Denton: Nelson Opts Out of Contract

By John Denton
June 29, 2012

ORLANDO – Jameer Nelson, the Orlando Magic’s point guard of the last eight seasons, opted out of the final year of his contract on Friday.

But Nelson’s entry into the unrestricted free-agent market doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be leaving the Magic. New Orlando General Manager Rob Hennigan has said repeatedly in the past few days that the Magic want Nelson to be a part of the franchise for years to come, and veteran point guard echoed those feelings Friday night.

``I still hope to be with the Magic, but I have to see what direction I want to go with myself and I’ll have a decision to make,’’ Nelson said Friday night from his suburban Philadelphia home. ``I want to be a Magic player, and it’s just about getting something done. I’m a free agent for the first time. It’s definitely weird. But it makes me feel good to hear that the Magic want me back. I have to do what’s best for me and my family, but I still want to be with the Magic.’’

Nelson, 30, was set to make $7.3 million next season – the final year of a five-year, $40 million contract he signed three seasons into his NBA career. But because he is seeking a long-term deal, Nelson exercised his right to get out of the final year of the deal so that he could become an unrestricted free agent. His hope is to land a multi-year deal.

``People say that I should have just taken the (2012-13 season) with the Magic, but everybody in this league is tradable,’’ Nelson said. ``The Magic have said that they want me there, but at the end of the day it’s still a business and any player in the league can be traded. The City of Orlando has always embraced me and not too many players in NBA can say they spent their entire career in one uniform. I hope that’s the case with me.’’

Nelson and other free agents will be able to begin negotiating with the Magic and other teams on July 1 (Sunday at 12 a.m.). The Magic extended a qualifying offer to sweet-shooting power forward Ryan Anderson, the NBA’s Most Improved Player last season, on Thursday, making him a restricted free agent. The Magic will have the right to match any contract offer that Anderson receives from another team.

Under the original terms of his contract, Nelson was to have to decide his free-agency fate by June 15, but he and the Magic were granted an extensionuntil Friday by the NBA. Nelson hoped to know the Magic’s GM and new coach by the time he had to make a decision, but thus far only Hennigan has been hired. The search for a new head coach was expected to start on Friday, the day after the NBA Draft.

With Nelson becoming a free agent, the Magic only have reserve Chris Duhon under contract at the point guard position. Hennigan stressed lateThursday night that he wants Nelson, the Magic’s co-captain with Dwight Howard the past three seasons, in a Magic uniform next year.

``We look forward to continued discussions with Jameer and his representation at the appropriate time,’’ Hennigan said Friday night. ``As we have said, we want Jameer in a Magic uniform.’’

Nelson averaged 11.9 points and 5.7 assists last season and 15.6 points and 6.6 assists in the playoffs. He had 27 points, five 3-pointers and five assists in the Magic’s Game 5 loss to the Indiana Pacers in the playoffs.

For his eight-year career – all with the Magic – Nelson has played 527 games and has averaged 12.4 points and 5.0 assists. He is a career 45.6 percent shooter from the floor and a 37.7 percent from 3-point range.

Nelson said that Friday’s deadline caused plenty of anxiety for him. He said the two sides were never especially close on reaching an agreement on a contract extension, but he was particularly impressed with his dealings with Hennigan. Nelson added that the Magic being without a coach had no impact on his decision because, ``if I had opted out or stayed I would have been playing for a different coach in a different system anyway.’’

``It was a different kind of day for me because I had never been through anything like that in my eight years in the NBA,’’ Nelson said. ``But it’s also kind of exciting. Because it’s basketball I really can’t get too down about it.

``Rob seems like a great guy. He’s smart and really savvy,’’ Nelson continued. ``From the conversations that I’ve had with him he seems like the kind of guy that I’d really enjoy being around.’’

The Magic passed on the chance to select a point guard in the NBA Draft on Thursday, instead picking power forward Andrew Nicholson with the No. 19 pick and center Kyle O’Quinn with the No. 49 pick in the second round.

Both players are four-year college players and Hennigan feels their maturity will allow them to possibly contribute right away at the NBA level. Both players are expected to play on the Magic’s summer league team when it plays in Orlando from July 9-13.

``Andrew is a player who is ready in a couple of different areas,’’ Hennigan said. ``His physical strength is an area where he’ll have to focus and get better. But he’s a player we see can play for us and help us.’’

As for the 6-foot-10, 240-pound O’Quinn, he burst on the national scene with a dazzling all-around performance in Norfolk State’s upset of Missouri in the NCAA Tournament. The hope is that he can give the Magic some much-needed depth at the center position.

``Kyle has a maturity and a genuine toughness to his game,’’ Hennigan said. ``Our staff felt that he knows who he is as a player and knows where his bread is buttered. He lives to rebound the ball and play defense. He brings an energy level that can be contagious if channeled the right way.’’

John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. John has covered the Magic since 1997. E-mail John at jd41898@aol.com and follow him on Twitter at @JohnDenton555.

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