Jameer Nelson Holds The Key To Magic’s Future

The Magic are stuck. No doubt about it.

Orlando is in a hole with the second largest payroll, a disappointing season behind it and an uncertain future with it superstar player. Gilbert Arenas, who amounts to a bench point guard, is owed $19 million and potentially $62 million over the next three (Arenas has an early termination option). Hedo Turkoglu, a player who has not been the same since that magical 2009 run, is owed about $34 million the next three years.

The Magic lack any of the cheap, young players or draft picks that other teams like to see in making trades. Orlando’s trading assets are greatly diminished. While all those crazy deals you can put through the ESPN Trade Machine might work, not very many of them make sense for the teams involved.

Getting out of this jam is going to take all of Otis Smith’s negotiating skills, some luck and a favorable collective bargaining agreement.

Just about everyone is expecting Smith to be pretty active as the draft draws near and once a collective bargaining is figured out and free agency opens. Smith will have the mid-level exception (if it still exists) for free agency. It means the Magic are likely limited to trades to improve their roster.

With very little to offer, a monumental move seems very unlikely unless the Magic are willing to trade away something they really value.

What may ultimately determine what the Magic can net in a trade is how much the league values Jameer Nelson. The one-time All Star, dogged by his ill-fated decision to return from a torn labrum, has been compared to his peers perhaps unfairly sinc ethe Magic became contenders.

He is not the playmaker that Rajon Rondo is. He does not have the speed of Derrick Rose. He does not have the vision of Chris Paul. Or necessarily even the game-management skills of Deron Williams.

Many fans took the “grass is always greener” approach and felt lacking a star or even an elite point guard was what was truly holding the Magic back.

This may or may not have been a factor in Orlando’s failures in 2011. I would argue it had more to do with a lack of a sure perimeter scorer who could break down defenses one on one and instantly generate offense. This is part of Nelson’s role and he struggled with it at times — his 2.7 shots per rim at the game were his lowest since 2007 according to HoopData.

While Nelson’s assists were up to a career-best 6.0 per game and 33.7 percent assist rate, you got the feeling nobody was really satisfied with his effort. There was always something more Nelson could do even though his assists were up and his scoring was up from 2010 — although it was nowhere near the 16.7 points per game on 50 percent shooting he posted when he made the All Star team in 2009.

Of all the players on the Magic’s roster, it feels like Nelson is quite possibly the most tradeable. The Magic certainly might consider him their most valuable asset. At $15 million and two years left, Nelson might also be difficult to move. But any major deal for a point guard — or really any other type of player — is going to involve Nelson and likely J.J. Redick, Brandon Bass and/or Ryan Anderson. Aside from those players, Orlando really has no one else other teams might inquire about.

This makes Nelson so integral to the Magic’s future, whatever the Magic decide to do with him.

He is the likely starter a trade partner would be willing to take if the Magic wanted anything substantial in return. He has started for so long now, that Nelson is not likely to be happy with a role off the bench. If he stays, his play almost determines how well Orlando is going to play. The Magic were 5-5 when he scored 20 points in 2011, but 11-4 when he had at least nine assists.

More often than not in 2011, the Magic needed him to be more of a distributor for the team to have success. And at times he could do that. At other times he could not.

Of course, if Nelson could somehow match his output from 2009, then Orlando has no issues. It has an All-Star point guard.

It is hard to measure Jameer Nelson‘s value as a defender. He is pesky, but nowhere near a lockdown guy. He had a 100.8 defensive rating, but Dwight Howard sure helps make that number look good. The defense gets more concerning when you consider the potential lineup that includes both Nelson and Gilbert Arenas at the guard spots

Nelson clearly is not an “elite point guard” and is on the border of pretty good. Serviceable is likely where you want to place him in the pantheon of descriptive adjectives. It definitely feels like Orlando believes Nelson has more value than he might around the league. Something somewhat expected for a player the team drafted in 2005 along with Howard and has been a team captain for a number of years.

Is serviceable good enough to lead the Magic to a title? Is serviceable enough to entice another team to unload a more valuable player in exchange for Nelson?

The Magic will likely discover the answer to these questions as they try to quickly rebuild and put themselves back in the hunt for an NBA title.

Photos via DayLife.com.

Philip Rossman-Reich

About Philip Rossman-Reich

Philip Rossman-Reich is the managing editor for Crossover Chronicles and Orlando Magic Daily. You can follow him on twitter @OMagicDaily

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