Denton: Harris Happy in Orlando, Redick Reflects

By John Denton
March 16, 2013

MILWAUKEE -- Parents almost always know best – even when it comes down to something as random as playing time in the NBA.

When Tobias Harris was shuffled out of the playing rotation in Milwaukee earlier this season, frustration nearly got the best of the second-year forward. Harris is the type who oozes confidence out his every pore and deep down he knew that he could put up big numbers and become a steady player in the NBA. But he knew that day would never become a reality without a chance to play.

And that’s where the parents – specifically father, Torrel Harris – came into play.

``My dad told me they aren’t paying you to play right now, but they are paying you to keep yourself ready,’’ Tobias remembered recently. ``My dad told me when that when my chance came along I had to make sure that I was ready.’’

As fate would have it, Harris’ big chance came in Orlando after he was dealt to the Magic just before the NBA trade deadline on Feb. 21. In his 11 games in Orlando, Harris has made the most of his opportunity by earning a starting job four games ago and averaging 15.9 points and 7.3 rebounds in 11 games total.

And it’s all come about because Harris did not let human nature get the best of him while not playing in Milwaukee, listening to his father and continuing to work to improve his game. On Sunday, he will get a chance to show the Bucks (32-32) what they gave up on when the Magic (18-48) play in Milwaukee for a Sunday 1 p.m. (ET) matinee.

``It definitely is a relief (getting traded to Orlando). But even when I wasn’t playing for the Milwaukee Bucks I continued to work on my game. Now, that I’m playing a lot of minutes, it’s helping me,’’ Harris said following the Magic’s practice in Milwaukee on Saturday. ``It was definitely frustrating (in Milwaukee), but I had people in my ear telling me to continue to work. I used it as a time to get better. Now, I’m in a situation that I’m blessed to be in and I’m real grateful for it.’’

Sunday’s game will also feature a reunion between the Magic and J.J. Redick, the fan favorite who spent seven seasons in Orlando before being one of the central pieces in the Harris trade. Redick, who can become an unrestricted free agent in July, blossomed into a standout player in Orlando after working his way up from being a bench player his first two seasons in the NBA.

Redick, who has averaged 14.2 points in 10 games with the Bucks, was dealt to Milwaukee because of his desire to score a five-year contract this summer likely to be worth at least $35 million. The Magic weren’t willing to pay that for a sixth man and dealt him for a young asset such as the 6-foot-8, 235-pound Harris.

Redick admitted on Saturday that it will be somewhat surreal for him to face a Magic organization that he spent seven years helping build while also playing against long-time teammate Jameer Nelson.

``I used to always say this when I would lose a teammate in Orlando – `Is it going to be weird playing against so-and-so?’ The answer is it never really was because you see people come and go,’’ Redick said on Saturday. ``Now, I’m on the other side of that where I’m the guy that left.

I don’t expect it to be emotional or anything. I’m looking forward to seeing some of the guys I spent a good number of years with. I’m looking forward to seeing Jameer and our trainers and all the people that were with me for so long.’’

Redick knows that when he makes his return to Orlando for the first time since the trade on April 10, it will likely trigger some dramatically different feelings.

``That will be different, for sure. I spent like 2 hours in Orlando when I got traded, just to pack some bags. It will be my first time back in the city for a number of months,’’ said Redick, who was dealt to Milwaukee along with Gustavo Ayon and Ish Smith for Harris, Beno Udrih and Doron Lamb. ``That will be weird. And playing in Amway as a visitor – that will be a little different. I don’t expect to get emotional (on Sunday) or anything like that.’’

During his last season in Orlando, Redick had quite an impact on Magic rookies Maurice Harkless, Kyle O’Quinn and Andrew Nicholson. He would make Harkless shadow him through shooting drills, while constantly talking to O’Quinn and Nicholson about their work ethic in practice and games. That professionalism and willing to share made Redick a favorite of Magic coach Jacque Vaughn.

``I’m quite sure the guys here in Milwaukee are seeing the same thing from him,’’ Vaughn said of Redick’s consistent approach to games and practices. ``He was a guy who was extremely professional with his approach every day, his preparation and his practice preparation, which is huge because guys respect someone who plays 38 minutes one night and then he’s the first one on the floor to get some extra shots for practice the next day.’’

Added Harkless: ``It was really beneficial to me to see how hard J.J. was going every day. He goes even harder when he’s working out than he does in games. I was always trying to match that intensity when I was working with him. He’s a great role model and he taught me a lot as a person and a player.’’

Harris could learn a thing or two from Redick, who rarely played during his first two years in the NBA before working his way into a rotational role with the Magic. Similarly, Harris saw action in just 42 games as a rookie. Then, after starting the first 14 games of this season, he fell out of favor with then-Bucks head coach Scott Skiles and rarely got meaningful minutes.

Defensive issues and sharing the basketball were reasons why Skiles shuffled Harris to the bench. Despite not understanding why he was being relegated to a reserve role, Harris still has nice things to say about the treatment he got from Skiles while in Milwaukee.

And it was another member of Milwaukee’s coaching staff – Bucks assistant coach Bill Peterson – who Harris credits with echoing the sentiments that his father was telling him about continuing to work at his game while not playing.

``Coach Peterson was guy since I was a rookie coming in and we spent so much time together in the gym this year, over the summer and my rookie year,’’ Harris said. ``When I was playing we were always in the gym and when I wasn’t playing he told me to keep my faith. He told me that I was going to be a great player and I just had to keep my faith. When I got traded he called me and said this is it for you and now is your time to showcase your abilities. I still talk to him frequently because he’s a mentor for me.’’

That work kept him ready for his big shot in Orlando, and he has produced in a big way. He has twice set new career highs in scoring with 23 and 27 points. He had 17 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks in Tuesday’s pressurized game against the Los Angeles Lakers. And he played some of his best defense while in Orlando on Friday against Oklahoma City, forcing Kevin Durant into six turnovers.

``It speaks to his character and what type of person that he is that he stayed ready,’’ Vaughn said of Harris. ``A lot of guys will face that adversity of not playing the first year or two, sometimes even Year 3, and how do you respond to that? Mentally, Tobias kept himself ready. Physically, you’ve got coaches and trainers who can help you. But the mental grind, when you’re at home and you’re not playing or your team is winning or losing, how do you handle that?’’

So will Harris be out to prove to Milwaukee that they made a mistake in giving up on his too soon by trading him to Orlando? He admitted to being somewhat stung initially by the trade, but those feelings quickly faded because of his delight with being in Orlando.

He said he’ll try to treat this game just like any game. After all, that’s likely what his dad told him to do. And, of course, father knows best.

``I was surprised (by the trade) because you are hearing that you are a key asset to the team and a part of the future for the longest, but I know it’s a business and a part of the game. The situation in Orlando is a good one for me,’’ Harris said. ``It’s just another game. It’s against my old team, but at the same time it’s about the Orlando Magic now. (The Bucks) did what they did and that was the trade that they wanted to make. So obviously they didn’t think it was a mistake. As a player I’m going to go out there, play my game, play with my teammates and have fun on the basketball court.’’

MORE STORIES: Afflalo Embracing Renovation | Harris Finds Inspiration From Father; Thriving in Orlando | Udrih Relieved to be Out of Milwaukee

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