Photo by David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

Magic say goodbye to captain, Jameer Nelson

The Magic have waived long-time point guard Jameer Nelson, the team announced Monday, ending his 10-year career with the Magic.

Nelson became a fan favorite for his hard work, overcoming his physical limitations to become an All Star in 2009 and cementing himself as a starter, and his friendliness to fans and teammates. Nelson was a consummate professional seeing the Magic through its rise to a championship contender and then eventually its earnest attempts to rebuild.

Through it all, Nelson continued to duck his head and do his thing, doing whatever the team asked of him. He became an integral part of the Magic’s organizational footprint in Orlando, raising his family in Orlando and making it his home.

While his play on the court had begun to wane, Nelson remained a true leader and captain for his teammates. He averaged 12.1 points per game on 39.4 percent field goal shooting.

“I appreciate the opportunity the Orlando Magic has afforded me and my family over the past 10 years,” Nelson said in a press release. “I’d like to thank the DeVos family, team management, and all the coaches that have provided me guidance, mentoring, and the ability to play the game that I love in the town that I love.”

“I’d also like to give sincere and special thanks to the great Magic fans.  You have loyally supported me since my first day in Orlando and have always been there for me and my family.  You made it easy for us to adopt Orlando as our second home and we will miss you.”

“All good things must come to an end, however, and it’s time to move on.  I look forward to continuing my career as an NBA player and will never take for granted my time in Orlando.”

JameerNelsonSuns120912When the Magic acquired the draft rights to the national collegiate player of the year, there still remained questions about him. He was listed at a generous 6-foot and was more of a scorer in college. He dominated the ball and looked to score more than pass in his college days. No one quite saw Nelson as a long-term starter or the face of a franchise.

His career started in earnest with Johnny Davis, Chris Jent and Brian Hill not quite figuring out how to use him. He played behind Steve Francis and was a pesky defender off the bench. It was clear he would soon supplant the mercurial former All Star acquired in the Tracy McGrady trade.

Nelson truly blossomed in Stan Van Gundy’s offense. His tight relationship with the team’s growing superstar, Dwight Howard, helped the two take control of the team. While Howard blossomed as a superstar, Nelson was the man keeping the locker room tight and together and was the key to those championship teams.

It came together in 2009 in startling and pleasant brilliance. Nelson averaged 16.7 points per game on an outstanding 50.3 percent shooting. Fate had different plans for Nelson. He tore his labrum in his shoulder and was knocked out for the remainder of the season. He would miss the Magic’s run to the NBA Finals. He busted his butt to return for the Finals — an ill-fated attempt as he clearly was not at 100 percent and hurt his team’s chances at a title in the end.

Nelson, to many fans, never lived that down. And he never reached the heights he did in 2009 — only showing flashes notably against Raymond Felton and the Bobcats in the 2010 Playoffs.

As Howard began to sour on the franchise, Nelson always remained committed. He never raised any problems to the media when he was constantly attached to rumors about Howard’s desire to play with Chris Paul or Deron Williams (although there were reports Nelson and Howard nearly came to blows in practice and Otis Smith effectively said Howard through his teammate under the bus).

When Howard left, Nelson remained. He dutifully did what he could for the young players on the team and did his work.

It did not go unnoticed and the Magic waived him before free agency started to give him his best chance to find a winning team to play for and finish his career on a stronger note.

“Jameer (Nelson) is the ultimate professional,” Magic general manager Rob Hennigan said. “We truly thank him for his contributions to the organization, both on the court and in the community, during the last decade. He will always be a member of the Magic family.”

Now was the time however to part ways after a decade with the team. Orlando was clearly going in a youthful direction. The team drafted Victor Oladipo and handed him the reigns partially at point guard. They needed to see what he could do. Now with Elfrid Payton in the fold, the Magic appear to have their point guard of the future. In Year Three of the rebuild, the young players are going to start taking ownership of the team.

Like when Nelson and Howard pushed out the leadership of Steve Francis and Grant Hill, it is time for the next generation to take ownership over the results and success of the team.

It is never easy to say good bye to a player that was such a fixture. Loyalty is so hard to come by in this age of free agency. Nelson always put the team ahead of his own interests. The team rewarded him for that with this final contract.

Both seemed to know it was time.

It will be weird seeing Nelson wearing another team’s colors next season, but he will always be in Magic blue. As Hennigan said, Nelson will always be part of the Magic family. He will always have a home in Orlando.

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