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Magic’s Jeff Weltman excited about draft, says team will seek ‘best players’ available

Magic’s Jeff Weltman excited about draft, says team will seek ‘best players’ available
Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman will oversee his third NBA draft with the team. (Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/Orlando Sentinel)

As Orlando Magic president of operations Jeff Weltman prepares for his third NBA draft with the organization, his approach remains the same.

Seek out the best players available.

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For Weltman, the draft criteria also includes what kind of person the Magic will be getting. Character will be a factor in who is selected.

Weltman spoke with reporters Monday morning during a media session ahead of Thursday’s 2019 NBA draft.

“For us, we’ll approach this as we always do, looking for the best player that we can add to our team, and the best person, someone who cares about his teammates, who cares first and foremost about winning,” he said. “Those are the sorts of guys we are looking for.”

Unlike the past two drafts when they picked sixth, the Magic are not in a lottery slot for the first round. They will choose 16th, a position that widens the draft prospect pool. But Weltman likes the work his staff has done in identifying players who can make an impact with his team.

“We’re very excited about our draft spot,” he said.

In addition, the Magic could enter next season without leading scorer and rebounder Nikola Vucevic and super sixth man Terrence Ross as both are set to become unrestricted free agents. They also have some positions locked in with returning players, such as Jonathan Isaac and Aaron Gordon at the forward spots.

Still, Weltman said the Magic won’t draft from a positional need standpoint.

“We’ll seek out the best player, the player that most identifies with our goals as an organization and the most talented player,” he said. “I think that if you’re just seeking to add a certain position, you may be limiting your choices, and we don’t want to do that.”

Bamba making strides, Fultz back in Orlando

Aside from the draft, Weltman said the summer rehabilitation work of center Mohamed Bamba and guard Markelle Fultz is going well.

Bamba missed the last 35 games of the regular season and the team’s first-round playoff series with a stress fracture in his left tibia. He avoided surgery and the Magic utilized therapy and conditioning to rehab the injury.

All signs point to Bamba being ready for next season, which could be even more crucial for the Magic if Vucevic leaves via free agency. On Saturday, Bamba was at the AdventHealth Practice Facility getting in some pick-and-roll, post-up and shooting work.

“Mo’s off to a very good summer,” Weltman said of Bamba.

Fultz, meanwhile, hasn’t played since November 2018 as he continues to work his way back from the thoracic-outlet-syndrome issue in his right shoulder. The Magic acquired Fultz in a trade-deadline deal with the 76ers that sent Jonathon Simmons, along with two draft picks, to Philadelphia.

Fultz is now in Orlando working with Magic coaches and staff, according to Weltman.

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“I won’t drill down on details, but [he] continues to make progress and he’s here with our coaches and we’re very excited about where he is right now,” Weltman said.

Raptors show the way

It’s natural for Weltman to feel a small amount of pride after watching the Toronto Raptors capture the league title by beating the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. After all, he spent four seasons as an executive with the Toronto Raptors, including the 2016-17 season as their general manger, before coming to Orlando.

But more importantly, the Raptors represent what thorough player evaluation and development can do for an organization.

The Raptors won the NBA title without a lottery pick on their roster — not even Kawhi Leonard, arguably the best player in the league. However, the Raptors did use lottery picks to acquire players who helped them win it all.

DeMar DeRozan, who was taken ninth by Toronto in the 2009 draft, was part of the package sent to San Antonio for Leonard during the offseason. Jonas Valanciunas was selected fifth overall by the Raptors in the 2011 draft, and he was sent to the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for veteran center Marc Gasol in a trade-deadline deal. Gasol’s skills on defense only strengthened the best part of the Raptors’ game.

In addition, rising star forward Pascal Siakam was taken 27th in the 2016 draft, and all-star point guard Kyle Lowry was selected 26th by the Grizzlies in 2006. Backup point guard Fred VanVleet wasn’t even drafted; he signed to play in the NBA Summer League and wound up earning a roster spot.

Weltman said the Raptors excelled in turning players other teams coveted into players they needed.

“Every team is built differently, and obviously part of what you want to do is draft players who will hold value and that other teams want. And that’s what they [Raptors] were able to do this year,” he said. “They were able to turn some of those guys that other teams wanted into players that could help them move the needle, even though they were already kind of a good team.”

With the draft, the Magic, as well as other teams, have the opportunity to do the same.

“That’s why this part of the year is so exciting. And that’s why I always say we want to draft the best player,” Weltman said.

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