The Orlando Magic introduced former Toronto Raptors general manager Jeff Weltman as the team’s newly hired president of basketball operations in a press conference Wednesday morning.
Hiring an experienced candidate to lead the team back to prominence was a top priority for the franchise and they appear to have done just that as Weltman has 28 years of experience in the NBA under his belt.
Immediately following the conclusion of the regular season, the Magic fired general manager Rob Hennigan after missing the playoffs in a franchise-worse five consecutive seasons. During that stretch, the team posted the second-worst record in the NBA at 132-278.
“Jeff brings tremendous experience in a team-first approach to our president of basketball operations position,” Magic CEO Alex Martins said. “He’s a strategic leader. He has great relationships in our league and our industry and will bring a collaborative approach to our basketball operations leadership.”
Weltman joined the Raptors’ staff in 2013 and helped shape a roster that has made the playoffs in each of the past four seasons. It will be the first time that he’s led a front office, but he has been considered a top candidate for the position for several years now. He jumped at the opportunity to join the Magic.
“I wasn’t looking to leave Toronto,” Weltman said. “I was in a great situation. I have a wonderful owner. I was working for a dear friend. My girls were growing up in a good city. It was all there and I’ve never been one to be greedy. I’ve always said, ‘If you’ve got it good, why look for too much?’ But then the Orlando Magic opportunity came along and the Orlando Magic opportunity to me is one of the elite situations in the NBA. [There is] so much here to win with. A history of winning and a history of winning with the present owners.”
Less than 24 hours after officially taking the position, Weltman hired John Hammond to serve as the next general manager of the Magic. Hammond previously served as the Milwaukee Bucks’ general manager for the past nine seasons. He helped guide the Bucks to the playoffs in four of those nine seasons.
Adding Weltman and Hammond to its front office looks to be a perfect match for the Magic as the two have several years of experience working together.
Hammond previously hired Weltman in 2008 to be the Bucks’ assistant general manager where they stayed paired together for the next five seasons before Weltman joined the Raptors. The two also spent a year together with the Detroit Pistons during the 2007-08 season.
After working under Hammond for five seasons in Milwaukee, the decision to hire Hammond was an easy one for Weltman.
“I’ve known John forever,” Weltman said. “I’ve worked with him. I can’t say enough good things about John Hammond. … John is a talented guy. He’s an amazing human being. It wasn’t a thought of would he be the right guy, the only thought was, ‘Could I actually get this guy? Is it actually realistic?’ The fact that I’m able to bring him here is really thrilling to me.”
Throughout his press conference on Wednesday, Weltman reiterated that everyone on staff will have a say in personnel decisions — regardless of title. He wants to assemble the best basketball people with the most diverse opinions for his department and will encourage everyone to voice their opinions.
He believes that will lead to the right decision for adding the right players.
“It could be anyone in the room that wins an argument,” Weltman said. “The first sign of a bad boss is that he wins every argument. I don’t want to be that guy. I want to understand where everyone is coming from. I believe if we have talented guys working together, we’ll make the right decision.”
As for which personnel and players Weltman will seek to add on, he isn’t quite ready to offer an answer yet. He is going to have a meeting with head coach Frank Vogel to discuss the roster in further detail to get a better understanding of where his team stands. For now, he just offered up an idea on what attributes a future Magic player might have.
“I want someone who is talented and who plays for his teammates,” Weltman said. “[It’s] simple. That’s it. If we can do that, the rest is on us. We have to bring the best out of that player. If we can get enough of those guys, I’m confident that we’ll build something special.”
With the NBA Draft now less than a month away, Weltman and the rest of his staff will need to work quickly in the coming weeks to formulate a game plan for the offseason. Interim general manager Matt Lloyd led the team’s efforts in prospect workouts since Hennigan was fired and will be meeting with Weltman to fill him in on that process.
Over the past couple of weeks, the Magic have had prospects like Dennis Smith Jr., Ike Anigbogu, T.J. Leaf, Ivan Rabb, Kyle Kuzma, Peter Jok, Frank Mason III and Josh Hart among others in for private workouts at the team’s facility in Orlando.
Next month’s draft represents a big opportunity for the team to add depth, Weltman said. The Magic currently hold the sixth, 25th, 33rd and 35th selections in the draft. Many believe this draft class is one of the deepest in recent years and could give the team a chance to add quality players that can make an impact.
Shortly after the draft, free agency will begin and represent another opportunity in which the Magic can improve its roster. As things currently stand, the Magic have a projected $16 million available in cap space to use to sign a potential free agent. Of course, that number could change should a trade occur between now and the start of free agency.
With Magic fans desperately clinging to each move the franchise makes in hopes of a turnaround, Wednesday’s press conference could offer a glimpse of hope they have long been waiting for.
As Weltman said himself, it’s now on his shoulders to make that change happen.
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