Denton: Afflalo Embracing Team Renovation

By John Denton
March 5, 2013

MIAMI – There is, quite possibly, no one on the Orlando Magic’s roster better to confirm the rebuilding plan that the organization has chosen to implement than Arron Afflalo, a veteran who could be looking for a door, but instead wholeheartedly wants to be a part of this massive Magic makeover.

At 27 years old and six years into his NBA career, Afflalo certainly wouldn’t be blamed if he wanted to flee for a team in the championship hunt before his prime years of basketball expire.

Quite the contrary, says Afflalo, who covets his position now as a mentor for Orlando’s kiddie corps of five rookies and three second-year players. And he enjoys being the tough-minded veteran who the team looks to in time of need, such as Monday in New Orleans when Afflalo scored 11 of his game-high 26 points in the fourth quarter to spark a 105-102 Magic victory.

Afflalo knows full well that the Magic likely will need another year of rebuilding before it rejoins the chase for a championship in the summer of 2014, but he recently reaffirmed his commitment to wanting to be in Orlando as it re-tools the team.

``I do want to be here because I think there is greatness in helping build something from the bottom to the top,’’ Afflalo said recently. ``Me possibly being a big piece in this franchise building something would be really special to me. Not that I don’t want to win … but right now I’m just very, very motivated to see this thing through and hopefully get this franchise back to prominence. That would mean a lot to me.’’

Afflalo knows a thing or two about resiliency having emerged from the mean streets of Compton, Calif., as a child to become a college All-American and later a first-round NBA draft pick. He has shown dramatic improvement in each of his six NBA seasons, boosting his scoring average every year. This season, Afflalo’s first in Orlando, he is averaging a career-best 16.9 points per game to lead the team. And he’s had to balance his work on the court with his need to be a leader in the locker room around young players looking for guidance.

It is a challenging dual role that Afflalo has long sought, and one that he takes quite seriously with the Magic. He embraced the August trade from Denver to Orlando, feeling there were opportunities with the Magic that would finally allow him to fully blossom as a player and a leader.

``I take a lot of pride in being a leader for the younger guys here,’’ Afflalo said. ``Not looking past this season, but I look forward to this new experience of continuing to be a leader. I want to take everything that I have learned and apply it to my offseason so that I’m that much better next season. I was asked to do a lot more from a physical basketball standpoint, but also as a leader. I want to prepare my mind for the challenge and work on the specifics and improve the way I play in the future.’’

In his first year in Orlando, Afflalo has fully immersed himself into making himself a fixture of the organization and with the fan base. Afflalo has been among the team’s most active players in the community by making 15 team and individual appearances. Afflalo has twice spoken to students from the US Dream Academy, buying many of them tickets to Magic games at the Amway Center and in Washington, D.C. He also led the way in a basketball court refurbishment at Pine Hills Elementary School in January.

``I’ve had the opportunity to talk to a lot of school-age kids and I’ve just tried to tell them about progressing through life and doing their best at everything,’’ he said.

Afflalo has done his best to lead the Magic through a trying season filled with injuries, trades and extended losing streaks. A season-ending injury to Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis, repeated setbacks to Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu and the February trading of J.J. Redick often left Afflalo as the only veteran player on the floor for the Magic.

Still, he remained consistent in his approach and outwardly showed that losing hurt him. Magic rookies Maurice Harkless, Kyle O’Quinn and DeQuan Jones have been quick to compliment Afflalo for his persistence and his stressing to the team that losing should never be acceptable.

``As a coach I only have my time with the players, but players have road time together, locker room time together, weight room and training room time together, and to have a positive influence like Arron around our guys is huge for us,’’ Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. ``All of that talking and times that I can’t be there, just having him around and saying the right things to our group is so important.’’

Afflalo is usually the quiet, mild-mannered type, but his fiery side has shown itself at times this season. When Orlando struggled in the first half of a game against Charlotte just after the All-Star break, Afflalo gave an emotional speech in the locker room that helped the team cut a 22-point deficit to two. And it’s not uncommon after tough games for Afflalo to still be sitting at his locker stall for some 30 minutes replaying the game in his head.

``We all show (emotion) in different ways, but Arron is a guy who cares,’’ Vaughn added. ``His teammates know that he cares. Whether you show it on your face or not, they know that he cares deeply what’s going on.’’

Afflalo also cares deeply about growing his own game to the point that he is considered an elite shooting guard along with the likes of Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and Manu Ginobili. Afflalo had some of his best performances of the season against those players, twice scoring 30 points in Los Angeles in defeats of the Lakers and Clippers. He’s led the Magic in scoring 21 times and he’s topped the 20-point plateau 17 times this season.

Monday’s win in New Orleans was one of Afflalo’s most outstanding performances of the season as he carried the team for long stretches with the game on the line. Posting at the free throw line and outmuscling New Orleans’ Eric Gordon, Afflalo scored 11 fourth-quarter points. He also drew a double team and passed to Al Harrington for a go-ahead 3-pointer.

While Afflalo says he made strides this season as a go-to player for the first time, he knows there is still work to be done. He said that his ball-handling will receive the brunt of his work this offseason so that he can better get where he needs to go on the court late in games to make plays.

``I’m never satisfied, so this season is not what I anticipated from myself individually. But at the same time I understand the circumstances of the team and the challenges that I faced with this being a new role,’’ he said. ``I knew it was going to be an adjustment because it was my first time being in this role (as a go-to scorer). I’ll definitely be better prepared next year.’’

Afflalo can now say with conviction that his future is in Orlando, where he plans to continue to be a leader for the young players while also growing his own game. He truly feels the best is yet to come for both he and the Magic. Being a go-to offensive player for the first time with the Magic has only made him hungrier for the future.

``It’s about the preparation of your mind and it’s about how you eat because your stamina has to be at an all-time high,’’ Afflalo said of his commitment to getting the most out of his potential. ``Things like ball-handling, the importance of free throws – there are a lot of little things that I clearly need to improve on that will allow me to make that major jump one day.’’

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