ORLANDO, Fla. — Jeff Weltman was perfectly content as the general manager of the Toronto Raptors two weeks ago.
He was working alongside someone he considers a close friend, the ownership was first rate and his family was enjoying life in Toronto. A call from Orlando Magic president Alex Martins, however, convinced the veteran NBA executive to step out of his comfort zone and accept the challenging task of rebuilding a struggling franchise.
Weltman was hired this week as the Magic’s new president of basketball operations and Wednesday was formally introduced by the team.
"I was not looking to leave Toronto, I was in a great situation," said Weltman, who had been with the Raptors the last four seasons and was promoted to GM last September. "But then the Orlando Magic opportunity came along and it’s an opportunity to me that is one of the most unique situations in the NBA."
Whether it is unique might be up for debate, but it is among the most challenging situations in the league. The Magic haven’t reached the playoffs in five straight seasons and the lack of star talent on the roster and limited salary cap money doesn’t bode well to quickly improve things.
But Weltman, 52, and his collaborative approach look to turn around the franchise with hard work and smart decisions. He has the sixth overall pick in next month’s NBA draft along with the 25th, 33rd and 35th selections.
"The team is going to be what it is," Weltman said when asked for an anticipated timeline to turn the franchise around. "We are going to make it as good as we can, as quick as we can."
Weltman, a 28-year NBA executive, has already made his first major move in hiring another NBA veteran executive in John Hammond to be the Magic’s general manager. Weltman was able to lure Hammond away from Milwaukee, where he was the Bucks GM.
The two have a long history with Weltman working under Hammond in Milwaukee and Detroit. Together they bring a combined 63 years of front office experience to the Magic, giving the Magic their strongest one-two leadership punch in franchise history.
The duo is a complete change from five years ago when Martins hired 30-year-old Rob Hennigan to be the Magic GM and lead the franchise. Hennigan had little front office experience, which may have played a part in Orlando’s roster constantly being remade and a revolving door of coaches before Frank Vogel was hired last year.
"I learned from that experience," Martins said of the Hennigan hire. "And yes, we did take a different approach. I’m confident that this approach is going to have a much different outcome, and is going to be a lot more successful and is going to get this organization back on track."
Vogel, who went 29-53 in his first season with the Magic, is very much a part of Weltman’s future plans. They had not had a chance to sit down and talk in-depth as of Wednesday morning but that is high on Weltman’s to-do list.
"I think the Orlando Magic has an excellent head coach and I can’t wait to begin working with him and understand where he is coming from because he knows the team and I don’t," said Weltman, who is leading his own NBA operations department for the first time. "I need to do a lot of listening right now."