ORLANDO — The fact that Jameer Nelson is officially a journeyman after years of being a staple with the Orlando Magic is not lost on him as he approaches his first regular-season game against his former team.
Of course, he expected to be wearing a Dallas Mavericks uniform in his return home. Instead he is wearing Celtics green, foreign to him, after many battles against the Celtics in the late 2000s when the Magic were peaking.
Nelson got caught in the middle of the Orlando rebuilding plan and turned into veteran sage for a handful of promising youngsters. Eventually, his contract was bought out and he signed a two-year deal, a player option for the second, with the Dallas Mavericks, hoping to become a piece on a championship-contending club.
With Raymond Felton’s injury, Nelson was pressed into starting duty. After the Mavericks wrestled Rajon Rondo away from the Celtics, Nelson was headed to another rebuilding project, his role uncertain.
In his Celtics debut Sunday against Miami, Nelson scored 3 points on 1-for-6 shooting with three assists in 20 minutes.
On Monday, the Celtics practiced on the same court where Nelson played for 10 seasons. Now he’s trying to digest reality: He was a salary throw-in for a major trade and has no chance to make an elusive title run if he remains in Boston.
After being the model of stability, Nelson has been flurried by sudden change.
“You look at [other] teams and organizations and you wonder what’s going on over there and I’m here and I’m able to see what’s going on and so far it’s good,” he said after his first practice with the Celtics. “My job is to play, no matter where it is. I’m going to continue to play. I’ll give everything I have to the team I am on and for the guys in the locker room, try to help the coaches out as much as I can once I get comfortable.”
Nelson started 23 games for a Dallas team that won 19 of 27 games and was the highest-scoring team in the NBA. He was in an optimal situation, a veteran on a team of veterans whose goal was to win. Mentoring, guiding, and instructing were not major job descriptions.
In Boston, Nelson, 32, is the oldest player on the team. Marcus Smart, 20, admitted he doesn’t have vivid memories of Nelson’s college career at St. Joseph’s, which ended 10 years ago.
“People are calling me and asking me if I’m OK,” Nelson said. “I’m OK. I play basketball for a living, something I love to do. I’m the oldest on the team, literally. When guys come up and talk about my college career, they watched me when they were in high school, middle school, whatever. [I’m like] all right. I’m 8, 9 years older than some of these guys.”
If Sunday was any indication, Nelson will get heavy minutes, soaking up Phil Pressey’s playing time at backup point guard.
“I’ve known him for 2
“The people who have been around him love him. Certainly this city [Orlando] probably feels that way about him. Unlike Marcus Smart, I do remember him playing in college and have been a fan of his ever since.
“He not only had a great way about him with playing but he also had a maturity about him that was clearly beyond his years.”
Before the Miami game, Nelson addressed the team, letting the younger players know he was also someone they could approach for advice. Nelson said he refuses to be just a passenger in Boston, because he was not that way in Orlando.
When it was apparent the team was rebuilding, with Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis, Courtney Lee, J.J. Redick, and Hedo Turkoglu gone, Nelson was the super senior on a team of freshmen and became a willing mentor.
Orlando bought out the final year of his contract, allowing him to become a free agent.
“They have some good pieces and I wish them nothing but the best of luck,” Nelson said of the Magic. “It wasn’t a bitter situation when I left here for Dallas. I’m not a guy to hold grudges or anything. Obviously I felt things could have been done different but that’s not for me to say. My job is to play, no matter who is out there.”
When asked if he still wanted to play until he was 50, Nelson said: “Probably 60 now. The way my body feels? I feel good.”