Hopefully for both the hire and the hiring team, the Orlando Magic will officially begin to employ a new general manager between now and the NBA draft on June 28. And in between the time that GM puts pen to paper and his work on draft night, the new boss will be expected to not only formulate a cogent plan of how to suck up to All-Star center (and 2013 free agent) Dwight Howard, but also relay said plan to the man who was once looked at as Howard's number two (before we realized that none of Howard's teammates are good enough to be his number two) in Jameer Nelson. Nelson, who was given an extension on Thursday that allows him to wait to decide on whether or not to opt out of his contract until June 29, wants to be aware of the new GM's plans before he signs off on giving back the $8.6 million he's owed next season.
It's a smart move, in that regard, to ask for and receive the two-week extension. It's also a nice move, from the Magic, to allow Nelson to do as much; they didn't have to, but in addition to that it should be pointed out that having everyone on the same page by the end of the month also aides the Magic should they hire a GM with an insight on how to lay waste to this roster. This is more than a beneficial move for either side, because even though losing Nelson won't do much to help the Magic surround Howard with stars moving forward, Orlando should be just as hesitant to sign off on this guy long term as it stands.
Should Jameer opt-out, he'll be giving back $8.6 million in a seller's market, with a paucity of great free agents out there and plenty of teams with cap space. Still, it's unlikely that any team out there, no matter how desperate should they whiff on bigger name free agents, would give Nelson a starting salary that even approximates that number. Nelson is aware of this, though, and would prefer to give a little money back now in order to save himself from the yearly uneasiness of looking for one- and two-year deals throughout his early to mid-30s. This is likely his last chance for a four- or five-year deal, and he's going to take advantage.
The problem for Jameer is that the Magic are now afforded the chance to take just as much advantage.
The team can't trade him on draft night, not with his ability to opt out of his contract just a few days later, but there is no contract restructuring or NBA-legal way to make an agreement to not trade Nelson should he decide to merely opt-in to the final year of his contract. Any agreement would have to be under the table — quite illegal, not worth it, and probably not of the highest order for a GM that heretofore would have no prior relationship with Jameer heading into the summer and possible negotiations.
That particular aspect of the back and forth, moving forward, could be the most damaging to Nelson's future with the team. We have no doubt that whatever GM Orlando hires will respect Nelson as a sometimes-starter quality point guard; but at the end of his first day or first week on the job he'll still be an outsider.
An outsider that realizes that, save for a 42-game stretch that saw Nelson play brilliant ball for the Magic before getting hurt midway through the 2008-09 season, Jameer is an average point guard whose production declined for the third straight season in 2011-12. He's also missed a total of 72 games over the last four seasons, a number possibly saved in a way from being even larger by the lockout-shortened 66-game term held this season.
Still, it's not as if the Magic have many options, here.
Even if Nelson opts-out and Orlando declines to re-sign him, bunched together with passing on bringing J.J. Redick and Earl Clark back, the Magic will just have a scant few million under the salary cap to work with. A number buggered by all manner of cap holds and the frustration that, as a team slightly under the cap, they couldn't initially work with the cap exceptions that capped-out teams are allowed to toss around on the first day of free agency.
Jameer's expiring contract, in a different era, would seem to be worth dangling; but teams aren't as giddy to take in expiring deals as they used to be, due to the sheer amount of about-to-end deals we're seeing around this league in 2012 and 2013. There are teams out there that need a point guard, even as a rental, but most are looking for pass-first types that can aid their litany of wings and big man, rather than someone to square up off of a pick and roll as Nelson does.
Even removed from the Howard nonsense, it doesn't appear that either side is working from a position of great strength. Which is why Nelson picking up his option, making a goodly chunk of money along the way while being in the same situation as an unrestricted free agent next summer (at age 31; not great, but certainly not significantly worse than 30 in the eyes of GMs), might be the best option for all involved.
Actually, no. The best option for all involved would have been to hire a GM much sooner than this, giving that boss more than a week and a half to prep before the draft, Nelson's new deadline, and Orlando's biggest summer since Shaquille O'Neal left for Los Angeles in 1996. That might be the best option, for all involved, after a couple of years of screwing up option after option after option in Orlando.