Arron Afflalo returns to city where NBA career blossomed

Former Denver Nuggets shooting guard leads Orlando Magic into Pepsi Center
by Aaron Lopez

Orlando Magic guard Arron Afflalo looked right at home as he took some shots after practice Tuesday at Pepsi Center.

He was in the building where he hit his first game-winning shot to beat the Dallas Mavericks on Feb. 10, 2011.

He was in the building where he helped the Denver Nuggets beat the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 6 of the Western Conference playoffs last spring.

He was in the city where his NBA career blossomed during a successful three-year stretch that ended when he was traded to Orlando as part of a four-team deal on Aug. 10.

Afflalo, who averaged 11.9 points for Denver from 2009-12, will play at Pepsi Center for the first time with the Magic on Wednesday. Though not the sentimental type, Afflalo had good memories of his time with the Nuggets.

“Denver’s definitely the first place in which I felt I was given the freedom to really grow as a player,” he said. “When it’s your dream to play in the NBA and you’re finally given that opportunity, you’re definitely thankful. I appreciate the time I had here.”

Acquired by the Nuggets from Detroit on July 13, 2009, Afflalo went from being a part-time reserve to a capable and consistent starter. He shot .419 from 3-point range and emerged as an elite perimeter defender during that span.

“He’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve ever coached,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “I’m sure he’s in the gym even more so (in Orlando) than when he was here and we were successful.”

As much as the Nuggets loved Afflalo’s attitude, work ethic and talent, they could not pass up an opportunity to acquire All-Star and Olympian Andre Iguodala last summer. Iguodala came to Denver from Philadelphia, while Afflalo and Al Harrington went to the Magic in the mega-deal that sent Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Nearly five months later, Afflalo is averaging a career-high 17.9 points and has no hard feelings about his move to the East.

“My perspective on it is (it’s an) opportunity and I’m grateful to play the game no matter what team I’m on,” he said. “I feel that it's a disrespect to the Magic if I’m disappointed. I’m happy. I’m ready to grow as a player and hopefully lead this team one day to something that may have been unforeseen.”

For the first time in his NBA career, Afflalo is in the midst of an extended losing streak. After hovering around .500 for the several weeks of the season, the Magic has dropped nine straight games.

As a fierce competitor who doesn’t hide his disdain for losing, Afflalo is trying to find a way to help his team turn things around.

“It’s almost a childish thing for me. I’ve been like that since I was a kid,” he said. “They say in the NBA you play so many games, you have to forget and move on, but I don’t just let things easily roll off that way. I do wear it (on my sleeve) a little bit. I try to make the corrections I can carry over to the next night.”

Afflalo struggled in Orlando’s first game against the Nuggets, scoring seven points on 3-of-13 shooting. The Magic still prevailed, beating Denver 102-89 at Amway Center on Nov. 2.

For the Nuggets (20-16), the Orlando loss is a distant memory. They have won four of their past five games and are looking to build some momentum during a four-game homestand that starts Wednesday.

“We’ve put ourselves in a good position,” Karl said. “In a lot of ways our team was mentally disjointed (during the game in Orlando). That was a long time ago. I think we should remember what they did to us and remember that Arron will try to get 50 points and be ready to go play.”

Informed of Karl’s message, Afflalo smiled and responded the only way he knows how.

“In this situation, we need a win,” he said. “We need a win bad. That’s where my fire will come from.”