By John Denton May 23, 2017
ORLANDO – As the NBA’s reigning Executive of the Year in 2013, Masai Ujiri could pretty much call his shots when he was hired as the Toronto Raptors’ President of Basketball Operations/GM four seasons ago. Ultimately, he issued one major demand: Jeff Weltman had to be hired to work alongside of him in the front office.
Ujiri got his wish and he and Weltman helped guide the Raptors to unparalleled success over the past four seasons, racking up four playoff appearances, three playoff series victories and a spot in the 2016 Eastern Conference Finals.
``I told them that this guy is a must-have for me,’’ Ujiri recalled on Tuesday. ``(Weltman) gave me my first job in the NBA, so we have more than a working relationship. He’s a friend and a brother and he’s close to my family. And in terms of work, he was the guy who I always targeted as a must-get in Toronto.’’
No one was happier that Weltman was officially named the Orlando Magic’s President of Basketball Operations on Tuesday than Ujiri. The two of them worked together in Denver and Toronto, and Ujiri is predicting now that Weltman will find big-time success in Orlando while leading the Magic organization.
``Jeff has great experience, he’s paid his dues and he has a very unique basketball mind,’’ Ujiri said. ``He’s just a basketball person. His dad was a GM and his mom worked in the NBA office as an executive, so he comes from a basketball background and basketball is his life. He’s a quick thinker and has great instincts, but he’s just a basketball guy who is open and creative. I think he will be phenomenal in his role in Orlando.’’
Weltman made his first hire with the Magic on Tuesday afternoon, landing veteran executive John Hammond as Orlando’s new GM. Weltman has 28 years of NBA experience, while Hammond has worked in the NBA 26 years – 15 of which have resulted in playoff appearances. Hammond, formerly an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Clippers, the vice president of basketball operations in Detroit and the GM in Milwaukee the past nine years, worked alongside of Weltman in all three of those stops. The two of them bring to Orlando a track record of success and a wealth of experience – something that should come in handy while trying to rebuild a Magic franchise that has missed the playoffs each of the past five seasons.
``That’s how you build a program. They will do a great job, I have no doubt,’’ Ujiri said of the Weltman/Hammond duo in Orlando. ``They have the experience of working with each other before and now again there will be that chemistry of knowing what to expect. The roles might be swapped, but it won’t matter and I know Jeff and John are (selfless) like that.’’
Weltman, whose father Harry was a GM of the St. Louis Spirits of the defunct ABA and Cleveland Cavaliers of the NBA, has worked for the Los Angeles Clippers, Denver Nuggets, Pistons, Bucks and Raptors. Ujiri, who got his first break in the NBA with the Magic as an unpaid international scout in 2002, got a strong endorsement a year later when Weltman – then the player personnel director for the Nuggets – recommended him to GM Kiki Vandeweghe for a scouting job.
Weltman and Ujiri proved to be a dynamic team in both Denver and Toronto, helping both long-suffering franchises rise to power. Ujiri said he’s always counted on Weltman’s wisdom in making decisions about players, coaches and staff.
``I value my staff and I believe in hiring people who are smarter than myself. I think it’s important hiring really, really smart people and that’s how it always was with Jeff,’’ Ujiri said. ``He has the resume to do it, for sure, and a wealth of experience. When you can touch on all the experiences that you’ve had in this league, that always helps. The NBA is one big family when you look at it, really.
``Jeff is one who has a relationship with agents and other organizations where he’s worked,’’ Ujiri continued. ``I was just talking to (Nuggets chairman) Josh Kronke this morning and right away he was like, `I’m so happy for Jeff!’ Everywhere Jeff has been that experience has built up into a wealth of great knowledge for him.’’
It should come as no surprise that when Weltman was trying to get the Magic job that one of the people he talked to most for advice was Ujiri. And after Weltman secured the Orlando position, he and his former boss in Toronto joked about what it will be like going against one another when potentially trying to execute trades.
``We’ve always looked for a long time to lean on each other. I don’t like to say that he left, but he’s family for me and he’ll do great in Orlando,’’ Ujiri noted. ``He’s going to be phenomenal for the (Magic) and he’ll do business the right way. That’s just who Jeff is. I wish him all the best except for when they play the Raptors.’’
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