Courtney Lee misses a lot about Orlando.
There were undoubtedly a lot of good memories in Lee’s rookie and only season in Orlando. The team went to the NBA Finals and Lee was a (possibly goaltended) layup away from winning Game Two in Los Angeles and a tied series heading back to Orlando.
One thing Lee does not miss? The mask.
“Nah, I don’t miss that mask at all,” Lee said before Monday’s game. “This organization, period, will always be special because they gave me the opportunity and a chance to come into the NBA in drafting me. As far as having the feeling right now, I’m approaching it as any other away game and just want to come in here and get a win. And get back as soon as possible to Houston.”
He may not miss the iconic look hewore throughout the 2009 Playoffs after Dwight Howard accidentally gave him an elbow and broke his orbital bone during a first round playoff game, but Lee is still in contact with several Magic players. He said he is still in touch with Jameer Nelson and talks with Dwight Howard almost twice a week. He worked out with J.J. Redick and, when he lived in Orlando, shared a building with Earl Clark and Ryan Anderson.
Fans still adore Lee, and he received cheers when he entered the game for the first time Monday. It was hard not to get nostalgic when Lee came open in the corner for a three or drove the baseline looking for a basket. Lee had a great game with 15 points on 6-for-10 shooting in 24 minutes off the bench.
Lee and Howard were very close friends in Lee’s one year on the team, obviously that relationship has continued — Lee also played in Howard’s celebrity All Star game in November. Few players probably understand what Dwight Howard is thinking and what a team is going through than Lee.
Lee’s Rockets were at the center of the trade storm when David Stern vetoed the deal that would have sent Luis Scola and Kevin Martin out of Houston and brought in the Lakers’ Pau Gasol. Some players took that news badly, some took it in stride. It was as much of a distraction in the early part of the season as the Orlando situation involving Dwight Howard.
Lee was traded following his rookie season to New Jersey and then subsequently traded the following summer to Houston as part of a four-team deal. In fact, this year marks the first time Lee will have played for the same team for consecutive seasons. He knows trades are part of the business and that players have to be professionals in the center of these storms.
“I’ve been around in the league for a little bit, you just get used to it,” Lee said. “Like when I was here in Orlando you see guys like Brian Cook, Anthony Johnson … you see guys go. And then, when it’s your turn, that first one is always a shock. But as you go to these teams and see stuff happen and they try to get pieces, it’s just part of the game.”
It is hard for non-athletes to get used to this idea. Some Magic fans are still not over how the 2009 Finals team broke up and the trade of Lee heading into his second year. It seems like a lot for a player who averaged only 8.4 points per game and really came on strong only in the second half of the season and then showed poise beyond his years in the Playoffs.
It is easy to play hindsight in the decisions made in June 2009. Especially considering Orlando has fallen off the championship pedestal.
Lee told Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel that he is not surprised Howard would request a trade after the way the team has broken up and the perception that Howard has not been involved in the team’s personnel decisions:
“I’m not surprised (Dwight requested a trade). When they broke up the team in 2009, you could just see the frustration in Dwight’s face. We talked about it a couple of times and you could tell he was upset about it.
“Most franchise players are involved in the decision-making and Dwight is feeling like he’s not involved. If you’re going to build around a player, you should communicate with that player and see who he’d like around him.”
Again, hindsight is 20/20. If the Magic break through the Eastern Conference Finals in 2010, defeating the Celtics, and return to the Finals we might be discussing how brilliant Otis Smith was in rebuilding a championship team on the fly knowing an important piece like Hedo Turkoglu was going to get overpaid.
Hindsight is 20/20. And that regret is probably playing some role in Howard’s decision to request a trade.
Rumors for just about every team — the Magic and Rockets especially — are not going to subside in this shortened season. That is, unfortunately, the nature of the NBA. Players have to be ready to adjust on the fly if they are traded or if their team acquires someone new.
“[It is the] nature of the NBA. You see your teammate one day, next day he might be gone. Nothing is promised. You just make the most of it. You’ve got those guys on your team, you’ve got that camraderie and that chemistry. You try to get as many wins as you can. At any given time it could be gone.”