Jeff Weltman

Southeast Notes: Artificial Intelligence, Beal, Hornets, Hawks

The Magic, like every other NBA team, didn’t have a chance to scout prospects in person for most of this year. But Orlando has one tool at their disposal that other teams don’t, writes Josh Robbins of The Athletic: an Artificial Intelligence system called AutoStats.

AutoStats works similarly to the tracking program Second Spectrum, but without requiring the same specialized set-up, instead working off a basic broadcast to compile physical data and analyze it. Because of an agreement reached with the team in 2019, the Magic have exclusive rights to the technology.

It helps us get a better read on everything that the naked eye may miss,” said President of Basketball Ops Jeff Weltman. “It’s very powerful information. It’s what drives most of NBA analytics. So to have the next best thing applied to colleges, where it’s typically unavailable to most teams, we believe that is a significant competitive advantage.”

How it will effect the Magic’s draft decision-making process remains to be seen.

We have more from around the Southeast Division:

  • In the view of David Aldridge of The Athletic, it’s time for either Bradley Beal or the Wizards to be the bad guy and throw in the towel on this partnership. Aldridge contends that there’s no realistic path for Beal to contention as long as he stays in Washington, and despite his continued loyalty to the franchise he’s been with since he was 19, competing at the highest level is still a priority. Aldridge touches on the reported interest from the Warriors and Raptors, and adds that a Beal trade would almost certainly necessitate moving Russell Westbrook as well.
  • The Hornets held a pre-draft workout for center Day’Ron Sharpe today, per a team PR tweet. Sharpe is considered a fringe first/second-round pick, and though the Hornets only have two very late second-round picks, it’s possible they could consider a move into the first half of the second round to try to address their glaring hole at center.
  • The Hawks have hired Steve Gansey to be the head coach of their G League affiliate, the College Park Skyhawks, reports Chris Kirschner of The Athletic. Gansey spent the past five seasons as the head coach of the Fort Wayne Mad Ants.

Southeast Notes: Collins, Hawks, Magic, Hornets

After Hawks power forward John Collins opted to not accept Atlanta’s four-year, $90MM contract extension offer during the 2020 offseason, opinions were split on what he could fetch in restricted free agency ahead of the 2020/21 season. As an athletic jump-shooting big man who still appears to have room to grow, Collins now appears set to be one of the top available free agents this summer, opines Chris Kirschner of The Athletic.

“The couple of seasons I had before might not have been viewed as winning and empty stats,” Collins told Kirschner. “I don’t know if I wanted to prove to anyone anything other than versatility and playing basketball at a high level. I wanted to show that I could play at a high level and add winning to an organization in more ways than just one. I feel like I’ve proven that. I’m pleased with myself and my ability to help the team win and show my ability to be versatile.”

Kirschner writes that the Hawks should ensure that they re-sign Collins, who proved to be a crucial component of the club that took the eventual-champion Bucks to six games in the 2021 Eastern Conference Finals. Kirschner projects that a four-year, $110MM deal could satisfy both Collins and Atlanta.

There’s more out of the Southeast Division:

  • The Hawks have announced some finalized coaching staff hires ahead of the 2021/22 season, according to a team press release. Joe Prunty, most recently an assistant with the Suns, and Jamelle McMillan, most recently an assistant with the Pelicans, are the new additions under head coach Nate McMillan. Prunty and Jamelle McMillan were reported to be possibilities for Atlanta earlier this month.
  • Magic president Jeff Weltman indicated that Orlando has had conversations about trading up or down in the upcoming 2021 draft, per Josh Robbins of The Athletic (Twitter link). “I think trading up is always difficult, and it’s always difficult the higher you’re talking [about] in the draft,” Weltman said. “I can tell you that we’ve had a lot of discussions both ways, up and down. And it’s not easy to get those deals done.” The Magic currently have the Nos. 5 and 8 selections in the first round of Thursday’s draft.
  • Hornets president of basketball operations Mitch Kupchak has suggested that Charlotte will select the best player available with the No. 11 pick in Thursday’s draft, writes Jonathan M. Alexander of the Charlotte Observer. Though upgrading the center position appears to be the team’s most pressing need, the team is open to all possibilities. “We don’t know what the future holds for [free agent centers Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo],” Kupchak said. “Do they want to come back here? I think they do. And then there is a marketplace that has to be considered.” Kupchak conceded that the team could use help at the five spot. “So if you just look at a depth chart, it’s clear to see … there’s a need there.” He cautioned that the draft may not be the route the Hornets ultimately go when it comes to improving at center. “There aren’t too many centers in the draft. We’re not going to hunt a center.”

Eastern Notes: Holiday, LaVine, Hawks, Magic

The trade that brought Jrue Holiday to Milwaukee helped the Bucks reach the Finals. Holiday has struggled in the first two games of the series but Giannis Antetokounmpo is confident his teammate turn things around as the series shifts to Milwaukee, Tim Bontemps of ESPN writes.

“No matter what’s going on, you’ve got to stay aggressive and you cannot get in your feelings. It’s hard not to,” Antetokounmpo said. “You know, NBA Finals, 20,000 people booing you and all that, it’s kind of hard. … If there’s a game that you’re 3-for-12 or whatever the case might be and you can rebound the ball or get a steal or do something else to help the team win, that’s what it’s all about right now. I think he understands that. I know he’s going to be there when we need him the most and I don’t worry about it.”

Holiday shot 11-for-35 from the field during the two games in Phoenix.

We have more from the Eastern Conference:

  • Zach LaVine will discuss a contract extension with the Bulls soon and he anticipates a positive outcome, Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun Times tweets. LaVine will make $19.5MM next season and then is due to become an unrestricted free agent. LaVine is currently with Team USA training for the Olympics.
  • On the surface, Jamahl Mosley won’t have a lot of pressure as the new head coach of the rebuilding Magic — provided that he finalizes an agreement — but he’ll face some obstacles, Josh Robbins of The Athletic writes. The current roster doesn’t have a clear No. 1 offensive option and that could create some chemistry issues. In the same piece, Robbins reveals that president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman and GM John Hammond are expected to receive contract extensions. Both have one year remaining on their deals and the length of their new contracts will likely coincide with Mosley’s deal.
  • Now that he’s had the interim tag removed, Hawks coach Nate McMillan knows that expectations will ramp up for a team that reached the conference finals, Sarah K. Spencer of the Atlanta Journal Constitution writes. “Things just for whatever reason went right, and we had a lot of success,” he said. “We know that expectations are going to be higher for us next season. But the one thing we’ve tried to keep this team locked in on is just us. Not the outside noise and what people are saying we should be or shouldn’t be because at the beginning of the season, they weren’t saying what they’re saying now about us. So you can’t focus on that.”

Magic Notes: Lottery, Weltman, Isaac, Coaching Search

Among the teams with the best odds heading into Tuesday’s draft lottery, the Magic were the only one to fall out of the top three. Orlando slipped into the fifth spot and will have a second lottery pick after receiving the No. 8 selection from the Bulls. While president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman was disappointed with the results, he said that he’s glad to finally have some clarity on next month’s draft, as Roy Parry of The Orlando Sentinel writes.

“I’ll look at it now as we have a lot of work to do, and we get to put a finer point on the work,” Weltman said. “So we kind of are looking just to put this day behind us and really drill down on the two picks that we have now. Knowing that we have two top-10 picks, that part of it’s very exciting.

“And then the other part is the draft, and it very seldom works out in the way that you prognosticate it. You look back on pretty much any draft, and it doesn’t go that way so it’s our job to find the players in the draft and we will. Now that we know where we’re picking and how many picks we’ll have, we’ll be able to kind of get to the next layer of that.”

There’s more from Orlando:

  • In the same story, Parry suggests the team may try to package one of the selections and possibly a veteran such as Gary Harris or Terrence Ross in an effort to move up. “We always explore all options and it’ll be interesting to kind of start to engage with teams (with the Magic) having two top-10 picks,” Weltman said. “Sometimes it ends up in deals that get done and sometimes it’s a lot of close but no calls. So we’ll see how that goes but we will be busy and the busyness starts with evaluating these two draft picks.”
  • Injured forward Jonathan Isaac shared some encouraging news in a recent appearance on The Sixth Man Show podcast (hat tip to Philip Rossman-Reich of Orlando Magic Daily). Isaac missed the entire 2020/21 season with a torn ACL and there’s still not a definite timetable for him to return, but he believes he’s making progress. “I’m turning the corner,” he said. “It’s like every day I feel like I’m moving better and I can do more. I’m like a kid in the candy story wanting to run around and do so much. I feel good. I’m getting better every day.”
  • In the search to replace Steve Clifford, the Magic front office wants someone with previous head-coaching experience, Marc Stein of The New York Times writes in his latest newsletter. Lakers assistant Jason Kidd and Clippers assistant Kenny Atkinson are two candidates that Stein has heard mentioned frequently.

Southeast Notes: Bradley, Robinson, Weltman, Hawks

After Tim MacMahon of ESPN noted in a Hoop Collective Podcast appearance that the Rockets are expected to decline their $5.9MM second-year team option on the contract of guard Avery Bradley, Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel said he believes the 30-year-old guard could be a nice cost-effective fit with the Heat.

Given that the Heat dealt him to the league-worst Rockets at the deadline this season, and that Bradley’s availability (and efficacy) was significantly hampered by injuries, Winderman acknowledges that the guard may look elsewhere first. Following the trade, Bradley averaged 5.2 PPG (while shooting 31.4% from the field and 27.0% from deep), 2.3 RPG and 1.9 APG across 23.0 MPG in 17 contests with the team.

There’s more out of the Southeast Division:

  • Restricted Heat free agent Duncan Robinson has teased that he may provide his own scoop regarding his future with the franchise on his podcast The Long Shot, per Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel. The sharpshooting swingman, 27, just completed his third NBA season with Miami, who signed him as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2018 out of Michigan. He has emerged as one of the top shooters in the NBA. In 2019/20, Robinson connected on 44.6% of his 8.3 three-point attempts a night. During the ’20/21 season, Robinson made 40.8% of his 8.5 three-point tries.
  • Magic team president Jeff Weltman spoke with Dan Savage of about the upcoming draft lottery, among other topics. “We’re already in deep preparation mode in ranking players, trying to gain an understanding of how we see each guy fitting into our team, and watching a lot of video, having spirited debates, (and) start(ing) to establish tiers and ranking systems,” Weltman said. “So, it really from that end of things doesn’t change. What it will do is it will inform us of how we can more efficiently begin to work. Once we know how many picks we’ll have, where we’re picking, we can kind of put a finer point on that work. And our work will kind of turn a corner after the lottery.” 
  • The Hawks are hoping to win a game in Philadelphia for the third time in their seven-game second-round series against the Sixers, writes Sarah K. Spencer of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Should the Hawks advance today, they will face off against the Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals on Wednesday. “You have to look at that, the fact that we have won there twice in this series,” head coach Nate McMillan said. “So you should feel confident that you can win in that building. We’ve done well, I would say, in the playoffs on the road (the Hawks are 4-2 in playoff road games this season]) And I think we feel we have to play with confidence on the road, and as (star point guard Trae Young) mentioned, it’s a one-game series now.” McMillan is currently an interim head coach with the club, having replaced Lloyd Pierce during the season. His playoff run with the Hawks should bode well for a long-term future with the team.

Magic Notes: Anthony, Bacon, Bamba, Weltman

The offensive play of Magic rookie point guard Cole Anthony during the 2020/21 season proved he could be a valuable long-term addition for Orlando, writes Roy Parry of the Orlando Sentinel.

Anthony, who stepped into the role of starting point guard after Markelle Fultz tore his ACL early in the season, averaged 12.9 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 4.1 APG, and 0.6 SPG across 27.1 MPG for the year. Anthony was an inefficient shooter, with a first-season slash line of .397/.337/.832, but that’s generally par for the course with rookie guards.

Depending on where the Magic land in the upcoming draft, there is a chance that Anthony could get extended run as a starter for at least part of the 2021/22 season while Fultz recovers. He will enjoy his first true offseason with the club this season, as COVID-19 precautions precluded a Summer League and limited offseason activies last year.

There’s more out of Orlando:

  • Do-everything Magic swingman Dwayne Bacon helped stabilize the Magic amid injuries and roster churn during his first season with the club, writes Roy Parry of the Orlando Sentinel. Bacon was the sole Magic player to suit up for all 72 games for the team. Parry wonders if, thanks to the addition of rookie guard R.J. Hampton at the trade deadline and the possibility that the Magic could draft a high-upside young wing this summer, Orlando’s front office will opt to guarantee the second year of Bacon’s deal. Bacon’s limitations as an off-ball shooter could factor into this decision.
  • Magic center Mohamed Bamba finished the season on a high note, following the trade of Nikola Vucevic and the release of Khem Birch, writes Roy Parry of the Orlando Sentinel. Operating as the primary backup behind new Orlando starting center Wendell Carter Jr., Bamba exhibited intriguing flashes of his offensive upside, plus some defensive promise as a rim protector.
  • Magic team president Jeff Weltman is reluctant to speculate about how long it will take his youth-heavy rebuilding club to develop, writes Roy Parry of the Orlando Sentinel. “I don’t apply timelines,” Weltman said. “I don’t know what one person’s development is going to look like juxtaposed next to another, but I just believe that we have a lot of talent on this team, and a lot of character and a lot of guys that want to win and we have a lot of ways to add more of those guys.” Weltman will get to add some exciting new additions this offseason, with the Magic expected to net two lottery picks (their own and the Bulls’ selection, provided it does not move into the top four in the draft lottery).

Magic President Jeff Weltman Talks Trade Deadline, Future

As the 2020/21 NBA trade deadline came and went this past Thursday, no team saw the complexion of its roster change more than the Magic. Orlando traded three of its best players in Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic, ending weeks of reports and speculation about those players’ futures.

The Magic acquired a slew of draft picks and some promising young players with upside but it made clear the team was entering a rebuilding phase. In an exclusive interview with Josh Robbins of The Athletic, Magic president Jeff Weltman explained the thinking behind Orlando’s flurry of moves entering the deadline.

Weltman spoke glowingly of the players traded but emphasized the organization believes the moves were made with the best long-term plan in mind. Check out some highlights from Weltman’s comments below:

On why the Magic went in the direction of trading so many key players:

“I think it’s hard to separate the trades. We picked a new path. We picked a new direction. Vooch, as our best player, had to be a part of that decision. All of those guys are good players, and they’ve been good players for our organization and good people. But if we were going to strike out on a good path, we needed to make those moves.”

On what led to Aaron Gordon’s trade request:

“In the storm of losses and injuries and everything that our team has been facing, I think Aaron’s frustration got the best of him. He’s a very good player, and he’s a very good person. But I just think that, as many passionate, competitive people do, he kind of wears his emotions on his sleeve sometimes. I think his frustration got the best of him.”

On how head coach Steve Clifford will handle the roster overhaul:

“I have the utmost confidence that all of his coaching abilities and talents will be applied to the new direction of the team. I can tell you right now he’s working to figure out, ‘How do I organize this team so our guys can be in a position to look good?’ That’s Steve Clifford’s number-one priority, and it always is, whether we’re playing in a playoff game or we’re playing in the first game of a new rebuilding team. Steve’s going to do what he does. He’s great at it. And I don’t think these trades have any implications otherwise.”

On whether the Magic are set for the future based off Thursday’s transactions:

“I do believe that this does raise our ceiling. If you look at the way teams are historically built, generally teams that win the title are populated by elite-level players who are acquired through elite-level draft picks. So it raises the ceiling in that respect. It also raises the ceiling that we now have multiple draft picks and cap flexibility, which will better arm us to make a swing-for-the-fences trade.”

Jeff Weltman Discusses Magic’s Deadline-Day Trades

Speaking today to reporters following an eventful trade deadline, Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman said that he believed the team could be a top-four seed in the East entering the season.

That may sound bullish, but considering the 22-21 Hornets currently rank fourth in the conference, it certainly wouldn’t have been out of the question. However, after a 6-2 start, injuries decimated Orlando’s roster, ultimately forcing a change of direction (Twitter link via Keith Smith of RealGM).

As Weltman explained today, the Magic still considered trying to make win-now moves to improve this year’s roster, but when they realized that there would be more buyers than sellers, that helped guide their direction (Twitter links via Smith). The club also had to come to terms with the fact that it didn’t have a championship-level roster and had no clear path to get there with the existing core, Smith tweets.

Orlando ended up moving Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier, and Aaron Gordon in three separate deals on Thursday. Without those veterans on the roster, the 15-29 Magic, who already have the fourth-worst record in the NBA, are in position to nab a high pick in the 2021 NBA draft, which Weltman acknowledged.

You win with stars in this league. We’re in position to add talent through the draft” he said, per Smith (Twitter link). “We’re not focusing on that too much because it’s not something we have full control over. But we’re in a good position for this year’s draft.”

Here’s more from Weltman on the Magic:

  • According to Weltman, the Nuggets were initially hesitant to include R.J. Hampton in their offer for Gordon, but those talks gained traction once Denver relented (Twitter link via Roy Parry of The Orlando Sentinel). I can’t tell you how excited we are about him,” Weltman said, adding that he believes Hampton can play alongside Markelle Fultz and Cole Anthony (Twitter link via Smith).
  • Asked if he felt the Magic got a strong enough return for Vucevic, Weltman replied, “Obviously we thought we got enough, because we did the deal.” He also pointed out that the Magic were on the receiving end of the only three first-round picks that changed hands on Thursday, and said the team has received “glowing reports” on Wendell Carter (Twitter links via Smith).
  • Although the Magic valued Fournier’s Bird rights, they felt as if it didn’t make sense to trade Vucevic and Gordon while hanging onto Fournier, and decided to take the best offer available, per Weltman (Twitter link via Smith).

Southeast Notes: Magic, Hornets, Wizards, Heat

The Magic have plenty of decisions to make this offseason as the team continues to build its roster. In a new mailbag, The Athletic’s Josh Robbins reflects on how the team may look to improve its personnel.

Robbins notes that finding shooters has not been a priority in the draft for Magic president of basketball Operations Jeff Weltman and general manager John Hammond, who in recent drafts have focused instead on adding athletic, lengthy prospects.

If the Magic plan to build around point guard Markelle Fultz, Robbins opines that it would behoove the team to at least look for a shooter in 2020 free agency. Robbins also stresses the import of trades to the Magic’s offseason.

There’s more out of the Southeast Division:

  • As the Hornets look to grab a blue-chip prospect in this month’s NBA draft, Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer considers what sort of trade package could enable Charlotte to move up from the third pick in the draft.
  • With the ninth pick in the 2020 draft, the Wizards will have plenty of options at point guard. Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington and other Wizards analysts wonder if, with former All-Star John Wall on the roster, Washington should consider a player at that position, or if it would be better served looking to shore up its roster elsewhere. Wall has not played in an NBA game since December 26, 2018.
  • As we previously relayed, the Heat are doing their due diligence ahead of the November draft. The team has the No. 20 pick this year, and has extended in-person workout invitations to Texas Tech guard Jahmi’us Ramsey and Kentucky guard Immanuel Quickley.

Magic, Grizzlies, Others Address Return-To-Play Format

While every NBA team probably has at least one reason not to be thrilled with the 22-team plan and format the league has settled on for this summer’s return to play, the Magic and Grizzlies are among those who should theoretically have the biggest grievances.

[RELATED: Details on NBA’s Return-To-Play Plan]

After all, both teams had comfortable leads for the No. 8 seed when the season was suspended in March. Now they’ll have to win a play-in tournament to secure their respective spots in the postseason if they don’t hold a four-game lead on the No. 9 team in the conference after this summer’s eight “seeding games.”

Speaking to Josh Robbins of The Athletic, however, Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman wasn’t critical of the NBA’s plan. Asked multiple times if potentially putting the No. 8 seed up for grabs is fair to the Magic, Weltman was evasive, stressing that his team will try to avoid putting itself in a position where a play-in tournament is necessary, either by catching the Nets or maintaining a big cushion over the Wizards.

“I don’t really think it’s about what’s right for one team,” Weltman said. “I think the league looked at what could be the best way to proceed forward as a league, and there are 30 teams, really all with differing agendas. … There’s no sense in looking at ways to format the rest of the season. Those discussions have come and gone. Now we’re onto actions. It’s time to get ready to play and compete.”

Grizzlies president Jason Wexler also toed the company line in discussing the summer format and its impact on Memphis, as Jason Munz of The Memphis Commercial Appeal relays.

“We know how difficult it was for them to try and balance all those competing interests. From our perspective, they certainly addressed the success the team had through the first, roughly, 80 percent of the season — 65 games. And, you know, gave that some weight and credit,” Wexler said, referring to the fact that any play-in tournament would be double-elimination for the No. 8 team, compared to single-elimination for the No. 9 team. “Accordingly, we felt comfortable with what they came up with to move forward.”

No NBA team has issued a statement that doesn’t express support and respect for the decision that commissioner Adam Silver and the league had to make. However, while comments from teams like the Magic and Grizzlies have been fairly innocuous, statements from some of the bottom eight teams that will be left out of the Orlando bubble this summer have expressed more disappointment with the decision.

The Cavaliers, for instance, issued statements that mentioned their disappointment multiple times and stressed that they “would have preferred to continue playing.” The Hawks put out a press release this morning noting that “this certainly wasn’t how we hoped our season would come to an end.”

“It’s fair to say that we are disappointed that our young team will not be allowed to gain more valuable time playing together by being included in the restart of the season,” GM Travis Schlenk and head coach Lloyd Pierce said in a joint statement. “With that said, we understand and respect the countless difficult factors that entered into this decision for the league, and we realize that there are much more important things taking place in our community right now that deserve our attention.”

Ultimately, while everyone may not be thrilled with the outcome, teams recognized that Silver believed his plan was in the best interest of the league as a whole, and the results of Thursday’s Board of Governors vote reflected that — 29 of 30 teams voted in favor of the proposal, with the Trail Blazers representing the only “no” vote.