Orlando loves Jameer Nelson, and Nelson loves the Magic back. Their decade-long partnership has been a happy one, with an NBA Finals appearance for the team and an All-Star appearance for Nelson among the highlights during their time together. Those glory days are gone, but still the point guard remains with the team, a reminder of a past life of glory and contention from the not too distant past. When breaking down Nelson’s season this year, it can be hard to be subjective in some ways. This is a guy who really has given his all for the team during the bountiful years and the lean ones, and always done it with a smile on his face. The on-court production is dwindling and his best days are behind him, but there is still a lot he can bring to this team.
What must be noted first is the career arc Nelson has had with Orlando and the way his game and role on the team has changed. Now 32 years old, he is by no means over the hill. But on one of the youngest rosters in the league he is absolutely a veteran leader on this team. Not comparing him to the likes of a Paul Pierce (in his Boston Celtics days) but seeing one guy stay at a team for 10 years and grow and change is pretty cool, especially in an age where players change teams so frequently. His 12.1 points and seven assists are down from last year’s numbers; however, they are by no means the poorest numbers of his career. Following that pattern, his 32 minutes a night is down 3.3 minutes from last year, but is still more than in some years before that. It shows a player who is being milked for all of his experience within this team, while still making a decent contribution on the stat sheet as well. Starting every one of the 68 games he was available for shows there is certainly still a durability there that can’t be ignored either. While older players obviously will begin to slow down at some point, Nelson is still going strong.
Really though, it is his general attitude and locker room personality that are the big pluses for this team. Nelson is frequently the face of the Magic out in the community, and he has never once complained about being a part of a rebuilding job in Orlando either when pressed about it. Being Orlando blue through and through, he is able to teach the young players the values and also the requirements of wearing that jersey every night, in a role that he has gradually grown into. With the likes of Victor Oladipo, Maurice Harkless and Tobias Harris expected to carry this team into a new generation, Nelson has been slowly handing over the reins from the last generation this season. Surely when his time is up and should he finish his career in Orlando then a position within the organization must beckon for him?
Within that question lies another bigger one, would it be better to let Nelson go? Looking at his stats, the team could certainly survive without him, he is a steady player and nothing more. His is owed $8 million next season, in what is a contract that a lot of teams would be willing to swallow. He would be a great backup point guard on a contending team, and a lot of Orlando fans feel he deserves to chase a ring elsewhere in the autumn of his career. He would go with their blessing, they know he has on chance of contending on this current Orlando team and he is liked so much that seeing him try to achieve elsewhere would be just fine to a lot of them. If he was to stay though, he still has a big role to play on this team, it just wouldn’t be as much about his numbers on the court.
In short it was a decent year for a player on a below-average team. Jameer Nelson is almost like a special case though given how fans view him, but even despite that favoritism, the numbers weren’t terrible either. He is the last real link to the past, and could yet still be around when the supposed bright future that management have promised begins to kick into effect too. One thing that Nelson does have to do however is up his production next year. Expectations are slowly beginning to rise once again around this team, and Nelson needs to be a leader who helps to ensure that this team begins to realize their potential. Given his transition from up and coming point guard to veteran leader on this team, you wouldn’t doubt he can do that.