Denton: Nelson, Magic Thrilled to be Back

By John Denton
December 2, 2011

ORLANDO – Orlando Magic guard Jameer Nelson slowly pulled his tricked-out orange Dodge Charger up to Amway Center’s security system Thursday morning, scanned the index finger on his hand and momentarily held his breath.

When the player’s entrance door slowly rose, Nelson cracked a wide smile and a sigh of relief. Reentering a place that Nelson regards as a second home, Nelson knew there was some normalcy back in his life and there were concrete signs that the NBA’s five-month lockout was lifting.

NBA players were allowed back into team facilities on Thursday, but not yet allowed to have contact with coaches or team personnel. For Nelson, just getting back into the facility, working out on the Magic’s practice court and seeing some familiar faces delighted him.

``It’s a little weird, but it’s fun to be around the guys all at one time, see the training staff and the guys that we are allowed to talk to,’’ Nelson said as several of his teammates got in conditioning work and shooting practice. ``I just need to get acclimated again and get some testing done and some measurements. I’m in pretty good shape. Guys stayed in shape. We have a great group that is focused on what they need to do for the team to get better.’’

The NBA’s Players Association still has to reform as a union and then approve the tentative agreement reached last week in New York. That is expected to come in the next few days. Training camps are scheduled to open on Dec. 9 and will be followed by the Magic playing two exhibition games against the Miami Heat. The 66-game regular season will tipoff on Dec. 25 with an entirely revamped schedule.

``It was a long, long break,’’ said Magic power forward Ryan Anderson, pausing several times for effect. ``It was too long. But it’s great to be back in the Magic’s gym and it’s great for the doors to be back open. We’ve spent so many hours in (the practice facility) that once you step out onto the court again you feel back home. So today was a really good feeling to just kind of get that feeling back.’’

Magic President Alex Martins, President of Basketball Operations Otis Smith and head coach Stan Van Gundy were in their offices on Thursday, but none were allowed to have contact with the players until the agreement is finalized. Magic guard J.J. Redick brought an assistant with him to rebound his shots and found it strange that the NBA would allow players back into facilities, but not let them meet and greet coaches.

``It was a weird feeling being back and it still feels like at any moment that they are going to kick me out,’’ Redick said. ``But it was exciting just coming here today. … I do think it’s a silly rule to allow us to come and use the facilities but not have any contact with the coaching staff or have anybody period to even rebound for us. It is a horribly inefficient way to work out when you don’t have somebody rebounding the ball and passing to you.’’

In addition to Nelson, Redick and Anderson, other Magic players at the facility on Thursday were Brandon Bass, Hedo Turkoglu and Daniel Orton. Nelson looked significantly trimmer and more muscular, while Redick and Anderson said they stayed in shape by working out five days a week during the lockout. Nelson said the team got together at several functions during the lockout and he expects that his teammates will be ready to go by the time training camp opens in eight days.

``We did some things together whether it was working out or just seeing one another. Outside of working out you need that camaraderie on and off the court. It was good being around the guys,’’ Nelson said. ``I don’t know when all of the guys will get here because some guys are out of town and some guys have some things to button up where they are living. We just have to get in and get ourselves acclimated and focused as a team.’’

Van Gundy, who spent his downtime visiting with college coaches and attending coaching clinics, is hoping that because he has a veteran team with several returning pieces that the Magic won’t be affected terribly by the shortened training camp. But he does think the basketball could be ragged at times early in the season because of the extended time off.

``No question that the quality of play won’t be what is usually expected at a NBA level early in the season,’’ Van Gundy said. ``We haven’t played together in seven months and haven’t been in contact with guys. Our guys are usually good about getting here in September and being in great shape before training camp. Then, in camp we go at it hard. So that’s an eight-week process shortened to two weeks. There’s just no way the quality can be as good at the start of the season. But it won’t take long for it to come around.’’

Magic franchise center Dwight Howard wasn’t on hand at the arena on Thursday, but he was a topic of conversation among several players already. Howard, an all-NBA center for a fourth straight time last season, can be a free agent at the end of this season and the speculation about his future is already running rampant.

Redick said the Magic will do their best not to let Howard’s status distract them this season, but the topic will be unavoidable most days.

``As a player he has to make the decision for himself,’’ Redick said. ``Dwight has meant a lot to this organization and the community as well. It’s tough right now, but he’s going to have to answer those questions and make those decisions. … It will be a distraction to put it bluntly. Not to use a double negative, but it can’t not be a distraction. I hope that it won’t distract from how we play. But I’m sure there will be at least one question per day from here on out about Dwight’s future.’’

  John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. John has covered the Magic since 1997 and recently authored ``All You Can Be’’ with Magic center Dwight Howard. E-mail John at jd41898@aol.com.