A year ago, after a first round exit in the Playoffs, when this blog was in its infancy, Jeff Garcia urged the Magic to “stay the course.” He urged the Magic to hold onto Howard and make changes to the front office in an effort to improve and return to the Eastern Conference elite.
Orlando opted for Jeff’s course of action, doing everything the franchise could to persuade Howard to stay in Orlando. there were plenty of hiccups as Howard seemed certain to leave after announcing that he had requested a trade in early December. He then reneged on that decision, reneged on that decision again and ultimately waived his early termination option and remained in a Magic uniform past the trade deadline. At least for a few more weeks before a herniated disk in his back forced him to miss the final 16 games of the season and the postseason.
The Magic did indeed stay the course. And it left the franchise in a wreck.
After Orlando’s five-game elimination from the Playoffs this year, the future seems just as uncertain as it did a year ago with the same decision concerning Howard standing in the way.
There is more this year though. The Magic’s other captain has a player option and it is becoming more and more apparent that he will opt out of his contract and become a free agent.
So why would Jameer Nelson do this and risk getting a contract that is worth less than the nearly $8 million he would receive for the final year of his contract?
The simple answer is the uncertainty surrounding the Magic. Nelson has until June 15 to decide whether or not to opt in to the final year of his contract and he said he will take a look at his options. Even though Nelson wants to remain in Orlando, it is a very realistic possibility that Nelson will opt for free agency. The favored rumor going around Orlando is that Nelson wants to return to Orlando but wants some assurances that he will not be traded.
A long-term contract would do that. Opting in would not.
This is why Nelson seems content to wait and see how the Magic play things out. That is because there will be no staying the course this time. The Magic are trapped in salary cap hell still with enough committed salaries to put them right up against the luxury tax line. Worse, the team has few movable assets. Jameer Nelson’s expiring contract would certainly be one that the team could move to bring in the impact player it believes can get Dwight Howard to sign a long-term extension.
This is what everyone is waiting on. The decision on Stan Van Gundy and Otis Smith’s future likely does not get finalized until the organization knows what Dwight Howard wants to do when he becomes a free agent (for real this time) in 2013.
“I can’t make the decision until some other decisions are made around here,” Nelson told Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel. “I want to be here in the Orlando Magic uniform. I love being here. I love being in the city.”
So the Magic are in a state of paralysis until they know what Howard will do. And the casualty of that state of paralysis could be their starting point guard.
It is not that Orlando will not be in the running should Nelson become a free agent. The belief is that Nelson would be willing to resign with the Magic for less if it meant long-term security — or even a no-trade clause, which he would be eligible for with the Magic. But he is not going to risk losing control of his own future.
That appears to be what is feeding Nelson’s decision.
The Magic do want Nelson back. At this point, their point guard options are limited if Nelson were to leave. Chris Duhon struggled again and posted his second straight year with a PER below 10.0. Ish Smith is behind him on the roster. And neither inspires much confidence as a starting point guard.
Nelson was not much special this year. He averaged only 11.9 points per game and shot only 42.7 percent from the floor. Not the numbers you want from a scoring point guard. But Nelson came on strong in Howard’s absence and put in a solid performance in the Playoffs.
What that will mean to his market value is anybody’s guess.
One thing Nelson does seem to want is the one thing the Magic are very short of right now. That is certainty. If Howard elects to stay, that certainly will come with the caveat of bringing in the players to compete for a championship. That means expiring contracts like Hedo Turkoglu, J.J. Redick and Jameer Nelson will be on the table if any team values them as trade pieces.
What Orlando has to come to terms with is that the paralysis that the whole Howard situation is causing could cost the team its starting point guard and co-captain.