It’s the first game of the 2013-14 NBA season. The nationally-televised opener between the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls is still an hour away. For now, the only basketball on national television is the ever-missed TNT combination of Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith, Charles Barkley, and Shaq.
For the next hour, the basketball world belongs to the Orlando Magic and the Indiana Pacers – at least for those of us who have League Pass.
There were so many questions we wanted to see answered just on opening night in Indiana. Just how ripped did Roy Hibbert get over the offseason? How much better is Paul George’s shot? And how the heck is No. 2 overall pick Victor Oladipo going to do in his first ever NBA game?
The Indiana PA announcer got on the mic in time to announce the Magic starting lineup – and who led those starters? Jameer Nelson. Not Victor Oladipo, but Jameer Nelson.
The Magic are a tanking-from-game-one type of team. They’re young, they’re undeveloped, they’re raw, and they’re ready to lose. We know all of this, but one guy that doesn’t fit that description is Nelson.
So why did Nelson start over Oladipo, who the Magic have been building up as a point guard for the past two months? Well, there are two possible answers.
The first possibility is that Jacque Vaughn wants to show the world exactly how little he trusts rookies and young players in general. Last year, it was Andrew Nicholson and Moe Harkless who didn’t get quite enough minutes in Orlando. It looks like it'll be the same for Nicholson this year. He has 31 points and 11 boards in his first two games, but has only played 38 minutes total.
Oladipo played almost 37 minutes in the Magic’s second game, but remember that was a close, overtime contest. He might not get a ton of minutes purely because of “the rookie status”.
Realistically, though, the reason Oladipo isn’t starting is because of a showcase. Not a showcase for him; a showcase for Nelson.
Nelson currently sits on the second-to-last year of his deal and is due to make $8.6 million this year, too much for a middle-of-the-pack point guard on a bottom-of-the-league team. But even though he is in the penultimate year of his deal, the Magic can treat him as an expiring asset and that’s because his $8 million for next season is non-guaranteed.
So Jameer Nelson is tradable and regardless of what you think of his 49.8 percent true shooting last year or his 14.5 PER over the past two seasons, he’s going to play legitimate minutes in Orlando. Jameer Nelson, the Asset is far more important to the Magic than Jameer Nelson, the Player and the only way Orlando can maintain the Asset’s value is by giving him the minutes that should go to the No. 2 overall pick.