Back to normal: Magic PG Jameer Nelson says he worked hard to regain old intensity
SENTINEL STAFF WRITER
11:28 p.m. EDT, September 27, 2009
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The only thing noticeably different about Jameer Nelson was his haircut.
He had a hint of a Mohawk, a style change born at the light-hearted urging of his son, who sports the same 'do.
Nelson plans on going back to his close-cropped, old-school cut once the Orlando Magic open training camp on Tuesday.
Running a hand over his head and smiling, he said, "It's time to get serious and back to work." He also wants to resemble the point guard everyone recognizes.
And, metaphorically speaking, that really is the question, isn't it?
Is Jameer Nelson back to being his old self?
"I feel good — normal now," he said. "I worked harder this summer than I did any summer ever because I had to. I wanted to get back to the level I was at. I didn't want to become just one of the guys."
Nelson concedes that the little guy running around in the NBA Finals against the L.A. Lakers, making a surprise return just four months after major shoulder surgery, was an imposter.
"I was nowhere near 100 percent," he said after a recent workout at RDV Sportsplex. "I'm not sure of where I was at. Because of who I am, I was really confident out there. I didn't play with any lack of confidence. It was just me knowing the reality of the situation, knowing I couldn't do certain things.
"I had to tone things down a little bit."
In the championship series, Nelson certainly didn't look like the player who, in 42 regular-season games, had averaged 16.7 points and 5.4 assists while shooting 50 percent and 45 percent from 3-point range, all career highs.
He didn't remind anyone of the player who had been voted by coaches to make his first all-star game appearance after five seasons.
Nelson never made it to the showcase exhibition after tearing the labrum of his right shoulder in a Feb. 2 game against the Dallas Mavericks.
No one expected he'd come back until this training camp.
And critics — some of them Magic fans — still wish he hadn't, claiming he disrupted the team's postseason charge.
"It doesn't bother me at all. I know I'm a big part of this team — regardless of what people say about me coming back [for the Finals]," Nelson said. "They're going to say something. They want guys to play injured and when you play injured, they kill you.
"So you're in a losing situation. I'm not concerned what people say about me. It's about wins and losses."
Orlando lost in five games to L.A.. The Lakers never had to brace themselves for Nelson, who had led the Magic to a two-game regular-season sweep of L.A. by averaging 27.5 points.
Missing the Magic's previous 59 games before the start of the series, including 19 playoff games, was too much for him to overcome. He was rusty and ineffective, averaging just 3.8 points and 2.8 assists in 18 minutes per game against the Lakers.
Nelson has no regrets.
"I'd do the same thing. I'm a basketball player; I'm not a cheerleader," he said. "I'm not one of those guys that wants to sit out. Some guys want to sit out and are just happy collecting a check. To me, it's about the passion ... and about winning. I felt I could help us win."
Magic General Manager Otis Smith still is adamant about the decision to bring Nelson off the bench behind Rafer Alston and to dry-dock Anthony Johnson.
"If I had 10 times to do it, I'd do it 10 times," Smith said. "There are things Jameer did for us not at 100 percent that he does better than most. There were some things he couldn't do quite as well. But having Jameer on the floor had nothing to do with us falling three games short of winning the title."
Nelson said he has yet to watch the video tapes of the Magic's Finals loss to the Lakers. He doesn't want to watch an imposter.
"I would have watched it if we had won," he laughed. "Plus, that wasn't me 100 percent playing. The only tapes I've watched of myself was up until the all-star game.
"I watched a lot of those films."