Jameer Nelson has represented the Orlando Magic for a decade but every relationship comes to an end at one time or another. As it stands today, Nelson is second in franchise history in games played, first in assists and fourth in points. The St. Joe’s product has played point guard for the Magic in good times and in bad and has publicly stated that he would like to retire as a member of the Magic. There are obviously a ton of factors that will dictate whether or not that happens, but there are no guarantees that Nelson will even return next season.
According to Spotrac.com, Nelson has one more year left on his contract and is due $8 million if retained. However, if Nelson is released, the team would only be on the hook for half of that. If Orlando adds a young point guard in the draft, it would be hard to warrant retaining Nelson and paying a back-up point guard $8 million on a team that would be hard pressed to earn a playoff berth. However, if Nelson is released, the team would only be on the hook for half of that salary
In the two seasons since trading Dwight Howard, the Magic posted the worst winning percentage in the league. Although the fan base has been accepting of the rebuilding project up to this point, it’s unlikely that it will tolerate another unwatchable season. The Magic are in a state of transition, as the rebuilding effort has to start producing victories in the third year of the Jacques Vaughn/Rob Hennigan era. Who the front office drafts will go a long way in determining Nelson’s future. If Orlando doesn’t come away with a player they deem to be their point guard of the future, then retaining Jameer’s services would make sense.
While the Magic have been terrible over the past two seasons for many reasons, Nelson hasn’t exactly dominated the competition. In each of the past two campaigns, Nelson has posted a PER that was below the league average. While Jameer’s ability to rack up assists has not dissipated, the same cannot be said of his scoring efficiency. In each of the past two seasons, Nelson has shot under 40 percent from the floor. After knocking down over 40 percent of his shots in each of his previous eight seasons, the drop-off is concerning. Even in Howard’s final two seasons with the team, Jameer barely finished with a PER above the league average. It’s fair to say that Nelson’s game is in a state of decline, which makes sense considering that he will turn 33 next February.
The path to gaining relevance again is built through acquiring talented young players and giving them the chance to develop. Playing time is essential to player development, so a clearing out veterans playing the same position on the roster is a somewhat natural occurrence. It would surprise no one if the Magic were to target point guard in June’s NBA Draft with their first selection, which will likely be a top-five pick. Nelson is not getting any younger, and adding a fresh talent to command Orlando’s offense will improve a Magic offense that finished this season ranked 25th in scoring. If Orlando walks away with a young point guard like Dante Exum, Marcus Smart or Tyler Ennis from the draft, then the writing will be on the wall in regards to Nelson’s future with the team.