from top to bottom, I’d say the West is just as competitive and you’re going to have to fight every night just to stay alive.’’
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