By John DentonJune 30, 2014
ORLANDO -- In a move designed to transfer leadership to the team’s young core of players, create future salary-cap flexibility and assist their all-time leader in assists, the Orlando Magic cut ties with 10-year veteran point guard Jameer Nelson on Monday.
One of only two players ever to wear a Magic uniform for 10 seasons, Nelson was waived by the only team that he’s ever played for professionally so that he could become an unrestricted free agent when the courting period begins in less than nine hours at midnight. Contractually, Orlando had until July 15 to make a decision on the final year of Nelson’s contract, but it made a move on Monday so that the 32-year-old Nelson could have the opportunity to continue his career with another team.
In a statement, Nelson thanked the Magic and the fan base for believing in him and supporting for a decade.
``I appreciate the opportunity the Orlando Magic have afforded me and my family over the past 10 years,’’ Nelson said. ``I’d like to thank the DeVos family, team management and all the coaches that have provided me guidance, mentoring and the ability to play the game that I love in the town that I love.
``I’d also like to give sincere and special thanks to the great Magic fans ... you have loyally supported me since my first day in Orlando, and have always been there for me and my family,’’ Nelson continued. ``You made it easy for us to adopt Orlando as our second home, and we will miss you.
``All good things must come to an end, however, and it’s time to move on. I look forward to continuing my career as an NBA player, and will never take for granted my time in Orlando.’’
In an unrelated move, the Magic also waived shooting guard Doron Lamb earlier on Monday. Lamb got off to a slow start this past season because of a severe ankle sprain and he never fully recovered while averaging just 3.6 points in 53 games.
In a matter of five days, the Magic have gotten dramatically younger by waiving Nelson and Lamb, trading Arron Afflalo, acquiring 21-year-old Evan Fournier and drafting 18-year-old Aaron Gordon, 20-year-old Elfrid Payton and 21-year-old shooting guard Roy Devyn Marble.
Clearly, the Magic are ready for young standouts Nikola Vucevic, Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris, Maurice Harkless and Kyle O’Quinn to take over the responsibility of the team’s leadership. Add in Gordon, Payton and Marble and the Magic figure to be one of the youngest and most athletic teams in the NBA next season.
The Magic are eager for new backcourt mates Oladipo and Payton – players who met in Orlando last week and have already become fast friends – to evolve into the kind of leaders who push teammates and hold them accountable – something that Nelson did extremely well during his decade with Orlando.
Nelson was due to make $8 million next season if he was on Orlando’s roster after July 15, but the Magic saved $6 million on the salary cap by waiving Nelson now. The flexibility created by Nelson’s departure should allow the Magic to be active in the free-agent market, which begins Tuesday at 12 a.m.
Magic GM Rob Hennigan expressed gratitude to Nelson for his play on the court, his mentoring of Orlando’s young players and his charity work in the Central Florida community.
``Jameer (Nelson) is the ultimate professional,’’ Hennigan said. ``We truly thank him for his contributions to the organization, both on the court and in the community, during the last decade. He will always be a member of the Magic family.’’
Throughout the past season Nelson expressed an interest in remaining with the Magic, largely because of his loyalty to the franchise that believed in him in 2004 by trading up to get him when he slid in the draft. Nelson also signed two contract extensions throughout his time in Orlando, choosing to stay with the Magic when he could have bolted as a free agent.
``All of the time I still hear fans saying, `Thanks for staying.’ I think they appreciate who I am. Who I am is a professional in everything that I do. I try to always handle myself the same way no matter where I am and who’s around or not around,’’ Nelson said back during the spring. ``I take so much pride in being with the Magic for as long as I have. I really think it says a lot about myself and this organization, as well. For a guy who slipped in the draft and the Magic traded for me and believed in me – really, it’s an honor for me to say that I’ve only worn a Magic jersey.’’
The 6-foot point guard’s legacy in Orlando is secure for many years to come. Nelson stands as the franchise’s all-time leader in assists with 3,501. He also ranks second in games played (651) and field goal attempts (7,033), third in minutes played (19,038), 3-pointers made (874) and 3-pointers attempted (2,335), fourth in scoring (8,184 points) and field goals made (3,109) and fifth in steals (619). He was named an NBA All-Star in 2009 and earned the NBA’s Eastern Conference Player of the Week honor twice (periods ending Dec. 21, 2008, Jan. 18, 2009).
Nelson has played in 651 career NBA regular season games (556 starts), all with Orlando. He’s averaged 12.6 points, 5.4 assists and 3.1 rebounds in 29.2 minutes, while shooting 37.4 percent (874-2,335) from 3-point range and 81.7 (1,092-1,337) from the free throw line. He also appeared in 44 career playoff games, averaging 15.0 points, 4.6 assists and 3.5 rebounds in 32.5 minutes.
Nelson always considered himself something of a survivor what with the way he made it out of the hardscrabble area of Chester, Pa., and thrived in the NBA as a too-short, shoot-first point guard. Nelson also endured the death of his father, Floyd ``Pete’’ Nelson in 2007 when the family patriarch was just 57 years old. Nelson honored his late father with hand gestures during games, wristbands that bore his dad’s name and a foundation started in his honor.
``Every day I think about him. The things that he gave me when he was a parent, I didn’t realize it until I was older and had kids of my own. Now, I’m just like him,’’ Nelson said a couple of months ago. ``Everything I do now, sacrificing to be with (his kids) or just hanging out with them, I’m just like my dad was with me. When friends come into town, I’d rather go to my kids’ games than go out with them. I will tell them, `You are welcomed to come with us, but I’m going to my kids’ games.’ My dad was always there for me and there was never a dull moment with him. Just giving that same thing back to my kids now is so important for me.’’
Age and injuries seemed to catch up with Nelson the past two seasons when he missed 26 and 14 games. But his veteran moxie still shone through this past season when he ranked seventh in the NBA in assists (7.0) and 13th in the league in assists per turnover (2.87). This past season, he led the Magic in scoring five times, led them in assists 54 times and he narrowly missed notching a triple-double in what was likely the final game of his Magic career on April 11 (12 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds) against Washington.
Some of Nelson’s biggest assists came off the court. He was awarded the Rich and Helen DeVos Community Enrichment award for the 2012-13 season and he used the prize money to assist two local non-profit organizations.
Nelson also served as a mentor to Oladipo last season and the rookie couldn’t have been more complimentary about the advice and knowledge given by the 10-year-veteran. Nelson’s influence on Oladipo should live on in Orlando for years to come even though the veteran point guard will be playing elsewhere.
``Jameer has meant the world to me with the way that he has helped me with little pieces of advice and tips on how to go about things,’’ Oladipo said back during the season. ``(Nelson) has done it all before and has been successful a long time in this league, so I’m trying to be a sponge and soak in as much knowledge as possible from him.’’
With veteran point guards always in need, Nelson should receive plenty of interest from around the NBA to continue his playing career. When he does decide to retire – he has said that he wants to try and play until he’s 40 years old – Nelson should have success as a coach at some level. His ability to relate to others, while also holding their respect, made him one of the most respected voices in the Magic locker room for years. Just the way that he handled Oladipo – talking to him mostly in private, talking to him before or after games and never in the mist of and not overloading him with info – showed off his incredible basketball IQ, something that should make him a success as a future head coach.
For now, though, Nelson feels like he still has plenty to offer as a player. For the first time in 10 years, Nelson will do so in a uniform other than the Magic’s. Regardless, he figures to be the same scrappy point guard who gets the most out of his ability and leads like he’s the biggest man on the court.
``I’m not going to limit myself. As long as I can continue to work in the summer and prepare myself for a season, I feel like I’ll still be able to play,’’ Nelson said. ``I feel like my brain will continue to be an asset for me. I feel like I’m smart enough to play the game even when I start slowing down. I don’t feel like I’ve slowed down that much, but I have gotten smarter about using my speed and quickness in spurts.’’