Denton: Nelson Most Respected Player in Magic Locker Room

   

Nelson, 31, has been the epitome of class and steady production in his 10 seasons with the Magic, the only professional franchise that he’s ever played for. He is just the second player in franchise history – along with Nick Anderson – to spend 10 seasons in a Magic uniform. Among active players, Nelson is tied for eighth in consecutive years with one franchise, trailing the likes of Los Angeles’ Kobe Bryant (18 years), San Antonio’s Tim Duncan (17 years) and Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki (16 years).

An unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career in 2012, Nelson could have gone elsewhere, but stuck with the Magic because he believed in the transition plan set in place by GM Rob Hennigan and head coach Jacque Vaughn. The Magic wanted Nelson to be a mentor, a role that he’s always taken seriously, and Nelson never wanted to leave Orlando. As Nelson put it recently, Magic leaders and fans believed in him when no one else in the NBA did, so why would he ever want to leave the only organization that he’s ever played for?

Nelson is so well-respected that the Magic have had preliminary talks with him about a job in the organization after his playing career is complete. His contract has no guarantees after this season, making him an even more attractive piece to a team looking to trade for a veteran point guard this season. But it’s not something that Nelson will be pushing for because, as he said, he’s fully committed to the Magic.

``I wanted to stay (back in 2012), and if I didn’t, I could have gone somewhere else because I was getting calls from other teams,’’ Nelson recalled. ``But my heart is here (with the Magic), I want to be here and I want to stay here.’’

Nelson is far more than just some ceremonial player in the twilight of his career. He came back from a sprained foot on Friday in New York and acquitted himself well with 13 points and nine assists. For the season, he’s averaging 11.8 points and 6.3 assists, a number that is tied for 14th in the NBA. He’s the franchise’s all-time leader in assists (3,126), he needs just 468 points to pass Shaquille O’Neal for fourth in scoring and he needs only 23 more games to pass former teammate Dwight Howard and move into second in games played.

And for all of the Magic records that Nelson has piled up through the years, it’s his role as a mentor and a leader that he takes the most pride in. Magic coach Jacque Vaughn knows that it’s a big benefit having a player in the locker room that buys in to the team concept and echoes his message in the locker room.

``You want people in your locker room who understand that winning in this league is not easy to do and part of that process is creating habits and pushing yourself and trying to get better every day,’’ Vaughn said. ``I think it’s innate when you play the point guard position to be able to relate to guys no matter what city or country they are from or what position they play. You have to be able to get to them, make them understand things and make them feel better.’’

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