Gordon and Payton Thrilled to be NBA Teammates

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By John Denton
July 28, 2014

ORLANDO -- Walking briskly from one gymnasium to another to work as counselors at an Orlando Magic community event, Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton had to stop and request a 20-second timeout.

Fatigued from round-the-clock offseason workouts, the rookies were battling cramps in their legs and soreness throughout their bodies. Gordon leaned forward against a wall in order to stretch out his calf muscles, while Payton drank from a water bottle and steadily twisted in hopes of finding some relief in his barking back.

Still somewhat new to this whole professional athlete thing after being first-round draft picks by the Magic in the June NBA Draft, Gordon and Payton are quickly learning that there is little to no downtime when you are in training to be a standout NBA player.

It’s only July – still two months from the start of training camp – but Gordon, Payton and a good number of their Magic teammates have been taking part in voluntary track, weightlifting and even boxing sessions sandwiched around basketball drills and nightly pick-up games. Admittedly, it’s somewhat shocking to the rookies’ systems, but they want to make sure that they are ready for what the NBA is about to throw at them in the coming months.

``I’m extremely sore right now, but this is just part of the process,’’ Gordon said with a big smile. ``I know that it’s going to help me in the long run.’’

Gordon and Payton, along with fellow rookie shooting guard Devyn Marble, are leaning on one another to aid in making the transition from college basketball to the NBA. Gordon and Payton already have a friendship from last summer when they helped USA Basketball’s Under-19 Team win gold in the FIBA Championships in Prague. The two were standout performers for the squad primarily by working together on the floor in pick-and-roll plays and defensive traps. Their friendship is one that has helped them this summer while being on a new team and living in a new city, and Gordon thinks it will be beneficial this summer.

``Elfrid is a really great guy,’’ Gordon, 18, said of Payton, 20. ``He has a great sense of humor. He understands my jokes and I understand his. As a person, we like the same things and it’s going to help me to have a friend on the team.’’

Payton, the 10th pick in the NBA Draft, and Gordon, the fourth overall pick, teamed up to play especially well for the Magic in the Orlando Pro Summer League earlier in the month.

Just as he did as a small-school star at Louisiana-Lafayette, Payton showed an incredible knack for getting into paint and making plays for others. Not only did he average 9.2 points in monitored minutes, but he also led the Summer League in assists (7.0 a game), while also grabbing 5.2 rebounds and 1.4 steals a game.

The 6-foot-3 Payton hasn’t rested on that strong performance by continuing to work almost daily at the Magic headquarters. He said that he hasn’t had much of a chance to learn much of Orlando and its many attractions because all he has seen is the route between the Amway Center and his downtown hotel.

``You always have to work harder than everybody else. That’s how you get to where you want to go,’’ Payton said. ``I think we’ll do a good job this year and have a chance to make the playoffs. But it’s all going to come down to how we play defensively and how we grow our games.’’

Gordon, a 6-foot-9, 220-pound forward, tried to use the Summer League as a gauge of what he needs to work on this summer to get ready for the NBA season. An exceptional athlete who often overwhelmed foes with his physical tools at the high school and collegiate levels, Gordon saw in Summer League that his skills will have to be extremely sharp to thrive on basketball’s biggest stage. He’s worked exceptionally hard this summer on shooting, ball-handling and footwork drills so that he can keep up with some of the game’s best athletes at the small forward position.

``It was a good test. It’s not the actual NBA. It’s kind of like AAU basketball, but it was at a grown-up level,’’ said Gordon, who averaged 7.8 points and 5 rebounds in five summer league games. ``It showed me what I need to work on and now I’m starting to work on that.’’

Throughout the summer, Gordon and Payton have been able to pick the brain of Magic standout guard Victor Oladipo, who is still fresh off a stellar rookie season. Like Orlando’s two newest rookies, Oladipo came in with the pressure of being a No. 2 pick and he handled the expectations and transition of the NBA gracefully while also thriving on the court.

Oladipo played with Gordon and Payton in the summer league, and he’s continued to work out with them while prepping to play for USA Basketball’s Select Team. Oladipo has been a constant in the rookie’s lives, steadily offering up helpful advice for the upcoming season.

``He just preaches to me that it doesn’t come overnight,’’ said Payton, who is expected to share point guard duties with Oladipo this season. ``He’s said that you have to keep at it and keep learning. That’s the message that I have taken away from him.’’

Added Gordon about his talks with Oladipo: ``He’s said to never get down. As a rookie, there are going to be ups and downs the whole time and you just have to stay level for 82 games. If you get down on yourself for one game, it’s over. So I am listening to Victor.’’

After attending the NBA’s Rookie Transition Program and having a two-week break at home in California and Louisiana respectively, Gordon and Payton will be back in Orlando by September for another month of drills leading into training camp. Both are well aware of the tasks ahead and how they will be expected to make impacts as rookies, so they are determined to work throughout the summer to make sure they are as ready as possible.

Gordon got some downtime after Summer League to return home to Northern California and attend an awards show, but he knows that his job as a professional basketball player requires his full attention. That’s why Gordon said he’s fully aware that it’s his responsibility to use his time this summer to improve and be ready to make the Magic a better team.

``You can’t be caught up on (the start of his career) the entire time that you are here or you will be a tourist in your own life,’’ he said. ``It’s sunk in and I’m ready to compete, I’m ready to get in great shape and I’m ready to win.

``Everybody on this team has a high motor,’’ Gordon added. ``(Magic forward) Tobias (Harris) has an extremely high motor, Elfrid, (center) Kyle O’Quinn has a high motor. I think that’s what it takes. If our motors can outwork other people, I think we’ll be fine as a team this season.’’

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