Aminu on Magic Facing Former Team: ‘It’s Bittersweet’

Aminu has many great memories from his time with Blazers
by John Denton

PORTLAND – A veteran of 10 NBA seasons, five playoff trips and now five different teams, forward Al-Farouq Aminu knew exactly what it meant for him this summer when he became a free agent and his previous team, the Portland Trail Blazers, wasn’t reaching out to bring him back.

After spending four years in Portland – the longest he’s ever been in one spot in the NBA – Aminu was forced to look elsewhere when the Trail Blazers didn’t seek to re-sign him in July. He ultimately ended up with an Orlando Magic team that was plenty excited to add someone with his versatility and veteran savvy to the mix.

Aminu, 29, returned to Portland’s Moda Center on Friday night for the first time since leaving as a free agent last summer. While he’s upset that he couldn’t be on the court facing his former teammates because of a right knee injury, Aminu said he harbors no ill will toward the Blazers for not bringing him back following his four-year run in Portland.

``It’s bittersweet,’’ admitted Aminu, who will miss his 11thstraight game tonight because of torn meniscus in his right knee. ``It would have been nice to go out there and compete (against the Blazers) and try to get a win with my new squad. But I’m more than positive that our (Magic) guys can go get it done. Everything happens for a reason (with the knee injury), so I’m just trying to find a silver lining.’’

Aminu is trying to battle his way back from injury after landing awkwardly on Nov. 29 while trying to block a shot by Toronto’s Pascal Siakam. An MRI showed torn meniscus in his right knee. After getting a second opinion, Aminu ultimately decided to forgo knee surgery and try and repair the injury through rest and rehabilitation. His return is totally dependent on how he responds to the treatment.

Slowly, but surely, he’s started ramping up his work with Orlando’s training staff, going from riding a stationary bicycle, to lifting weights to some light shooting on the court. He decided against having surgery because he thought the rehab method would get him back out on the court sooner.

``Every day my knee is getting stronger,’’ said Aminu, who averaged 4.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1.0 steals in 18 games (two starts) with the Magic. ``I’m just continuing to listen to the training staff because they are doing a good job. It’s just a matter of continuing to get stronger every day.’’

The 6-foot-8, 220-pound forward played some strong basketball in his four seasons in Portland and helped the Blazers reach the playoffs four consecutive years. His best playoffs came in 2018 when Portland was swept in the first round by New Orleans as he averaged 17.3 points and 9.0 rebounds a game.

Last season, Portland surprised the basketball world when it eliminated Oklahoma City and Denver and reached to the Western Conference Finals. Aminu appeared in all 16 playoff games, but his playing time plunged to 24.9 minutes a night because of his struggles shooting the ball – both overall (34.9 percent) and from 3-point range (29.4 percent).

Following that, the Blazers ultimately decided not to bring him back. Aminu said he was beyond excited to be pursued by the Magic, a team that he greatly admired when he faced Orlando twice last season because of the talent along the front line with Aaron Gordon, Vucevic and Isaac. Aminu said he moved on quickly when it dawned on his that Portland was no longer interested in having him back.

``I figured if they were going to (offer him a contract) there would have been more communication, I guess, in a sense of when it came to maybe an extension or even the possibility (of a new contract),’’ said Aminu, who played with the Clippers, Hornets/Pelicans and Mavericks prior to playing in Portland. ``But after you’ve been on a couple of teams, you know. It would have been one thing if I had been there (in Portland) my whole 10 years or something like that, but that’s not the case so I understand that it’s a business and you have to learn how to move on.’’

FOCUSING ON THE RIGHT THINGS: Just as the Magic suspected, their inability to make open shots had a lot to do with their losses in Utah and Denver earlier in the week. The Magic lost to the Jazz despite leading by seven points with less than 5 minutes to play, and they also squandered a 19-point, second-half lead against the Nuggets.

Against Utah, the Magic had 19 shots where they were considered to be ``wide open,’’ meaning the closest defender was 6 feet or more away, and they made just six of those. In that same scenario, they made just four of 15 3-point shots. On shots that were considered ``open’’ (closest defender 4-6 feet), Orlando connected on just eight of 20 tries and five of nine threes.

A night later against Denver, the Magic had 38 shots where they were considered to be ``wide open’’ or ``open’’ and they made just 13 of those. In those same scenarios, they made just nine of 24 3-point shots.

While continuing to insist that his team has to keep working to get open shots and they should eventually start to fall, Magic coach Steve Clifford thinks his team is focusing too much on its shooting woes. Clifford said the reason why the Magic ripped off a strong closing kick and made the playoffs last spring was because they were a dominant team in other areas.

``You’ve got to do the things that will help you win,’’ Clifford said. ``The rebounding game and the fast-break game would be good places to start.

``If you look at the last 34 games from last year, where our defense was much better than it is now, two things that stand out is we were an elite defensive team – and right now we’re not – and we were fourth in transition defense and right now we’re 12th,’’ Clifford continued. ``That’s like five points a game right there. We can talk about the things that we don’t have – which you have to do, but you have to play to the things that you have. We have lots of strengths to our roster that we’re not playing to. That’s what we have to do.’’

UP NEXT: The Magic were scheduled to leave Portland following Friday’s game and arrive back in Central Florida at approximately 6:30 a.m. After spending seven days on the road and playing games in three time zones, the Magic will get a much-needed day off on Saturday.

Clifford and High Performance Director David Tenney decide in August whether the team will spend the night after games for rest purposes or immediately fly home, and in this case the decision was made for the squad to return home as much as possible. After all, the Magic won their first game back following West Coast trips last season.

``A lot of it is what’s best for rest, but these are the hard ones,’’ Clifford said. ``Because we’ve travelled so much this month and we’re about to continue (traveling), the reasoning (for flying on Friday night) was for (the players) to get home before Christmas.

``When we sat down, and David Tenney is great with this because he has all the numbers, but last year (the team flew home from Utah) and we had two days off and then we played a really good game when we got home,’’ continued Clifford, referring to the Magic’s defeat of Boston on Jan. 12 last season. ``Everybody does it differently, and a lot of times we’ll stay overnight.’’

Orlando will return to the practice floor on Sunday to prep for Monday night’s game against the Chicago Bulls. It will be the first meeting of the season between the two teams.

The Magic split two meetings with the Bulls last season, winning once in Mexico City and once in Chicago. The Bulls won at the Amway Center on Feb. 22 – the final time the Magic lost at home during the 2019-19 regular season. Orlando won its final nine home games during its push to the playoffs.

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.

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