Magic Sign C.J. Watson

By John Denton
July 9, 2015

ORLANDO – Eager to add an experienced, veteran guard who can help them on the floor and in the locker room around their gaggle of young players, the Orlando Magic pursued C.J. Watson early in free agency and finalized an agreement on Thursday.

In the 31-year-old Watson, the Magic get an eight-year veteran who has both started and come off the bench and played point guard and off the ball as a spot-up shooter. He’ll most likely be used as the Magic’s second-string point guard and a late-game shooter to spread the floor, but his value also lies in his ability to mentor young Magic guards Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo.

``I just thought this was the best situation to come here with a young core group, be a positive for the team and hopefully help them get to the playoffs,’’ said Watson, who averaged 10 points, 3.6 assists and 2.9 rebounds a game last season for the Indiana Pacers. ``Coach (Scott Skiles) has talked to me about helping (Payton). We’ll both be out there at times and competing and helping each other. Hopefully we’ll play together, but when I’m on the floor he’s going to cheer for me and he’s playing I’ll be cheering for him too.’’

In his career with Golden State, Chicago, Brooklyn and Indiana, Watson has averaged 7.8 points, 2.5 assists and 2.0 rebounds while shooting 42.5 percent from the floor and 38.3 percent from 3-point range. Five times in his career he’s shot better than 39 percent from 3-point range and he’s averaged at least nine points a game four times.

In addition to appearing in more than 500 regular-season NBA games, Watson also is a veteran of 47 playoff games – a spot the Magic hope they can get to next season following another summer of development.

``C.J. is a veteran who has been around for a few years and he’s proven to be a good backup point guard in this league. And he’s played in the playoffs,’’ Magic GM Rob Hennigan said. ``But more than anything we feel like he brings a calming presence and a shot-making presence, and he’s a solid defender as well.’’

Payton, whom the Magic acquired in a trade on draft night in 2014, was the only Orlando player to appear in all 82 games last season. He had triple-doubles in consecutive games last fall and finished fourth in the NBA’s Rookie of the Year voting. Hennigan thinks that a high-character veteran such as Watson will give the 21-year-old Payton the best chance of reaching his maximum potential.

``C.J.’s reputation as a teammate and a human being certain precedes himself and his corporate knowledge, experience and his stories that he can share with Elfrid and all of our young guys will be beneficial,’’ Hennigan said.

Thursday was the end of the NBA’s moratorium period on signing free agents and executing trades. Teams were allowed to begin recruiting players on July 1 and could come to handshake agreements on deals, but they couldn’t sign them until July 9. Watson said he was impressed by the Magic’s pursuit of him when they contacted his agent on the first day of the free-agent courting period.

Hennigan, who handled the May 29 hiring of new head coach Scott Skiles, candidly said that he expects the Magic’s blossoming roster to make major strides in the upcoming season. Orlando won 20, 23 and 25 games the past three seasons and the franchise is hoping to play many more meaningful games next season.

``We want to win and we want to be in the mix,’’ Hennigan said. ``It’s time to turn the corner – our guys know that and we all know that. We want to be in the (playoff) mix, for sure.’’

Watson’s arrival comes six years after the Magic heavily pursued him while he was playing for the Golden State Warriors. Watson wasn’t drafted in 2006 after coming out the University of Tennessee, but he carved out a career for himself by thriving in Italy, Greece and the D-League before getting his shot in the NBA.

Former Magic GM Otis Smith tried to sign Watson as the backup to Jameer Nelson in 2008, but the Warriors hung onto the point guard. Orlando ultimately signed Anthony Johnson and later added Rafer Alston when Nelson got hurt, helping the Magic reach the 2009 NBA Finals.

``It was kind of disappointing (that the transaction fell through in 2008) and I was hoping that it would get done. I think they went to the Finals that year, so I was pretty mad that I wasn’t on the team,’’ Watson said with a laugh. ``But it was still fun to be in the recruiting process and I’m just happy it finally got done this time.’’

Watson said his experience against the Magic last season in four games with the Pacers helped him know that Orlando has a team on the rise. In Nikola Vucevic, Tobias Harris, Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon, Oladipo and Payton, the Magic have the foundation of a young and talented core.

``I think with the additions that we have and the style and structure that (Skiles) will bring that we’ll be able to make that (playoff) jump,’’ Watson said.

OFFICIAL PRESS RELEASE

The Orlando Magic have signed free agent guard C.J. Watson, General Manager Rob Hennigan announced today. Per team policy, terms of the deal are not disclosed.

Watson (6’2”, 175, 4/17/84) played in 57 games last season with Indiana (21 starts), averaging 10.0 ppg., 3.6 apg., 2.9 rpg. and 1.00 stlpg. in 24.9 minpg., while shooting .400 (70-175) from three-point range and .826 (138-167) from the free throw line. He led (or tied) the team in scoring three times, in rebounding once and in assists 16 times. Watson scored in double figures 29 times and had 20+ points four times, including a season-high 23 points three times, the last on Mar. 26 at Milwaukee. He also pulled down a career-high nine rebounds on Dec. 27 at Brooklyn.

After playing collegiately at the University of Tennessee, Watson was not selected during the 2006 NBA Draft. He played in Italy, Greece and the NBA Development League, before being signed to the first of two consecutive 10-day contracts by Golden State on Jan. 8, 2008. Watson has appeared in 505 career NBA regular season games (93 starts) with Golden State, Chicago, Brooklyn and Indiana, averaging 7.8 ppg., 2.5 apg. and 2.0 rpg. in 20.6 minpg., while shooting .383 (425-1,110) from three-point range and .806 (750-931) from the free throw line. He has also played in 48 career NBA playoff games (five starts), averaging 5.5 ppg., 2.0 apg. and 1.8 rpg. in 16.8 minpg.

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