Denton: Nelson Thrilled to be Back With Magic

By John Denton
July 16, 2012

ORLANDO – In Jameer Nelson’s eyes, NBA players are either leaders or they are followers. And the role of being a team captain for the Orlando Magic is one that he takes quite seriously and never considers it to be merely a part-time gig.

So with Nelson back on board with the Magic after officially signing his contract and passing a physical on Monday, the veteran point guard is anxious to resume his leadership duties for new-look team.

Nelson and the Magic will be playing for a new head coach and staff, and the squad could be filled with young players in need of direction. None of that matters to Nelson, who said he will look to lead the Magic in the future just as he had in the past when shared the captain role with Dwight Howard and the team was composed of mostly veteran players.

``I look at my role as being a leader regardless of the circumstance,’’ Nelson said. ``I don’t see there being different levels of leadership. You either lead or you don’t. On and off the court, I’m a professional. I’m not a yeller or screamer, but I’ll pull a guy aside and try to help them in that way as much as I can. I just want to continue to be a great leader for this team.’’

Nelson’s professionalism, locker room leadership and skill on the court are a couple of reasons why new Magic General Manager Rob Hennigan put a premium on re-signing Nelson, 30, this offseason. The Magic want Nelson, who has played all eight of his NBA seasons in Orlando, to be one of the faces of the franchise in the coming years.

When the two sides were unable to work out a contract extension before June 29, Nelson exercised an opt-out clause in his contract to become an unrestricted free agent. But both Nelson and the Magic vowed they wanted him back in Orlando, and the two sides were able to reach an agreement on a three-year deal just four days into the free agency period.

Nelson returned from his summer home in suburban Philadelphia on Sunday night to sign his new contract with the Magic and complete his physical. It is Nelson’s wish, he said recently, that he will play his entire NBA career in nothing but a Magic jersey.

``This definitely gets me closer to my goal of staying with the Magic,’’ Nelson said. ``I still feel that I have a lot of years left in me as a basketball player. I’m still trying to get better as a player and that’s what I’m working to do this summer.’’

Hennigan continued to work on several franchise-altering trade proposals on Monday to accommodate the trade request of Howard. The Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers are reportedly trying to land the six-time all-star center. The Rockets are in a holding pattern because of the offer sheets extended to New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin and Chicago Bulls center Omer Asik. As for the Lakers, they could be offering all-star center Andrew Bynum in return or they could be trying to involve a third team that would ply the Magic with the draft picks, young players and salary cap relief that they could be seeking.

The Magic have also yet to hire a coach, but that process is expected to heat up in the coming weeks. Hennigan said last week that he has interviewed several candidates for the head coaching job, but he has yet to narrow down his list into what could be considered finalists. The Magic hope to have a head coach and coaching staff hired by the end of July.

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 during his time with the Magic he’s had the ability to grow from a promising, young player to one who is looked to for more than just his ability on the court. Nelson’s voice in the locker room is arguably the most respected on the team.

But his style of leadership is usually one centered around counseling players in private in order to build their confidence.

Nelson takes great pride in being looked to as a leader, and it gave him great joy that the Magic wanted to retain him because of his professional demeanor and his willingness to carry the burden of being a Magic team leader.

``As a professional and a leader, you have to do things that don’t always show up on the stat sheet. I carry myself as a professional on and off the court. It shows that I carry myself the right way and I’m the man that my parents raised me to be. The hard work that they put in is showing.’’

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