We sat down with Lakeland Magic Team President Shelly Wilkes to talk about her role with the team, the changes going on in the NBA G League, and what the team brings to Lakeland.

Portaits by Dan Austin

The Lakelander: We understand the G League has a vision of being a similar system as the Minor League system for baseball. So, what is the number-one goal for the Lakeland Magic?

Shelly Wilkes: The number-one goal of the G League team is to develop your players. It’s a great opportunity to grow those people for the next level. And though you don’t want them to leave, you do want them to leave, right? You want to give them as much opportunity as possible to take their skills to the next level.

   For instance, we used our team as an opportunity to give Wes Iwundu and Khem Birch, who are both Orlando Magic rostered players — they were assigned to the G League team for quite a bit of the early season — a lot of playing time, a lot of confidence, a lot of wins here for Lakeland, and now they are both getting playing time in Orlando. That’s your ultimate goal.

TL: Can you give us an understanding of how the rosters work, who plays where, and who works on the basketball end of things?

SW: Our GM is Anthony Parker and Assistant GM is Adetunji Adedipe, who work very closely with Orlando Magic GM John Hammond and President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman. They, along with the coaching staffs, decide who gets assigned where, and who is going to be on our roster. Anthony and Adetunji decide the makeup of every other one of the positions.

   Our roster is made up of 10 G League players who are under G League contract, and all those contracts actually live with the NBA. So every G League player is hired by the NBA.

   Then what fills out our roster are two “two-way” players, and we currently have one spot filled with Jamel Artis. Two-way players can spend up to 45 days with the Orlando club, and the contracts are a little bit heftier.

   And finally, the last three positions, for a total of 15 total opportunities, are three potential players on assignment from Orlando.

   We work closely with Anthony and Adetunji to book player appearances, to do media, when we do autographs after the game, so there’s a lot of communication back and forth, specifically with PR.

TL: Speaking of the “two-way” players, do you think that kind of contract is helping to compete with some of the international leagues that are paying big salaries?

SW: Your two-way contracts definitely make a little bit more. They are treated very similar to a G League player when they’re with the G League team. But they do have a higher contract, higher salaries. That contract is paid by the Orlando Magic, so they are signed on as a two-way player. It’s not a guaranteed contract and is year to year.

   When you are playing overseas, there are NBA scouts in all the leagues, so you could be seen. But you have a higher likelihood of being seen here. The G League gives you an opportunity to be noticed, to make an impact, be close to family and friends, and be under that NBA umbrella.

   The G League is starting to gain a lot of clout. One, the name. Gatorade came on as the naming rights partner of the league. We’ve positioned ourselves with Nike and the overall NBA agreement, and now there’s some distribution on television that’s much broader than it used to be.

TL: So this new concept of the two-way player means that a player cannot sign with
another team now?

SW: Correct, and that’s the point. Previous to the two-way contracts which just got instituted this year, a player on our G League team that we’ve developed, invested in, they could get signed by anybody. So the two-way protects (up to) two guys on your roster from getting plucked by another team.

TL: Why should someone come out to see the Lakeland Magic?

SW: The Lakeland Magic is an opportunity for fans here locally to experience NBA basketball. You’re going to have the game entertainment of an NBA arena. There’s something for everyone.

   It’s a family-friendly experience. We have bounce houses and pop-a-shots during the game. We have a VIP experience with all-inclusive food and beverage. We have great timeout entertainment and halftime entertainment. We allow local groups to perform on court, so if you have a dance company or a choir, there are opportunities for them to come perform.

   It’s a very affordable night out, with tickets as low as $10 a game and season tickets as low as $8 a game. And it’s a really cool opportunity to come see the newly renovated RP Funding Center.