IF THE five newcomers to the Magic's rotation jell with the returning veterans sooner than expected this season, credit Jameer Nelson. In August the point guard once again paid for a bonding retreat in his hometown of Philadelphia, where for a week he was joined by teammates old and new for games of hoops, bowling and paintball. Says Nelson of the paintball, "The funniest was [free-agent signee] Brandon Bass—he was actually crawling in the mud and taking people out."
It will take more than games, though, for Orlando to pick up where it left off last year. Gone are forward Hedo Turkoglu (who signed with the Raptors as a free agent) and two other starters from the Finals (guards Courtney Lee and Rafer Alston, both dealt to the Nets in the Vince Carter trade). Then there's Nelson himself, who needs to get back in the flow after missing the second half of last season and most of the playoffs with a torn labrum in his right shoulder. Nelson bravely chose to return and come off the bench when the Magic made it to the Finals against the Lakers, but his shooting stroke was hopelessly rusty. While coach Stan Van Gundy was criticized for playing Nelson, who shot 34.8% (8 of 23) in the five-game series, his teammates saw his coming back as another act of leadership.
Orlando needs Nelson's shooting to return to its elite level—last season he connected on 50.3% of his attempts, including 45.3% from the three-point line—to help space the floor for Dwight Howard in the paint and Carter on the perimeter. The Magic believe it has improved by importing Carter, Bass, and forwards Matt Barnes and Ryan Anderson, but to make the expensive gambles pay off, Orlando will need the best efforts of its 6-foot point guard. "My confidence is high," says Nelson, 27. "I know at this point of my career who I am as a player and a person, and the person you saw in the Finals wasn't 100 percent."
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE with 2008--09 statistics
October 25, 2009
, which shows how poor the rest of the team was. Bass will help there. Defensively they can put him on the opposing scorer up front, which can take some of the pressure off Dwight and help keep him out of foul trouble.... The interesting thing about Bass will be how much he affects their style, and how much Rashard Lewis winds up playing at small forward. Do they lose their matchup advantage, where teams struggled to defend them with their four perimeter scorers surrounding Howard ... They need shooting around Howard, and they've got it in J.J. Redick, Ryan Anderson and Matt Barnes. Barnes will also help them defensively, while Anderson is a smart and efficient player who is sneaky good in other areas, like rebounding.