Denton's Notebook: Friday, Nov. 2

By John Denton
November 2, 2012

ORLANDO – Whereas in years past rookies often had a difficult time finding playing time on the Orlando Magic, new coach Jacque Vaughn said plans to play his first-year players extensively to get them used to life in the NBA.

Vaughn said that he was ``thrown to the wolves’’ during his NBA rookie season while playing for the Utah Jazz after John Stockton went down with an injury. Vaughn said that experience helped expose him to the areas of his game that needed improvement.

So he said that the only way that Magic rookies Andrew Nicholson, Maurice Harkless, DeQuan Jones and Kyle O’Quinn are going to truly learn about the rigors of the NBA is to play in games.

``You’ve got to put guys in the game,’’ Vaughn said. ``You can develop on the practice floor, in the film room and by doing extra work, but until you get on the floor and feel what it’s like to set a screen and have a screen set on you, there’s nothing like that. No comparison.’’

Nicholson, the Magic’s first-round pick in June, figures to be a part of Vaughn’s rotation as the backup power forward. Jones might have been in the rotation as well had he not strained an abductor muscle in his hip last week. Harkless is also rehabilitating from surgery for a sports hernia, while O’Quinn is the Magic’s third center.

Vaughn said he trusts those players enough to play them in the guts of a game and possibly even with a game on the line in the fourth quarter. Doing so would expose them to pressure situations, something Vaughn wants to do as much as possible. But he said he wouldn’t play a rookie if it meant sacrificing a win.

``I don’t see why it has to be at the cost of a game,’’ Vaughn said. ``But if you can get experience for a guy, while also trying to win that game, there’s nothing wrong with that. But I wouldn’t agree with costing a game.’’

HOLDING BACK HARKLESS: Vaughn has said that he wants to wait until Harkless is more comfortable with the Magic system before inserting him into a regular season game.

Harkless, 19, spent one season in college at St. John’s before opting for the NBA Draft. He suffered a sports hernia during pre-draft workouts and needed surgery in July. The recovery knocked him out of training camp and out of all of the Magic’s eight preseason games. He did return last week for an open scrimmage before Magic fans and hit two jumpers late in the session.

Ideally, Vaughn would like to give Harkless another week of practice before inserting him into a game.

Without Harkless and Jones, the Magic will have to use Aaron Afflalo some at the small forward position behind starter Hedo Turkoglu. As for Harkless, he said he’s getting close to being ready, but is slowly working his way back into NBA game shape.

``It’s a work in progress for me and as I get more practice with the team I think I’ll feel a lot better out there,’’ said Harkless, a 6-foot-8 small forward. ``Getting back in game shape is tough. Running on the treadmill and running on the court are completely different. The speed of the game and the defensive principles are the hardest part (going from college to the pros). But I feel I’m getting better because I work out every day before and after practice with the coaches.’’

Harkless said being on the roster and not getting to start his NBA career is somewhat torturous. ``I just have to use this time to learn, soak it all up and it will be good for me,’’ he said.

COACHING DEBUT: Not only was Vaughn dealing with the excitement of making his debut as a NBA head coach on Friday, but he also welcomed to Orlando his former college coach, Roy Williams. Williams recruited and coached Vaughn at Kansas University and the two have remained close through the years.

``You think about all of the special memories that he and I have together,’’ Vaughn said. ``From his days of recruiting me, coming to watch in high school to a lot of years later I’m the first ex-player of his to become a professional coach. He’ll always be my coach, so it’s a great feeling to have him here tonight.’’

Vaughn said that more than being nervous about making his debut he was thinking more about being a part of something special being built in Orlando. Vaughn was hired by new Magic GM Rob Hennigan and the coaching staff subsequently hired is a big part of the Magic’s makeover from the summer.

``I’m glad I’m a part of it and proud to say that I’m a part of the new start here,’’ Vaughn said. ``We have new employees, new GM and a new coaching staff and we’ve hired a lot of new people this offseason and I’m proud to be one of those hires. Years from now hopefully we can look back, reflect and think about how special this time was.’’

ETC: Hedo Turkoglu, who is entering his 14th NBA season and his eight year in two stints with the Magic, was insulted when he read that one national publication predicted that the Magic would only win 16 games this season. Turkoglu said he will use it as motivation while also trying to block out distractions. Said Turkoglu: ``We’ve faced a lot of stuff here and heard a lot of stuff and sometimes we laugh at the things being said, especially the one that says we’re going to win 16 games. We’re trying not to focus on stuff like that and I as a veteran will try to make sure our younger players don’t focus on that. We know that this team is going to get better all season because we still have good, talented guys on this team.’’ … Arron Afflalo downplayed Friday’s opener against his former team, the Denver Nuggets. He spent the previous three seasons in Denver and his career blossomed under the coaching of George Karl. Said Afflalo: ``Opening Night is the most important thing, not myself playing against Denver. I’ll get a chance to say `hi’ to those guys maybe a second before the game and I’ll definitely speak to (Karl) after the game. But my focus is on our team.’’ … The Magic host the Phoenix Suns on Sunday night at 6 p.m. at the Amway Center. Orlando then hits the road for games in Chicago (Tuesday) and Minnesota (Wednesday).

John Denton writes for John has covered the Magic since 1997. E-mail John at or follow him on Twitter at @JohnDenton555.

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