By Josh Robbins, Orlando Sentinel
7:29 PM PST, January 7, 2013
PORTLAND, Ore. — People have labeled Jameer Nelson for years.
He's heard it all: that he's "too small" to be an effective NBA player, that he's a "shoot-first" point guard, that he's "injury prone."
People now can call him something else: record-holder.
Nelson needed just two assists Monday night against the Portland Trail Blazers to reach 2,777 for his career and pass Scott Skiles for the Orlando Magic's franchise assists record. Nelson broke the record with 4:13 remaining in the first quarter when he drove to the hoop and dished to Andrew Nicholson for an easy dunk.
"I'm not a guy for individual accolades, but it would definitely mean a lot," Nelson said after Orlando's shootaround Monday at the Rose Garden. "Records are made to be broken, so I'm very fortunate to be in a position to break a record in any category."
Fortunate? Yes. Seven months ago, it looked like he might leave the Magic.
Nelson had a difficult choice to make. He had one year remaining on his contract and would have earned about $7.9 million in guaranteed salary if he exercised his player option for 2012-13. Or, in search of a multiyear deal, he could have become a free agent without any guarantee that he'd return to Orlando.
Free agency carried risk. General manager Otis Smith always had been one of Nelson's biggest supporters, but the Magic dismissed Smith in May. The team hired Rob Hennigan to replace Smith on June 20, just days before free agency started.
Nelson chose free agency, and his gamble worked.
His new deal is worth $8.6 million for this season and also is guaranteed for $8.6 million in 2013-14, according to HoopsWorld and ShamSports, two websites that track salary data.
The final year, 2014-15, is partially guaranteed for anywhere from $2 million to $4 million, which gives the franchise more financial flexibility than if it instead had matched the guaranteed four-year $34 million contract the New Orleans Hornets offered free-agent power forward Ryan Anderson.
"Nobody knows what the future holds for myself or the organization," said Nelson, who will turn 31 next month. "But I've said it before: I love playing in Orlando."
He received additional long-term financial security, and now he and his wife can continue raising their four children in Central Florida. But the new contract comes at a price: The Magic are starting a rebuilding period.
A looming defeat to the Trail Blazers would represent the Magic's ninth in a row, the longest slide of Nelson's pro career and the franchise's longest losing streak since March 13-April 10, 2004.
"If I didn't want to be here, I wouldn't have signed back," he said. "We win together and we lose together."
The team entered Monday with an 11-13 record this season in games he's played and a 1-8 record in games he's missed because of injuries. Nelson was averaging 14.5 points and a career-high 6.8 assists per game.
Nelson has meshed well with first-year coach Jacque Vaughn, a former point guard who, like Nelson, lacked exceptional speed or jumping ability.
"In this day and age, where so many guys are so athletic and so big, he still gets it done," Vaughn said. "He has a feistiness about him that allows him to do it, and his ability to make plays I'd say is pretty unique."
Nelson is listed as 6 feet tall, though that probably is generous.
His lack of speed and his diminutive stature hamper him, especially on defense.
But he's succeeded anyway.
"I've been a small guard all my life so I've adapted playing against bigger guys no matter who it is," Nelson said. "If I was bigger or taller, whatever, maybe I wouldn't be me. So I look at it as a positive to be my size. It doesn't discourage me to be the size that I am. I guess it's the size of my competitive nature and the size of my heart."
Copyright © 2013, Orlando Sentinel