Posts Tagged ‘Jameer Nelson’

Back And Forth With Bones: Magic-Wizards

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Back and Forth With Bones is an e-mail exchange between NBA.com’s John Schuhmann and NBA TV’s Brent Barry during a Monday night game. This week, they sat down (Schuhmann at home in New Jersey, Barry in the studio in Atlanta) to watch the 6-10 Orlando Magic visit the 8-9 Washington Wizards.

Pre-game

Schuhmann: Hey Bones, we got Magic-Wizards tonight.

The Wiz have won six of their last eight games with an improved offense (103.5 points per 100 possessions vs. 98.5 in their first nine games). For the season, they’ve been great on both ends of the floor with John Wall, Nene and Marcin Gortat on the floor with two of the Trevor Ariza/Bradley Beal/Martell Webster group, outscoring opponents by 14.3 points per 100 possessions. But all other lineups have been dreadful. So depth is an issue, especially with Beal out.

They’re a jump-shooting team. Only two teams (New York and Portland) have taken a lower percentage of shots from the paint. But they’re tied with the Heat for the league lead in corner 3-pointers. Wall has 32 assists on corner 3s (10 more than anybody else in the league) and Ariza and Webster are tied for second with 23 corner threes.

So that has to be a priority for Orlando’s defense, which ranks 26th in defending corner 3s and has been pretty bad over the last nine games after a strong start. I don’t know if Jameer Nelson is available (and the Magic offense has been pretty awful with him off the floor), but the Wall-Victor Oladipo matchup should be fun.

The Wizards have been a good defensive rebounding team with Gortat and Nene on the floor together, but pretty awful when one or both sits. So Nikola Vucevic could have some success if either gets in foul trouble.

Thoughts?

Barry: Yes, Randy Wittman is auditioning players to help take the load off of the starting group. But this game is interesting to me in that there is a lot of positivity regarding the Wizards recent play. Can they accept and continue what it is that has gotten them there?

With Beal out, I am stoked to see Martell Webster getting quality starter minutes, though 40-plus (in three of those) is too many. He’s just ready to get in there and mix it up, being a pro.

Watching John Wall balance out his game tonight will be key. Quality possessions against a team in Orlando that competes and shares the ball on offense are a must. The bigs must stay out of foul trouble for Washington.

Orlando is not a huge dribble-penetrate attack team other than Oladipo. It’s interesting that the Wiz have had this stretch with Beal (NBA minutes leader and their leading scorer) out.

Is Arron Afflalo an Eastern Conference All-Star? Hard to say he hasn’t played like one.

Schuhmann: Nah, the East All-Stars should just be six players each from Indiana and Miami.

Barry: Add four from the West to the East. Any player born east of the Mississippi can qualify for East team headed to NO!

(more…)

It’s Never Too Early To Make A Move


VIDEO: Jameer Nelson talks about sharing the backcourt with Victor Oladipo

The season isn’t even a month old, but there are some places where things are clearly not working and it’s already time for a change. Here are a handful of names that could or should be on the move:

Omer Asik, Rockets — At this point, he should have a moving van at the front door and his luggage packed. It’s only a matter of time before last year’s flavor of the season gets his wish and a ticket out of Houston. Despite his workmanlike double-double consistency in 2012-13, there’s no faulting the Rockets for leaping at the chance to upgrade to Dwight Howard. The twin towers experiment didn’t work. Asik is unlikely to be happy playing just the spare minutes available as a backup and it only makes sense to get the kind of piece missing — rugged, bruising big man or stretch 4 — that can be a more comfortable fit at both ends of the floor. It also wouldn’t hurt to unload that $15 million due next season to Asik. There are any number of places that Asik could help right away. New York and New Orleans immediately come to mind. GM Daryl Morey is in no rush and will pull the trigger when he’s ready on the right deal.

Jameer Nelson, Magic — The handwriting has been on the wall since the Magic made Victor Oladipo the No. 2 pick in the 2013 draft and promptly announced going into summer league play that he would get a run at point guard. That message might as well have been spray-painted in Day-Glo orange on Saturday night when coach Jacque Vaughn removed the veteran Nelson from a winnable game against Dallas and let the rookie run the offense all the way to the end of a 108-100 loss. Oladipo, as uncomfortable as he may often look at the point, is the future of the franchise along with all of the other young parts. In a season when the Magic don’t really expect to win many games, it only makes sense to move Nelson and make the full-time commitment to the rookie. The fact that the $8 million on Nelson’s contract next season is a team option will only make him easier to move for another future asset.

Danny Granger, Pacers — The fact that Granger has not yet come back from a calf injury more than three weeks into the season hasn’t stopped the Pacers from running out to their league-best 10-1 record, which matches the Spurs. In fact, it could mean that coach Frank Vogel will have to disrupt the humming of a well-oiled machine when he eventually has to find the minutes and shots that Granger will surely want when he’s back in the lineup. Can he really afford to give up a single possession by MVP candidate Paul George? Lance Stephenson has fit quite well into the starting lineup. The Pacers pushed the Heat to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals without Granger last spring. By moving his desirable expiring contract they could add another valuable piece to the bench.

Thaddeus Young, 76ers — The long, versatile forward does not shoot well from behind the 3-point line, but does so many other things that make him desirable and valuable on the court. Considering the fact that the Sixers are still several years away under GM Sam Hinkie’s total reconstruction program, it doesn’t make sense to keep Young around for another $19 million over the next two seasons. Hinkie would probably like to get rid of Evan Turner first, but Young is the player that other clubs are most interested in and could bring in return the kind of asset that Philly wants and needs for the future.

Anybody But DeMarcus Cousins, Ben McLemore, Kings — It might be time to set up the folding tables and the hand drawn price tags in the parking lot at Sleep Train Arena and hold a flea market to clean out the locker room. As Scott Howard-Cooper pointed out, the Kings have already benched Marcus Thornton, John Salmons and Patrick Patterson and are ready to make a full-time commitment to the future by sweeping the locker room clean. Cousins may have his own baggage, but he is putting up solid numbers of 21.5 points and 9.9 rebounds per game. Despite all of the optimism that the “saved in Sacramento” Kings brought into this season under new coach Michael Malone, losing seven of their first nine games delivered a heavy dose of reality.


VIDEO:
Danny Granger speaks on Nov. 13 about progress with injury

Morning Shootaround — Nov. 20


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Nov. 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING

D-Will to play tonight vs. Bobcats | Anthony: ‘We have to figure this out’ | Hakeem can’t wait to help Howard | Nelson gets minutes cut in Orlando

No. 1: D-Will cleared to rejoin Nets — Few teams this early in the season can match the talent/name-recognition level and disappointment that the Brooklyn Nets boast. Off to a 3-7 start and bringing up the caboose of the Atlantic Division with the New York Knicks, the Nets have lost five of their last six games and experienced most of their struggles without star point guard Deron Williams. Brooklyn got a dose of good news yesterday, though, with word that Williams’ troublesome ankle is feeling better and he will be able to play tonight against the Bobcats, writes Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPNNewYork.com. Center Brook Lopez may be back in the linup as well.:

The Nets’ starting point guard said he will play at Charlotte on Wednesday after missing the last two games with a sprained ankle. Williams injured his left ankle against Phoenix on Nov. 15 and hasn’t played since.

He practiced Tuesday and said there will be no restrictions on him when he returns.

“Nope,” Williams said when asked if there will be a minutes limit. “I’m going to play.”

The Nets (3-7) have lost five of their last six games and can use their top point guard back. Williams, who missed the majority of camp with a right ankle injury, is averaging 10 points and 6.5 assists per game this season.

“He looked good,” coach Jason Kidd said. “We had a good practice. Deron looked good.”

The Nets’ health is improving at a critical time, as they play five of their next seven on the road. Center Brook Lopez, who has also missed the last two games with a sprained ankle, said he feels good enough to play.

“I don’t know how long it’s going to be, that’s not up to me,” said Lopez, who landed on teammate Kevin Garnett‘s foot during the Nets’ win over the Suns last Friday. “I feel good. I feel like I could play. I’m not the one calling the shots there. We’ve got to think about long-term.”

***

No. 2: Anthony: ‘Got to figure this out’ — In last night’s loss to the Detroit Pistons, Knicks star Carmelo Anthony lost his cool and was whistled for a technical foul in the third quarter and Amar’e Stoudemire was called for one, too, in the fourth quarter. As New York lost its third straight game, Anthony was left searching for answers as a big date with the Indiana Pacers looms tonight, wrties Anthony Rieber of Newsday:

After the Knicks fell to 3-7 with a 92-86 loss to the Pistons Tuesday night, a frustrated Carmelo Anthony was asked to assess just what the heck is going on.

“I don’t know,” Anthony said. “We’re losing. It’s a messed-up feeling. A hurt feeling. Got to figure it out. That’s the only thing I can say about this. We’ve got to figure it out quick.”

How quick? By about 7 p.m. would be nice. That’s when the 9-1 Indiana Pacers will be at the Garden, where the Knicks are 1-5 this season. The Pacers, as you recall, knocked the Knicks out of the playoffs last season.

“I think right now it’s just a matter of wanting it more,” Anthony said. “We’ve got to want it more [Wednesday night], especially on our home court. There’s some bitter feelings, knowing that they knocked us out of the playoffs last year, so hopefully that gives us some momentum, some energy, some confidence and some anger to go out there and play with.”

With 4:09 left in the third quarter and the Knicks trailing by four, Anthony was called for the technical after missing a jumper. Anthony had been complaining all night about not getting calls when he was (in his opinion) fouled by the Pistons.

Less than a minute later, Anthony was called for an offensive foul. Then he blew past Andre Drummond (13 points, 11 rebounds) and hit a layup for what Anthony considered a foul and continuation for what could have been a three-point play.

But the ruling was a non-shooting foul and the basket didn’t count. A flabbergasted Anthony immediately walked to the bench. “It’s kind of hard when you’re out there dealing with that,” he said. “When you think things should be going your way and it’s not. Thinking something should be called but it’s not. I’ve got to fight through that.”

Stoudemire, who had six points in 15:07 and isn’t expected to play Wednesday night, was whistled for a technical for arguing as the Knicks appeared to be losing their cool.


VIDEO:
Anthony on Knicks’ struggles, lack of effort

***

No. 3: Olajuwon itching to help Howard — After Dwight Howard signed with the Houston Rockets in the offseason, much was made (in this space and elsewhere) of his working with Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon to further polish his post moves. Since the start of the season, Howard’s offensive game has lagged and he has received plenty of criticism, with TNT’s Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley being among the foremost ones. Our own Fran Blinebury caught up with Olajuwon, who is in his native Nigera to launch a basketball initiative for youth, about Howard’s play and more:

The Hall of Famer was speaking Tuesday from Nigeria, where he was helping to launch a basketball initiative for youth. Even from half a world away, though, Olajuwon was thinking about the struggles of his current pupil, Howard, who he mentored in the offseason after the big man signed a four-year, $88-million free agent contract with the Rockets, Olajuwon’s former team.

“The truth is that I can’t wait to get back to Houston to do more work with Dwight,” said Olajuwon, who left Houston in early October to return to his home in Amman, Jordan and has been keeping track of his pupil on TV. “I wish he was doing a better job.

“Dwight has always been athletic and aggressive and he still is. But when I watch him, what I see are opportunities that he is missing. When he gets the ball, he seems to be taking his time to decide what move to make, where he should go.

“There should not be a delay for Dwight. He must be able to make a faster recognition of the situations and react immediately with a go-to move. You must move right away before the defense has a chance to set up. You must be the one making the first move so that you can force the defender to always be the one reacting.

“I thought we were doing a good job with this when we were working together over the summer and at the start of training camp. But what I see now is that when Dwight gets in competition, he has a tendency to go back to all of his old habits. He’s just doing all of the things that he did before. He needs a reminder.”

Olajuwon, who was a .712 shooter on free throws through his 18-year NBA career, has cringed long distance while watching Howard make a career low .531 from the foul line this season.

“I think this is where a confident routines comes in,” Olajuwon said. “It’s not just putting in hours and hours of work. It’s getting a solid routine and staying with it. With Dwight right now, I think it’s more mental. Sometimes you just have to let it go. Don’t think. Don’t hesitate. Just trust your routine and let it go.

“I won’t say that you can’t ever win a championship as a big man if you don’t shoot free throws well, because Shaq did it four times. But it can be a deciding factor, so you want to fix it.”

***

No. 4: Nelson takes high road on playing time – In Orlando Magic history, only two players have played more games for the franchise than Jameer Nelson and no other player has as many assists in Orlando as Nelson does. In short, Nelson is and has been a great player for the Magic for years. But as the team moves into a younger phase and tries to get prized rookie Victor Oladipo more minutes at point guard, Nelson has seen his playing time crunched. Such was the case in a road loss to Dallas, where Nelson sat the final 17 minutes of the game in favor of Oladipo. Despite the playing time cut, Nelson is trying to stay as classy as possible about the move, writes Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel:

Coach Jacque Vaughn kept Nelson on the bench throughout the final 17 minutes of Saturday night’s 108-100 loss to the Dallas Mavericks. Vaughn employed rookie Victor Oladipo instead of Nelson at point guard even though Nelson had played well on offense and Oladipo was struggling with turnovers.

“The thing about it is, obviously, I want to play and I want to compete,” Nelson said Monday when he was asked about the situation.

“I’m a competitor and I want to win, so I wanted to be on the court. Coach decided not to play me, and that’s his decision. I can only play the minutes that he gives me, play them as hard as I can and leave it out there for those minutes. It’s his decision who’s going to play the minutes and when they’re going to play them. And our job as players is, like I said, to play those minutes as best we can.”

Nelson wants to remain with the Magic for years to come. At 31 years old, he should have at least several productive seasons ahead of him and would prefer to spend those seasons on the court instead of on the bench.

On Monday, Vaughn was asked whether he anticipates using Oladipo as the Magic’s primary ball-handler down the stretches of close games the rest of the season.

“It kind of depends,” Vaughn answered.

“A lot of times we’ve been playing with three guards in the rotation. There’s been times when he’s been in where Jameer is handling [the basketball]. I think that’ll be [determined by the] opposition and what opportunities we have on the floor. The ball was in [Oladipo's] hands against Dallas. We made them react to us. They started double-teaming him, and so we were able to dictate a little bit. So that was positive for us.”

Vaughn said he wanted to give Oladipo the experience of running the Magic offense during a close game, because those scenarios can’t be simulated in practice.

Team officials want to test Oladipo and determine over the course of the season whether he can be a fulltime point guard in the NBA. They believe Oladipo’s confidence can withstand rough outings, and they also believe he’ll improve as the season continues.

But the decision to play Oladipo over Nelson in the fourth quarter of a winnable matchup also opens the Magic to accusations that they are tanking games to enhance their chances of picking early in the talent-rich 2014 NBA Draft.

Magic officials still regard Nelson as one of their best leaders.

True to form, he said he won’t change his game or his demeanor.

“My game is still the same: to go out and attack and create things for myself or for my teammates and to lead and to do things in a professional manner,” Nelson said. “I’m going to continue to do that no matter what’s going on and what the speculations are and what people say. I’m still me and I’m still going to play like me.”


VIDEO:
Oladipo on playing point guard, facing the Heat next

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Bobcats big man Al Jefferson is getting frustrated by his lingering ankle injury … Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova says he’s ready to return to the lineup

ICYMI Of The Night: The Suns’ Gerald Green just keeps one-upping himself with his in-game dunks this season, with last night’s make-sure-I-don’t-bang-my-face-on-the-backboard jam being the latest entry …


VIDEO: Gerald Green soars in for a spectacular one-handed slam

Improved ‘D’ Fuels Quick Start For Bobcats, Suns And Magic

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – It’s early.

But the Philadelphia 76ers aren’t the only surprise team of the 2013-14 season’s first 10 days. The Charlotte Bobcats, Orlando Magic and Phoenix Suns – three teams projected by most to finish in the in the bottom five of the league – are all 3-2 entering Friday’s 12-game slate.

When we look at these three rosters, we see a lack of talent. And from that we can predict that they will struggle offensively. But team defense is another story, especially when you have a new coach, like in Charlotte and Phoenix. Organization and energy on defense can help teams with limited talent overachieve. And defense is the common theme in the early success of these three squads, though one of the three has been much more successful on that end of the floor.

Again, it’s early.

But the Magic, Suns and Bobcats rank third, eighth and 13th in defensive efficiency, respectively. And they all rank among the six most improved defensive teams from last season.

Here’s a closer look…

Charlotte

DefRtg: 100.4 (13th)
Improvement: -8.6 (6th)

The Bobcats’ wins have come against the Cavs, Knicks and Raptors, by a total of 13 points. So just like last year’s 7-5 start, there’s a fool’s gold element here.

In only one of their five games – the win over Cleveland – have they held their opponent under a point per possession. And the Cavs currently rank 29th in offensive efficiency. Bobcats opponents have been a hair less efficient (100.3 points scored per 100 possessions) in their 20 games not against Charlotte.

That doesn’t mean that the future Hornets don’t have anything to feel positive about. They had a hobbled Al Jefferson for just their first game and scored 107 points per 100 possessions over their last two wins. Once they add a healthy Jefferson to their Kemba Walker and Ramon Sessions pick-and-rolls, the offense should be even better.

And long term, the Cats will be more organized defensively under Steve Clifford than they were under Mike Dunlap. The early defensive numbers are a little inflated though.

Phoenix

DefRtg: 96.4 (8th)
Improvement: -9.3 (5th)

The Suns have beaten Portland, Utah and New Orleans by a total of 22 points. And they also hung in with the Thunder and Spurs on the road. Their opponents have scored 100.0 points per 100 possessions in their 18 games not against Phoenix.

The Suns had the worst 3-point defense in the league last season and were particularly bad at defending the arc (41.5 percent) with Michael Beasley on the floor. There’s definitely an addition-by-subtraction element here.

They’ve also improved quite a bit on the glass, ranking 11th in defensive rebounding percentage (74.8 percent) after ranking 23rd (71.9 percent) last season. More playing time for the Morris twins has helped in that regard. The Suns have grabbed 75.4 percent of available defensive boards and allowed just 90.6 points per 100 possessions in 148 minutes with one of the two twins on the floor.

Time will tell if Jeff Hornacek‘s defense will continue to hold up, but the signs are good so far. They host the Nuggets and Pelicans this weekend and could face their toughest defensive test on Wednesday, when they visit the Blazers, who currently rank sixth offensively.

Orlando

DefRtg: 94.8 (3rd)
Improvement: -11.9 (1st)

Of the three teams, it’s the Magic who have looked most legit, with wins over the Pelicans, Nets and Clippers by a total of 49 points.

Last season, the Magic defense was strong early in the season, but collapsed after Glen Davis got hurt. So the prospects of them being a decent defensive team while Davis was still recovering from foot surgery were not good. But here they are at No. 3 in the league, having held the Pelicans, Nets and Clippers under 90 points per 100 possessions.

Both Brooklyn and L.A. spoke about a lack of effort in their games in Orlando. The Nets were probably feeling themselves after last Friday’s win over the Heat, and the Clippers were maybe looking forward to their own game against the champs.

But Orlando’s defensive numbers are pretty darn impressive anyway. The Pelicans, Nets and Clippers scored a combined 89.5 points per 100 possessions against Orlando, compared to 108.0 in their other 12 games. L.A. currently ranks No. 1 in the league offensively.

Orlando opponents OffRtg

Team vs. ORL Other games Diff.
Indiana 101.0 99.4 +1.6
Minnesota 103.5 94.1 +9.4
New Orleans 91.4 103.7 -12.2
Brooklyn 89.0 102.5 -13.4
L.A. Clippers 88.0 114.5 -26.4
TOTAL 94.8 103.4 -8.5

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions

The Magic are forcing 1.2 more turnovers per 100 possessions than they did last season, but the early improvement has been mostly about shot defense. And there’s multiple elements to that.

They’re defending the rim better, defending the 3-point line better, and allowing less of those high-efficiency shots. Only 48.1 percent of their opponents’ shots have come from the restricted area or from 3-point range, the second-lowest rate in the league. Last season, that number was 56.7 percent, the 14th lowest rate in the league.

Of Brooklyn’s 89 shots in Orlando last Sunday, 50 came from between the restricted area and the 3-point line. On Wednesday, it was 55 of the Clippers’ 95 shots.

The Magic had a multiple-prong game plan against the Clips, and it worked. First, they sagged deep on Chris Paul‘s pick-and-rolls.

20131106_paul_sag

Paul stepped into some easy elbow jumpers, but the sagging strategy prevented him from getting past the Magic big men and really compromising the Orlando D.

Second, they dared Blake Griffin to shoot from mid-range.

20131106_griffin_space

Griffin was 3-for-13 from outside the paint before that game, but shot an impressive 7-for-13 from mid-range on Wednesday. Still, he got just three shots at the rim.

Finally, the Magic cross-matched in the backcourt, assigning Jameer Nelson to defend his old teammate J.J. Redick. And Nelson did a fantastic job of running Redick off the 3-point line. Here are a couple of examples…


Redick is a great shooter from everywhere, but three is greater than two, so if you can force him into more mid-range shots than threes, you’re doing your job. On Wednesday, Redick was 1-for-5 from 3-point range and 3-for-8 from mid-range.

One more time: It’s early. But an ability to execute a defensive game plan against a great offensive team like that early in the season is a good sign for the Magic defense.

Nelson Committed To Helping Young Magic

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DALLAS – The more change that comes to the Orlando Magic, the more Jameer Nelson remains true to himself, and devoted to his team.

Few would have blamed Nelson for becoming bitter over the Magic’s rapid descent. A survivor of the Dwightmare that cost the franchise its coach, the league’s most dominant center and its standing as an Eastern Conference contender, Nelson could have, without guilt or repercussion, forced his way out of this Orlando rebuild that enters Year 2.

Entering his 10th season, matching Nick Anderson as the longest-tenured player in Magic history, Nelson chose otherwise.

“It’s fun,” Nelson said prior to Monday’s preseason win against the Mavericks. “It’s fun to see the way things progress, where we’re trying to take the franchise and rebuild and do things with a young group. Me coming in 10 years ago, it was kind of the same scenario.”

Nelson finds himself surrounded by a young team beginning to create a bit of a buzz with players such as Moe Harkless, Tobias Harris, Nicola Vucevic and the summer’s No. 2 pick, Victor Oladipo in the fold. The Magic’s top prospect is an exciting player Nelson is eager to mentor while knowing Oladipo could ultimately replace him.

“He’s humble and he’s very talented,” Nelson said of the Indiana product. “He has great upside and I think he’ll be a great player in the league for a long time.”

Nelson took Monday night’s game off and watched an Orlando starting five that boasted six seasons, 358 games and 199 starts among them. Nelson has started 488 of his 583 career games.

The Magic could have, maybe should have, cut ties with him prior to last season. He’s now four years removed from his lone All-Star appearance and has been injury-prone, playing more than 70 games just once since 2006-07. At 31, Nelson has likely reached his peak. Orlando signed him to a three-year extension last summer, raising eyebrows around a league that asked what good Nelson could do for a franchise committed to its youth.

“I’m not a guy looking for accolades. I’m not a guy looking for publicity or notoriety,” Nelson said. “My job is to do my work on the court and off the court in the community and be the person I’ve been for the last 31 years. There’s a reason why I’ve been here for 10 years, a reason why the organization has kept me around.”

Still, Nelson isn’t naive. He knows he’s on the block this season and likely will be playing elsewhere before the February trade deadline as second-year general manager Rob Hennigan, who’s the same age as Nelson, marches onward with his post-Dwight blueprint. The 6-foot point guard could help a contender as a steady reserve, or slide into the starting role for a team needing a veteran in charge. Though neither seems to be what Nelson truly desires.

“I still want to play here in Orlando and see this thing turn around,” Nelson said.

He certainly witnessed it implode. The Magic played in the 2009 Finals and were in the 2010 East finals. By the end of 2013, they had a league-worst 62 losses.

“Just weird,” is how Nelson described the past few seasons through the Dwightmare haze and beyond. “We competed for a championship for four or five years in a row. We were one of the elite teams, so to see where I’m at now in terms of rebuilding, you know, it’s still fun. I’m doing something I love to do, I’m around a bunch of guys who are great, young guys. We don’t have any knuckleheads, we don’t have any guys who cause any problems. Everybody wants to be the best player they can be and wants to learn.”

Teaching and preaching is what Nelson is doing for this squad of early 20-somethings … and for his appreciative, 38-year-old, second-year coach, Jacque Vaughn.

“Since I’ve been here, he’s been a guy that I’ve been able to count on to carry my message in the locker room,” Vaughn said. “And that’s extremely important when young guys are doing this for the first time around. He’s been a leader for us and someone I can count on.”

Nelson passed on a question about his feelings toward Howard. He said he followed the big man’s free agency this summer: “How couldn’t you? You turn on the TV, he was everywhere.” He even said Howard made the right choice by leaving the Lakers and signing with the Houston Rockets because, ironically, “they have a similar system that we played with (former coach) Stan [Van Gundy].”

So how much progress can the Magic make this season? Even in an Eastern Conference that will provide playoff opportunity for an upstart, there’s little doubt this will be an ongoing struggle. And more upheaval is likely with Nelson, Arron Afflalo and Glen “Big Baby” Davis all available for the right price.

Nelson said he’ll keep pushing as long as the Magic let him.

“My job is to continue to be professional whether we win or lose and move forward,” Nelson said. “We’re trying to help these guys develop as much as we can and, with that being said, a lot of them look up to me.”

One Team, One Stat: Magic Missed Big Baby

From Media Day until opening night, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann will provide a key stat for each team in the league and show you, with film and analysis, why it matters. Up next is the Orlando Magic, who, after a decent start, sunk like a stone to the league’s worst record in the league last season.

The basics
ORL Rank
W-L 20-62 30
Pace 94.5 14
OffRtg 98.9 27
DefRtg 106.7 25
NetRtg -7.8 29

The stat

98.8 - Points per 100 possessions allowed by the Magic defense through Dec. 19.

The context

Does anyone remember that the Magic were 12-13 (ninth in the Eastern Conference) through their first 25 games last season? The key to that solid start was the sixth-ranked defense in the league. But from Dec. 20 on, the Magic went 8-49 and ranked 30th defensively, allowing 110.2 points per 100 possessions.

So what happened on Dec. 19? Glen Davis sprained his left shoulder and was lost for 11 games. He returned for nine games in January, but then broke his left foot and was done for the season.

Davis isn’t exactly Kevin Garnett when it comes to defense. He’s not as mobile, he’s not as intense and he’s not as vocal. Nobody is.

But Davis did spend four seasons learning from KG in Boston. And compared to the rest of Orlando’s roster, he has a ton of experience. That can go a long way when it’s time to defend a pick-and-roll…


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The Magic’s strength of schedule wasn’t great in those first 25 games, but they did beat Denver, the Lakers (on the road) and Golden State twice, allowing the Warriors (who finished with the 10th best offense in the league) to score just 96 points per 100 possessions in the two games.

Much was made of the offensive production of some of the Magic’s young players in the second half of the season. There’s a lot of promise in guys like Tobias Harris, Maurice Harkless, Andrew Nicholson and Nikola Vucevic.

But over the last 57 games of the season, their team defense was absolutely dreadful. They didn’t defend the paint or the 3-point line very well, and they barely forced any turnovers.

It shouldn’t be any surprise that their defense in those first couple of months was at its best, allowing just 95.5 points per 100 possessions, with Davis on the floor with fellow vets Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo. The trio missed a total of 92 games last season.

Davis isn’t yet 100 percent recovered from foot surgery and the Magic are going to take their time with him. He told the Orlando Sentinel this week that his foot “will never be the same.”

His absence will likely keep them from being a decent defensive team at the start of the season. But if he can somehow come back at close to 100 percent, he could certainly spark an improvement and make Orlando much less of a walkover for opponents looking to pad their record.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Magic Need To Wake From Dwightmare?



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Closure.

That’s what is on tap for Orlando Magic fans tonight when Dwight Howard makes his return to the building built upon his broad shoulders, the one that was supposed to house the city’s biggest and brightest star.

A win over the Los Angeles Lakers would sweeten the deal, anything the Magic can do to damage the Lakers’ playoff chances serves that purpose. And a lousy game by Howard might also add to the feel-good nature of the evening for those Magic fans still wounded by Howard’s departure last summer via a blockbuster trade.

But after it’s all over, when the booing is finished and the Lakers are in the air and headed to Atlanta for a Wednesday night matchup against the Hawks, the Magic and the entire city of Orlando needs to close the door on this Dwightmare drama for good. It’s time to wake up from this mess and finally move on.

That’s an extremely tall order, what with Howard’s refusal to stop sticking his size 18s in his mouth at seemingly every turn. Howard, however, is someone else’s Dwightmare now. The Lakers have to sweat out this summer wondering what he’ll do, whether he’s willing to stick around or chase his fortunes elsewhere (the Brooklyn whispers remain).

Magic fans will get a fresh start after tonight, and a well-deserved one. They can thank their front office for only having to see Howard once this year anyway. The decision to trade him to the Lakers and not somewhere else in the Eastern Conference prevented us all from having to go through this exhausting exercise on more than one occasion.,

That said, tonight’s meeting between the Magic and Lakers (7 ET, League Pass) promises to offer up one of the more bizarre scenes of the season, which is saying a mouthful, given the traveling circus the Lakers have been all season long.

Howard’s recent comments about his time in Orlando and his words about his former teammates (that he insists were misconstrued) will have to be addressed again … and in the flesh. There’s no Stan Van Gundy around to serve as the punching bag/foil for Howard, as he did during that infamous hallways scene after a shootaround practice last season.

One-time Howard ally Jameer Nelson will be in the other locker room. The eyes and ears of former Magic players like J.J. Redick, Rashard Lewis and even Vince Carter will no doubt be tuned into whatever is said.

Nelson swears there are no hard feelings, as he told Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel:

“What’s said is said, and what happened is over and done with,” Nelson said. “I’m just here trying to look forward and not trying to dwell on the past. The decision was made and things happen, so it’s not like anybody could take them back or anything like that. And me personally, I’m not mad at him for doing what he did. I don’t know. Could things have been done differently? Yeah. But they weren’t. So, me as a person, I just have to move on and try to continue to be successful and do the things I need to do to help the team get back in the position we used to be in.”

Last week, Howard said he had reached out to former teammates after some of them, including Nelson and Rashard Lewis and J.J. Redick, took issue with a comment Howard made to a Los Angeles television station about his old Magic teams.

Howard said the statement was misconstrued and twisted by the media — that he was attempting to say that the Magic were always considered underdogs.

Nelson was asked whether he and Howard have conversed recently.

“No,” Nelson said.

There was silence before Nelson spoke again.

“Have me and Rashard conversed? Yes.”

To his credit, Howard has tried his best to apologize to everyone from his former teammates to the arena workers for how he handled himself during his season-long departure, which started with a trade request he refused to own up to during training camp. Howard was candid in a sit down interview with USA Today‘s Sam Amick, explaining his side of things as best he could:

“In Orlando, I handled a lot of stuff the wrong way,” he said. “If any of those people in Orlando are upset with how I did it, I apologize for the way I handled it and the way it was handled in the media.

“I really just got caught up in wanting to please everybody else. I really love that city. That was the hardest thing to do was to leave that city because I basically grew up there. That was my whole life. Orlando was it. I did not want to leave all that behind — the city, just everything about it. The fans. But I wanted a change for my life. I just felt like there was something else out there for me.”

That something else, for now, is trying to rebound from the Lakers’ disastrous start to this season and assist Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash in delivering his new team to the playoffs.

Howard would be wise to focus on that tonight and not the hate shower he’ll get from the crowd tonight in Orlando. Because it should get nasty.

But when it’s over, win or lose, the Magic need to wake up from their Dwightmare and just move on.

In fact, it’s time for everyone to just move on!

Morning Shootaround — March 7

Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.

The one recap to watch: Fourteen games on the slate all-but ensured plenty of drama around the Association … and that’s exactly what we got. There were several comeback games, but most notably Jazz-Cavs (which Cleveland won), Celtics-Pacers (which Boston won), Lakers-Hornets (which L.A. won) and Magic-Heat (which Miami won). Whew! Lot of great games to pick from just from that slate, and we’re not even getting to Blazers-Grizz (another rally, this time by Memphis) or Kings-Warriors (where Klay Thompson played the hero). Picking one comeback over another is never easy, but that is what we’re here to do: make the tough decisions. All that said, we’re going with Celtics-Pacers as our one to watch this morning. Indiana seemingly had this one in the bag thanks to some clutch baskets by George Hill, but Kevin Garnett showed why he’s a future Hall of Famer with his pinpoint pass to Jeff Green to clinch the win.

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News of the morning

Comeback win helps Lakers bond | ‘Melo suffering from fluid buildup in knee | Nelson, Lewis fire back at Howard | Nets decide to bench Humphries | Wolves’ Budinger, Love set to talk to doctors

Lakers bond stronger after rally — In case you were living under a rock last night (or even this morning) and missed the Lakers’ epic comeback from a 25-point hole in New Orleans last night, our multimedia crew has all the best moments from L.A.’s stunning win. A win like the one the Lakers experience last night not only helped get them closer to the No. 8 spot in the West playoff race, but also created more of a bond amongst the team. Mark Medina of the L.A. Daily News has more:

The Lakers’ 108-102 victory Wednesday over the New Orleans Hornets didn’t just mark a game in which they overcame a 25-point deficit against a sub.-500 opponent.

This didn’t just mark the first time the Lakers overcame such a large gap since overcoming a 30-point deficit against the Dallas Mavericks in 2002. The Lakers’ latest win gave them renewed confidence they can overcome any obstacle.

“Games like this really strengthen the bond between us players,” Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said. “That’s really what the playoffs are all about. You have adversity. It’s about who’s going to stick together and who’s not going to break.”

It helps that the win improves the bottom line results, too.

With the Utah Jazz losing Tuesday to Cleveland, the Lakers (31-31) trail Utah (32-29) by only 1 games for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot.

The Lakers sat in their locker room afterwards eagerly watching the final minutes of Houston’s loss to Dallas.

“Come on, Dallas!” Lakers forward Metta World Peace yelled from his stall. “Do what you gotta do!”

With Houston’s loss, the Lakers are only two games behind the Rockets (33-29) for the seventh seed.

Bryant took over the offense by scoring 18 of his 42 points in the fourth quarter. Dwight Howard overcame early foul trouble by taking a large defensive role, including blocking Robin Lopez’s layup attempt with 27 seconds remaining. Reserve guard Jodie Meeks posted 12 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter by making 4 of 5 three-point attempts.

“Dwight played big. When he’s like that and Kobe’s like this, that’s kind of what everybody envisioned it would be,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We hope we can build on this.”

The roles worked out perfectly.

Woodson: Anthony has fluid buildup in kneeAfter admitting that he should have pulled Carmelo Anthony out of Monday’s game in Cleveland when Anthony asked instead of letting him suffer a knee injury, Knicks coach Mike Woodson said his star forward will get his rest now. An MRI revealed that Anthony has fluid buildup in his injured right knee and will be taking a seat for a few games, writes Al Iannazzone of Newsday: 

Mike Woodson said the MRI on Carmelo Anthony’s injured right knee showed “some fluid buildup” in there.

“That’s what’s causing the stiffness,” Woodson said. “Rest will probably be the best thing for him.”

Anthony rested Wednesday night, sitting out against the Pistons. Woodson said Anthony would be evaluated again Thursday night and if he feels better, he could play against the Thunder at the Garden. Woodson said it will be Anthony’s decision.

“I’ll do whatever he wants to do,” Woodson said. “Trust me. Players know their own body. If he tells me he wants to play I’m going to play him. I’m not going to fight him on that . . . If he says, ‘Coach, I need to sit down and rest a game or two,’ I’m going to grant that, absolutely.”

The irony is Woodson said Anthony asked out of Monday’s game in Cleveland before he aggravated his knee and the coach didn’t listen to him.

“He just kind of nodded that his knee wasn’t right,” Woodson said. “I kind of ignored it somewhat. Maybe I shouldn’t have.”

After tripping over his own feet, Anthony fell in the second quarter in Cleveland. When he got up, he walked right to the locker room and never returned. The Knicks were down 22 at the time and rallied to win behind a strong game from Amar’e Stoudemire. This was the seventh game Anthony has missed all or part of this season.

“Obviously he was hurting,” Woodson said. “He asked me to bring him out. I kind of ignored it because we were down. I probably should have taken him out and then he took the spill and he left the game because he was hurting. I didn’t heed to it because I’ve seen him banged up and hit and things of that nature.”

Howard’s comments irritate ex-Orlando mates Lewis, NelsonIn the 2004 Draft, the Magic took Dwight Howard with the No. 1 overall pick and, 19 picks later, worked out a savvy trade with the Nuggets to add Jameer Nelson to the fold, too. Three seasons later, with the Magic as a budding young team in the East, Orlando added Rashard Lewis as a free agent. From there, the Magic began a steady climb in the East, culminating in a 2009 Finals appearance as well as three division titles. Nelson and Lewis joined Howard as All-Stars in 2009, but apparently Dwight’s memory of his teammates and his days in Orlando isn’t so clear. His comments to a local CBS affiliate in L.A. about his Magic teammates riled up Nelson and Lewis, who is now with the Heat. Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel has more:

Former Magic forward Rashard Lewis called Dwight Howard’s recent comments about his former Magic teammates “disrespectful” and defended Jameer Nelson, once one of Howard’s closest friends.

Howard told a CBS affiliate in L.A. that “my team in Orlando was a team full of people who nobody wanted, and I was the leader and I led that team with a smile on my face.”

Howard, Lewis and Nelson were on the Magic team that defied odds and reached the NBA Finals in 2009.

“It’s disrespectful more than anything. We helped Dwight become the player he was,” said Lewis, who signed this summer with the Miami Heat, which faced the Magic on Wednesday night.

“We made a good run. Hell, look at those (conference and division) banners hanging in the stands. They don’t say Dwight Howard on them…”

Nelson said after shootaround that he was disappointed in Howard’s professionalism.

“At some point, when are you a gonna as a man, when are you going to take ownership and stay out of the media in a professional manner,” Nelson told the Sentinel.

“I would be less of a man to comment on certain things that people comment on about me and my teammates. We had a great run as a group, as core guys, and he was a part of it (reaching the 2009 Finals) and for him to say things about anybody in a negative manner, that’s up to him.”

Nelson and Howard were close, drafted together in the first round in 2004.

But their relationship eroded after Howard said before he was traded to the Lakers last summer that he would love to play with some of the league’s elite point guards, such as Chris Paul.

Former Magic General Manager Otis Smith said that Howard “threw Jameer under the bus.”

Said Lewis, “Everybody on that team was very close friends. Not only that, but Jameer Nelson, out of all people. I don’t care. I got thick skin. That stuff bounces off me…but him and Jameer are supposed to be best friends.

“Jameer kept his mouth shut for a long time..you hear him (Dwight) say stuff like Chauncey Billups, Chris Paul, this guy, that guy and Jameer Nelson is the one who took us to the Finals, who helped, even though he got injured.”

Nets opt to bench HumphriesEntering the season, Nets forward Kris Humphries was fresh off back-to-back double-double campaigns in which he had elevated himself as one of the free-agent gems of 2012. Humphries re-signed with Brooklyn and was the Nets’ starting power forward for the first 18 games, but since then has seen his minutes dwindle. He’s averaging a mere 5.5 ppg and 5.9 rpg this season, with averages of 2.1 ppg and 4.1 rpg since the All-Star break. It’s not much of a surprise, then, that the Nets are going to dwindle Humphries’ minutes even further as they gear up for the playoffs, writes Seth Walder and Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

Kris Humphries’ official divorce from Kim Kardashian is fast approaching, but his divorce from playing time will come much sooner. According to a league source, Humphries was informed by coach P.J. Carlesimo Wednesday morning that he will no longer be part of the Nets’ shortened rotation.

Carlesimo has said in recent days that he wants to limit the rotation to nine or 10 players as the Nets head into the stretch run before the postseason.

The 6’9″ forward is averaging 18.4 minutes per game this season, a number that has dwindled substantially since the beginning of the year.

The decision to bench Humphries is curious given how fervently the Nets have worked to keep him. In July, the Nets inked the forward to a two-year, $24 million contract. Two weeks ago, at the trade deadline, the Nets could have traded Humphries to their opponent Wednesday night, Charlotte, in a deal that would have brought back Ben Gordon. And yet, despite their commitment to Humphries financially and the value he could have returned in the trade market, his only spot on the team for the foreseeable future will be on the bench.

Carlesimo has preferred Reggie Evans to Humphries since taking over as coach, despite the fact that Evans essentially offers nothing in the offense department (3.4 points per game). Evans has shot just 46% from under and around the basket, according to NBA.com. Evans has had 22% of his shots blocked this year and 33% blocked in February and March. Though Humphries hasn’t displayed a vast improvement on the offensive end of the floor this year, he has been better, and has demonstrated some talent in that respect of the game in previous seasons.

Humphries hasn’t performed at the level that the Nets presumably hoped when they signed him to a lucrative contract in the offseason.

Carlesimo spoke about the rotation Wednesday morning in Charlotte, saying he wanted to limit it to 10 players and that MarShon Brooks will be part of that rotation.

“I think 10 for now. We’re looking more 10. We want to play minimum four bigs and it would be hard to take one of the smalls out of the rotation,” Carlesimo said. “I’m not hung up on the number as much as, for us, coming off the bench, there’s nights we need defense and there’s nights we need offense.”

Budinger, Love await word from doctors – As our own Steve Aschburner documented on Hang Time last night, the Wolves lost 242 man games through their first 57 games to injuries. Two key names on that list, Chase Budinger and All-Star Kevin Love, have missed a combined 90 games and have been a big reason why Minnesota has disappointed so much this season. Good news may be on the horizon for those two players, though, as they are scheduled to talk to their respective doctors this week, writes Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune:

Injured Timberwolves forward Chase Budinger will speak by phone with his Florida knee surgeon Tuesday, hopeful he’ll be cleared to practice again with his teammates soon thereafter.

On Wednesday, two-time All Star Kevin Love will revisit his New York City surgeon seeking clearance to play with a healing right shooting hand he has broken not once but twice this season.

Both could be back playing games within two weeks, three weeks at most for Budinger.

With such similar timetables, could both such long-awaited returns possibly come on the same night?

“You never know,” Love said. “You never know.”

Either way, both hope to play at least the season’s final 15 games, Love perhaps a little more than that.

Love said he’ll join the team in Houston the Friday after his Wednesday’s doctor’s visit. He said he won’t play immediately that night even if he does get doctor’s clearance —like he did when he came back the first time in November — because he had surgery this time, on Jan. 15.

But probably not too terribly long after that …

“It’s really up to the doctor and myself and Glen and David,” he said, referring to owner Glen Taylor and basketball President David Kahn. “But until I see what the doctor says, I just won’t know.”

ICYMI of the night: We aren’t sure if this Jamal Crawford-to-Blake Griffin is the dunk of the year, but it has got to be in the running:

Redick Reflects on Magic, Dwight Opt-In

DALLAS – Now that J.J. Redick is gone from Orlando, and likely for good, he reflected Tuesday night on his six-plus seasons, all but this one spent with Dwight Howard, and how close the Magic seemed to a dominant run.

Orlando traded the 3-point sharpshooter to the Milwaukee Bucks at last week’s trade deadline. All that’s left of the 2008-09 Finals team that lost in five games to Los Angeles Lakers is Jameer Nelson and the suspended Hedo Turkoglu (who left as a free agent in ’09 and returned in a trade in ’10).

“I can remember being in my third year in the NBA and playing in The Finals,” Redick said Tuesday after scoring 14 points in the Bucks’ 95-90 win over the Mavericks. “You look at Dwight’s contract situation, you look at Rashard’s contract situation, Jameer’s contract situation, we had a chance to re-sign Turk, so you’d think maybe the team would have kept its core together. And you think you’re going to be back in The Finals the next year and the year after that, and it’s frustrating in that sense because I thought we would be back at some point, and we weren’t.

More from Redick in his own words:

Q: How close did you feel the team was to being a dominant force in the Eastern Conference?

A: We were very close. I think the big decision was what to do with Hedo. We didn’t necessarily want to give him a five-year deal and he had options out there, two five-year deals in excess of $50 million with Portland and Toronto. He made his decision and it was a good decision for him. As a player you have to strike while the iron is hot and take advantage of your small window to make a living. We made the trade for Vince [Carter] and for whatever reason we just couldn’t get over the top and beat the Celtics the next year. The following season we had a bunch of injuries and sicknesses early on and got off to a little bit of a slow start, and we made two separate blockbuster trades (Carter, Mikael Pietrus and Marcin Gortat to Phoenix for Jason Richardson, Turkoglu, Earl Clark and a first-round pick; and Rashard Lewis to Washington for Gilbert Arenas).

And, to me, that was the turning point. We never really got back to elite status after that.

Q: How did things begin to devolve with Dwight Howard’s ongoing situation?

A: Dating back to a year and a half, two years ago is when things started to get a little hectic in Orlando. It definitely changed the makeup of the organization and the franchise. And obviously, when you have a player of Dwight’s caliber you’re in contention to win a championship. When you lose a player like that there’s a strong possibility you’re going to have to rebuild and it might get a little ugly.

Q: It’s been a little ugly in Los Angeles. The Lakers are essentially backed into the same corner as the Magic were, waiting with bated breath for Howard to make a decision, one he says he won’t make until this summer. He says he doesn’t want another circus, but isn’t he creating another one by being non-committal?

A: I think he’s non-commital, I guess, for a reason. I’m not sure what that reason is, but if he wanted to explore his free agency he could have done it last summer. I’m not sure why he opted in [last year] because he wanted out of Orlando. I’m not really sure.

Q: You dealt with weeks of speculation about where you would be traded or if you would be traded at all. Now that you are with the Bucks, a team that appears, at worst, locked into the No. 8 seed and headed to the playoffs, is there a sense of relief?

A: Yeah, there’s definitely a feeling of relief. My feeling on just being traded in general is it’s part of the business. I’m a guy who just believes in making the best out of any situation. You can’t always change or control your circumstances, but you can change your perspective and your attitude. So no matter where I went, if I had stayed in Orlando, I would have made the most of it.

Magic Get No Love From Dwight?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Lost in the fallout from the Los Angeles Lakers’ home loss to the Orlando Magic Sunday was the end of the game scene that didn’t include any warm and fuzzy handshakes between Dwight Howard and his former teammates.

With Howard and the Lakers smarting from the 10-point loss to the Magic, the All-Star big man reportedly left the court without so much as a handshake for the guys he battled alongside for years in Orlando.

While this wasn’t anywhere near the level of the Bad Boys Pistons shunning the Michael Jordan-led Bulls back in the day, it is yet another missed opportunity for Howard and the Magic to heal from their nasty break up last summer. To their credit, Howard’s Magic teammates are much more forgiving and understanding than some his critics might be (more from Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel):

Magic players said they weren’t upset that Howard didn’t shake their hands or wish them well after Sunday night’s win. Howard walked off the court once the final seconds of the fourth quarter ticked off Staples Center’s clock.

“That’s fine,” Magic point guard Jameer Nelson said. “Certain guys don’t shake hands after the game.

“I don’t have any hard feelings to the guy. He made a decision to do what he did. He’s on the team that he’s on. I’m here in Orlando, where I want to be. I just wish him the best of luck. I’m not going to go up and hug him and kiss him or anything like that. I think my coach would be mad at me.”

Magic power forward Glen Davis said he didn’t take any offense.

“If he wants to walk off the court, it’s cool,” Davis said. “No hard feelings, you know? He lost. I would feel bad, too. I wouldn’t want to shake anybody’s hand. So it is what it is.”

Howard and the Lakers have issues of their own to deal with. They’ll have to play another week without Steve Nash and another six to eight weeks without Steve Blake (abdominal surgery), the man who was slated to serve as Nash’s primary backup,

And we can’t forget about Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and that whole “Big Boy Pants” thing … but not even a quick, courtesy handshake and good luck to his former teammates?