Mark D. Smith/USA TODAY
The best players in Magic history will be parading through the Amway Center throughout the season as the team celebrates its 25th Anniversary season beginning with Tracy McGrady on opening night, Nov. 1 against the Pelicans. Surely Shaquille O'Neal will have his night, as will Anfernee Hardaway, Nick Anderson and Darrell Armstrong when the Mavericks come in. Maybe even Dwight Howard will get some form of recognition when the Rockets are in town (probably not).
One guy who probably will not accept the honor is another luminary in Magic history. That would be Jameer Nelson.
Nelson is the elder statemen on the Magic. Arguably the best player on the team right now and certainly the one who has made the biggest impact on the Magic's history.
This is not the time to think about that though. Not for Nelson.
"Right now, I can't really focus on anything like that," Nelson said. "I'm still here in the moment. Maybe when I retire in about 35 or 40 years, when I sit down and look back at things I can kind of think about those things and reminisce."
Nelson has been at the heart of the Magic for the last decade. He was a draft night steal who eventually forced his way into the starting lineup over former All Star Steve Francis as a rookie. That seems like a long time ago.
Since then, Nelson has been a seven-year starter (maybe a half season added onto that) and a bedrock of the Magic's lineup. Nelson might never have been the kind of point guard that could lead the Magic to a championship — we honestly will never know after Nelson's All-Star season was cut short and he came back in the 2009 Finals a shell of that player.
Say what you want about Nelson, and there are plenty of detractors for him, but he always came to the arena ready to play and ready to do his work. Nelson was and is always good for a consistent 12.6 points and 5.2 assists per game (his career averages which include his early years where he was coming off the bench).
Nelson said after he signed his latest contract last summer and repeated it at Media Day in September: he wants to be in Orlando as long as he can. The city has embraced him and it means a lot to him. It is a business though, and he is OK with whatever possibilities might happen.
"There's been speculation for the last nine years of me being traded," Nelson said. "I don't see anything different right now. My thing is to be a professional on and off the court. That's the business. Things happen, like I said. I admire how [JJ] handled things and the way he approached every day. It's just one of those things. It's part of the game. My focus is to play as hard as I can, stay healthy and help these guys out as much as I can for as long as I'm here."
Again, Nelson hopes it is for a long time to come.
This is a new stage in Nelson's career. Entering his 10th year and at a grisled 31 years old (that is old for this team . . . Jameer laughed at the notion 31 is old), Nelson is a true leader on the team. He is the veteran and leader in the locker room setting an example with both his actions and his words.
Already, Victor Oladipo has begun soaking up everything Nelson has tried to teach him early on this season. Nelson sought Oladipo out when he returned to Orlando to begin building that relationship and teaching him the NBA game.
"I love Jameer," Oladipo said. "He teaches me a little bit of everything every day. I don't even have to ask him to. He's a great vet. He's a great person to have around. I'm glad he's on my team. I'm looking forward to learning from him throughout the year."
Nelson still has a lot of game left in him though. He said let his body rest this summer and hopes he will be able to remain healthy the entire year. He said this is the healthiest he has been entering training camp the last three years.
Orlando is expecting him to match the 14.7 points and 7.4 assists per game he had last year. They expect him to be a leader too. That could end up being his lasting impact with the Magic beyond this season.
"It is a different chapter in my career [being a mentor]," Nelson said. "I feel like I have always been a leader. I feel like I have always been a guy a lot of people come to for advice in different areas on and off the court. I think it is needed even more now. Most of these guys haven't gone through anything. They are just figuring out who they are as players individually and incorporating that into the team as well."
Nelson is certainly correct. It is too early to put a bow on his career. It is far from over. And it does not seem to be over in Orlando any time soon either.