Denton's Notebook: January 20, 2012

By John Denton
January 20, 2012

ORLANDO – Orlando Magic President of Basketball Operations/GM Otis Smith feels that some of Jameer Nelson’s early-season struggles stem from the seemingly constant talk that center Dwight Howard would prefer to play with fellow all-stars Chris Paul or Deron Williams.

Smith has a special bond with Nelson, the Magic’s point guard for the past seven-plus seasons, and said that the co-captain was hurt personally by the trade talk before the season.

Nelson entered Friday’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers averaging just 8.3 points and 5.4 assists a game while shooting just 38.9 percent from the floor and 25.8 percent from 3-point range. Nelson hit just two of 16 shots on Wednesday in an overtime loss to the San Antonio Spurs.

``Through all of this (Howard trade saga) (Nelson) is the one who’s taken the pounding. Right now, he’s justifying it out because he’s not playing well. But we sometimes forget in professional sports that they are people and human beings,’’ Smith said of Nelson. ``So as tough as he wants to be on the outside on the inside he’s just a 30-year-old kid. So we still have to work with him on the mental aspect of him taking a pounding. The center didn’t come out and say it’s on Jameer, but basically it has (said that).’’

Howard requested a trade before the season and has flirted with the idea of playing with a point guard the caliber of Williams or Paul. Howard and Nelson have been close friends for years, remain Magic co-captains and often have their lockers next to one another during road games. But deep down Nelson has been affected by the flirtations with other point guards, Smith said.

``We spend time talking about Chris Paul and Deron Williams, well what position do they play? It’s the same position that (Nelson) plays,’’ Smith said. ``So it’s not that (Howard) is necessarily throwing (Nelson) under the bus, but he’s indirectly throwing him under the bus. They’re best of friends and get along. But they’ve had their talks about this. But the human part of this still bothers (Nelson) a little bit.’’

SUPERMAN SWIPES: Howard said he wasn’t surprised in the least bit that new TNT analyst Shaquille O’Neal went against the grain and described Los Angeles Lakers’ center Andrew Bynum as the NBA’s best big man. He said that even though Howard is the only player in NBA history to win three straight Defensive Player of the Year trophies and has been a first-team All-NBA selection each of the past four seasons, while Bynum has been mostly inconsistent and injury-prone.

O’Neal has taken several swipes at Howard through the years and is apparently still angry at Howard adopting the ``Superman’’ nickname as O’Neal did early in his career while playing in Orlando.

``He’s just a hater. He’s just trying to say something to get people riled up,’’ Howard said of O’Neal. ``Obviously he’s mad about Superman. I didn’t know he made it up, or that Superman started with him. He’s still mad about it.’’

Howard said that O’Neal often talks glowingly about him when face-to-face at events, but criticizes him when on television. Howard suggested that O’Neal is bitter about Howard surpassing his legacy in Orlando.

``He should just sit down and get on with his life. He doesn’t play any more so what’s the point of talking trash,’’ Howard said. ``It’s not like we’re wrestlers and we get to battle it out. Who cares?’’

HOWARD TALKS: Smith said he hasn’t had extensive talks with Howard about his desire to be traded since training camp. The two talk often, but usually about game scenarios or free throw suggestions, but Smith he hasn’t felt the need to bring up the trade request to Howard.

The Magic granted Howard’s agent, Dan Fegan, permission to discuss the parameters of a trade with the Nets, Mavericks and Lakers back in November, but no deal has interested Smith. He added that ``I wouldn’t be shocked’’ if Howard was still on the Magic roster beyond the March 15 trade deadline and with the team through the entire season.

Asked if he feared losing Howard this summer as an unrestricted free agent, Smith deferred to the rules in the Collective Bargaining Agreement that favor teams keeping their own free agents.

``He can still walk, but with a $30 million haircut,’’ Smith said, referring to the $29 million in guaranteed salary that Howard would lose if he signed elsewhere.

Smith said he is no hurry to trade Howard and break up a Magic team that he feels can compete for a championship this season.

``I like our team as it stands. I like the way our team is playing and we’re one of the best teams in the league,’’ Smith said. ``We have to go through the rest of the schedule, but I like our chances with our team. I’m not going to do a (Howard) deal just for the sake of doing a deal and I’m not going to make a bad deal.’’

ETC: The Magic were once again without Hedo Turkoglu on Friday night because of lingering pain from spasms in his lower back. Turkoglu, one of the Magic’s best fourth-quarter players this season, twisted his back near the end of Tuesday’s win against Charlotte and did not play on Wednesday. Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said that Turkoglu’s back showed improvement on Friday and the hope is to get him back for Monday’s game in Boston. … Van Gundy said that O’Neal’s argument that Bynum is better than Howard is flawed because of the Magic center’s body of work over his seven-plus-year NBA career. Van Gundy said that while Bynum is just emerging as a great player, Howard is arguably already a Hall of Fame player based on his accomplishments. Said Van Gundy: ``Unless he got hurt tomorrow and never played again, I think most would agree Dwight is a Hall of Fame center. The things he’s done defensively and as a rebounder are right there with what anybody has ever done. It would be hard to question that he’s not already a historically great center. He deserves to be in the conversation with any of those guys. To be up in that league with Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar), Wilt (Chamberlain), Bill Russell, Hakeem (Olajuwon), Patrick (Ewing) and Shaq, he’d have to go more years. But just assuming he goes along doing what he’s been doing he’s going to be one of the greatest.’’ … Magic reserve power forward Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis returned to Orlando Friday after attending his grandmother’s funeral in Baton Rouge, La. He didn’t get to the Amway Center Friday night until 7:10 p.m. for the 8 p.m. tipoff.

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

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