Used to be, when a point guard re-upped to continue setting up the best center in basketball, it was a joyous occasion for both sides. The little man would keep playing with an ideal finisher for his passes, while the big man would stick with a playmaker he’s known, in this case, since they both arrived in the NBA eight years earlier.
Once upon a time, that’s how Jameer Nelson’s reported agreement Thursday to re-sign with the Orlando Magic would have looked too, strengthening his connection with Dwight Howard. But that fairy tale has fluttered away, and Nelson’s return looks more like another sign of Howard’s certain departure. He reportedly will sign a three-year deal, the dollar amount so far undisclosed, after averaging 11.9 points and 5.7 assists in 57 appearances.
The combo of Nelson out front and Howard down low once was vital to the Magic’s ambitions; they got to the 2009 Finals and reached the Eastern Conference finals a year later. But like many of Howard’s relationships in Orlando, his dealings with Nelson appeared to sour from the All-Star center’s self-indulgent embrace of his options and clout via impending free agency.
Howard snubbed his teammates on the court with dubious efforts, offended them off it by distancing his own wonderfulness from the rest of the squad (and ex-coach Stan Van Gundy) and, according to Alex Kennedy of Hoopsworld.com, nearly came to blows with Nelson at one point:
This [trying to nullify his opt-in for this season] is just the latest in a string of events that have caused many within the Magic organization to grow tired of Howard. Several of Howard’s teammates are hoping for his departure as well. Toward the end of last season, Howard came close to a physical altercation with teammate Jameer Nelson at the Magic’s practice facility. Howard was sidelined with a back injury at the time, but nearly came to blows with Nelson for unknown reasons, according to sources. The two players had to be separated.
At Sunday’s opening bell for NBA free agents, Nelson opted out of the final year of his deal — a five-year contract that paid him $29.7 million through four and, to be fair, owed much to his work with Howard. But if there is rancor between them now or if Howard feels he needs an upgrade at point guard in or away from Orlando, Nelson wouldn’t have been so swiftly re-signed; this seems more like a stab at some continuity for the fan base. Nor would Nelson have agreed to return, if he anticipated only more drama and slights from the big guy.
Who, it must be noted, was conspicuously absent in Nelson’s statement to the Orlando Sentinel about his return:
“Genuinely, I love the city. I love the organization. I’ve learned a lot from the people in the organization. The DeVos family means a lot to myself and my family and it means a lot to me that they always put out a winning product.”
Oranges have died in Florida from frosts less chilly that that verbal freeze-out.