This is a guest post from Chris Barnewall. Chris is a life long Magic fan, and currently writes for FanSided’s NewsDesk, HawksHoop, At The Hive and Pelican Debrief. You can also follow him on twitter @ChrisBarnewall.
The green room is always full of excitement on draft night. The 2004 NBA draft was no exception. It had been an eventful draft with high school prospect Dwight Howard being taken number 1 overall. As the picks went on, the green room full of invited players slowly began to dwindle down. Each donning the cap of their new team, shaking David Stern’s hand, and then being taken off to take pictures, meet their new coach, and other draft night activities. Until one player remained, Jameer Nelson. The Naismith player of the year out of St.Joseph’s remained in the green room, still waiting on his name to be called.
The wait for Nelson wasn’t particularly shocking, Nelson was an undersized point guard, coming from a small school, and many questioned his ability to be a starter at the NBA level. Scouts liked him as a backup off the bench, and players like that don’t usually get drafted very high. Even so, ESPN’s 2004 mock draft, which projected Nelson at 19 to the Miami Heat, said he could go as high as 7 and be a steal. Nelson was selected 20th, by the Denver Nuggets.
Nelson didn’t last long with the Nuggets. The Magic called up Denver and offered a future 1st for Nelson’s draft rights. By the end of the draft, he was going to Orlando to be part of their rebuild centered around number 1 overall pick, Dwight Howard.
From there, Nelson went off to be an average point guard in the NBA. He proved draft prospects wrong that he could be a starter in the NBA, but there were problems with him throughout his career. He struggled at making entry passes when he had a superstar center down low that he could get the ball to. His jump shot was at times erratic, and his defense was average at best. His size was a factor, but he never let that get in his way.
Negatives aside, Nelson had multiple highlights in his 10 years with the Magic. His high point and low point was the 2009 season. He was incredible, sporting a True Shooting percentage of 61%, a career low turnover percentage of 12%, and being named to the all star team. Some will argue that Nelson only achieved all of this because of Stan Van Gundy’s system. While there is some truth to that, Nelson had to execute that system, and he did so perfectly. Unfortunately for Nelson, he tore his labrum in February. This was likely to end his season, and in the eyes of many, end the Magic’s title hopes.
But the Magic persevered, making it all the way to the NBA Finals behind some great shooting, and Rafer Alston. Before the finals, Nelson was activated, he was healthy enough to play. As sad as it is to say this, that was a mistake. It ruined Alston’s psyche, and Nelson wasn’t healthy enough to have an impact. He played bad, and the Magic lost the Finals in 5.
Everybody knows the story after that. Magic dominate teams in 2010, they make it to the Eastern Conference finals, and embarrass themselves against the Boston Celtics. 2011 is a 1st round, exit, 2012 is the Dwightmare, and everything comes crumbling down.
Everything after that though, is why Nelson is beloved by some Magic fans. Despite only being better than an average point guard for two seasons, you’ll be hard pressed to find Magic fans that hate Nelson. There’s a reason his name is called last during player intros, and it’s not just because he was the longest tenured player on the team.
As things began to fall apart, Nelson remained professional. While Howard tried to force himself out of Orlando, Nelson embraced the team and the city. New management came in and traded away winning talent. Never once did Nelson complain, demand a trade, or cause locker room issues. He instead, embraced his new role with the team.
When Nelson’s contract ended, he had every right to go find a different team to play for and go win with. But no, he chose Orlando. Whether it be for the city, the organization, or another reason. Nelson decided Orlando was where he wanted to be. When asked about the rumors that the Magic were considering releasing him, Nelson said he wanted to stay.
Sadly, Nelson didn’t get to stay. After 10 years, the Magic said goodbye to Nelson, releasing him from the team.
At the time of his release, Nelson was the Magic’s all time leader in assists and second in games played. He leaves us with many highlights.
And my personal favorite
It’s likely Nelson will be signed as a backup point guard somewhere, and I wish him success. No matter where he goes, I will cheer him on. I hope whenever he returns to Orlando, no matter the uniform. He is given a standing ovation. His professionalism deserves it.