Nelson pulls Magic together
Jameer Nelson didn't wait for training camp next month to start asserting himself as the leader of the Orlando Magic.
Nelson may have played only two NBA seasons and still could be facing a battle for the starting point-guard role, but that didn't stop him from gathering his teammates this summer for a weeklong training/bonding session in Philadelphia, near his hometown of Chester, Pa.
"I feel like I'm the leader of this team, and I should act like it,'' Nelson said last week from Pennsylvania. "My whole purpose was to make sure we continue building on the way we finished last season. I always thought in college, you became a better team if the guys really understand and enjoy each other, develop a chemistry. We can do that with the Magic.''
Although three of the Magic's key players -- Dwight Howard, Darko Milicic and Carlos Arroyo -- were in Japan at the FIBA World Championship, Nelson still managed to have eight teammates in Philadelphia for the week.
He set up their schedules and paid for everything. They played basketball, lifted weights, ran on the track, even had coaches from the five Philadelphia-area colleges help with training sessions. It was working with a dual purpose.
Together, they all went to restaurants, bowling, to a movie, even to play paintball. Nelson made sure the Magic guys stuck together.
"This wasn't a boot camp. We worked hard, but we had fun, too. It went really well. It's going to help when things get tough at times,'' Nelson said. "I'm not going to try and predict the future of this team, but I know now we're headed in the right direction.''
Nelson started slowly last season, missing 20 games in the middle with a sprained foot, but he finished strong, just like the Magic when they won 16 of their last 22 games.
As a starter, he averaged 16 points and 5.8 assists.
It was no coincidence that he didn't emerge as a leader until Steve Francis was traded in February.
"We had absolutely nothing to do with putting it [the week in Philadelphia] together, although I was invited to come watch one day,'' Magic General Manager Otis Smith said. "That's what made it so unusual. This kind of thing doesn't normally happen in the league. It was all driven and put together by Jameer. He is so focused right now, it's scary.''
The 5-foot-10 Nelson has bulked up to 200 pounds, and he'll arrive in camp in the best condition of his life. He will open training camp with the first unit, but Arroyo -- who played exceptionally well with the Puerto Rican national team at the World Championship -- will try to unseat him.
Together, they should provide the Magic with an outstanding 1-2 punch at point guard.
"There were things we saw in Jameer at Saint Joe's [where he played four years] -- leadership things -- that really weren't able to flourish in Orlando until recently,'' Smith said. "And I love what I'm seeing.''