DENVER — Now that the Orlando Magic’s losing streak has reached 10 games, Jameer Nelson says he and his teammates are determined not to break apart into factions.
After the Magic lost 108-105 to the Denver Nuggets, giving the franchise its first double-digit losing streak since late in the 2003-04 season, Nelson repeated a mantra he has uttered whenever the young Magic have lost tough games.
The Magic, he said, need to try to identify the good and the bad from each game and try to build on it. It’s the same sentiment the team’s relentlessly positive coach, Jacque Vaughn, has repeated since training camp.
Asked how tough it is to remain positive, Nelson said, “Why wouldn’t we? We’re here together. We practice together. We do everything together. That’s part of being a team.
“The one thing we have to do is we can’t separate. It’s easy to separate when adversity hits. But we know we can’t allow ourselves to do that as a team, and I’m not going to allow us to do it as a captain.”
Nelson is maintaining the company line, obviously. But after last season’s divisive Dwightmare — a year in which he developed as a leader — he recognizes the importance of unity more than ever.
He knows that one of the reasons the team re-signed him is that team officials valued his leadership abilities. Say what you want about Nelson’s shortcomings on the court, especially on defense, but one of Nelson’s strengths off the court is bringing teammates together. And that is one of the reasons why the Magic brought him back for estimated salaries of $8.6 million this season, $8.6 million next season and for perhaps $2 million to $4 million in guaranteed money for 2014-15.
Each summer — except for 2011’s lockout-shortened summer and last summer, when he was a free agent — he arranges for teammates to travel to and stay in the Philadelphia area for a week of workouts and team-building activities.
Now, he’s attempting to apply that team concept to the Magic’s current travails.
Arron Afflalo, J.J. Redick and Hedo Turkoglu — the other veterans on this trip — aren’t used to losing either.
But they, too, are trying to set an example. Each of them has befriended the younger players.
Afflalo is especially intense, but he has tried to nurture Maurice Harkless, the 19-year-old rookie wing.
Redick offers advice to the other youngsters, especially to rookie power forward Andrew Nicholson.
Turkoglu jumped off his seat on the bench Wednesday night when rookie wing DeQuan Jones stole the ball, dribbled three-quarters of the way down the court and dunked. Turkoglu also has struck up a friendship with second-year center Nik Vucevic, and the duo often speak in Serbian after the games.
Nelson is a jokester, a prankster, and his personality has helped keep his teammates loose.
After the Magic finished their shootaround Wednesday morning at Pepsi Center, players spotted a large, flatbed push cart in the corridor outside the visitors’ locker room. He and Turkoglu got on it — with plenty of room to spare — and asked rookie Kyle O’Quinn to push them down the hallway toward the team bus.
You could hear the 30-year-old Nelson and 33-year-old Turkoglu laughing like children and you could see O'Quinn smiling as the cart rumbled across the tile floor.
That kind of thing is important during tough times.
Does it directly lead to wins? Obviously not, as Wednesday night’s loss showed.
But it helps a team remain a team.
And that, as much as anything else, is Nelson’s job these days.
Josh Robbins covers the Orlando Magic and the NBA for the Orlando Sentinel. You can reach him via e-mail at email@example.com and connect with him on Facebook at facebook.com/JoshuaBRobbins. Follow him on Twitter at @JoshuaBRobbins.