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Magic considered past, present and future by not making move at trade deadline

In the midst of a fierce playoff race in the East, the Magic were one of only three teams in the conference not to make a move ahead of Thursday’s NBA trade deadline.

Orlando, along with the Cavaliers and the Bulls, evaluated its options but ultimately chose to stand pat and stick with its current group for the final 30 games of the regular season.

The team’s decision was calculated and considered both the present and the future of the franchise while being cognizant of what it’s already gone through to get to this point, Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman told the Sentinel on Thursday night just hours after the deadline passed.

“We had objectives but we also had parameters that we wanted to stay within, so we were realistic about our ability to achieve those objectives because we’re at a place where we are going to adhere to our plan. We’re going to keep in mind the big picture, where we are in our curve and we are very reluctant right now to do anything that’s going to compromise the ceiling in the future for our team,” Weltman said before the Magic dismantled the Spurs with a 16-point victory at Kia Center.

“Knowing that, we kind of pursued some targets that we thought would be realistic within those parameters and I can’t really tell you how serious we were because it takes two teams to do a deal,” he added. “I can tell you that we had some lengthy conversations with some teams — maybe some traction, maybe not — and at the end of the day, if a deal doesn’t get done, were they serious? Not for me to say. Maybe you’d have to ask the other team.

“That being said, we’re very happy with where we are right now from a big-picture standpoint. We weren’t going to be overly aggressive, we weren’t going to get out of our comfort zone and we certainly weren’t going to deviate from our plan.”

Weltman has good reason to be pleased with where the Magic stand entering Saturday’s home matchup with Chicago (Bally Sports Florida, 7).

Through 52 games, Orlando (28-24) sits in eighth place in the East and just half a game back of the sixth-seeded Pacers (29-24) as of Friday. If the Magic can pass Indiana down the stretch of the season, Jamahl Mosley’s squad would avoid the Play-In Tournament and reach the first round of the playoffs.

Orlando is closer to the sixth seed than it is to the ninth in the East. As of Friday, the Bulls held the second-to-last spot for the Play-In and were three games behind the Magic, who won their 28th game on Thursday in their 52nd outing of the season.

The Magic did not record their 28th victory last season until March 11 — in their 68th game.

Beede’s Breakdown: How Magic handled business against Spurs, Victor Wembanyama

Of course, the team still has its flaws. Orlando sits near the bottom of the league in 3-point percentage (34.8%) and struggles playing from behind late — the Magic are 5-23 when trailing after the third quarter.

But Orlando’s defense is elite. Its 111.6 defensive rating ranks fifth league-wide and the Magic are 13-1 when allowing less than 100 points.

It’s part of the reason why Weltman and Orlando’s front office wanted to see this group through the end of the season rather than make a change for a short-term solution.

“Our fans know what we’re doing and hopefully they like what we’re doing,” Weltman said. “The reason that we’re a few games over .500 right now is because we have good, young players. It’s paramount for us to allow them to develop.

“We have to give them the opportunity to grow and the opportunity to really experience what a playoff drive is all about. It’s going to change them, make them better, make them more serious and give them a layer of understanding that you just can’t have unless you go through it. For us to push our team maybe a game or two further with a temporary fix just doesn’t make sense to the big picture of what we’re trying to do.”

While the majority of teams in the East made moves to address certain needs, Weltman didn’t feel added pressure to get a trade done because, he said, “We know what our own timeline is.”

By not making a trade, the franchise held onto its draft capital that includes eight first-round picks and 12 second-rounders through the next seven drafts (2024-30) and preserved its projected cap space (roughly $45 million) for the offseason that could allow the Magic to make a move when the time is right.

“Obviously, those teams are different places than we are,” he said. “We want to get to a place where we’re pushing up chips, where we’re spending draft picks, spending cap space. … We want to get to that place but we have to be responsible to do it right and not skip steps. We like where we are and we worked really hard to be where we are.

“We’ve had to stay disciplined, and it’s very easy to take your eye off the ball and all of a sudden you’ve spent draft capital, or cap space, or you’ve stepped on the development of some of the young players who you believe in and you can very easily find yourself back in the middle. We’re trying not to do that.”

The road ahead should be easier for the Magic.

After facing the fifth-toughest schedule in the league during January (according to NBA.com) when the Magic went 6-10 while missing key pieces to their rotation due to injuries, Orlando owns the “weakest” remaining strength of schedule (per Tankathon.com) to close out the season.

Although no wins are guaranteed in the NBA, a schedule that includes more home games (18) than road (12) and features 10 matchups against teams below .500 should help boost the Magic come April and the start of the postseason.

“Now’s the time for us to let these guys show us what they’re about and we’re excited about it,” Weltman said.

Email Jason Beede at jbeede@orlandosentinel.com or follow him on X, known as Twitter, at @therealBeede.