The Orlando Magic made three moves Saturday that enabled them to keep their most athletic player. By waiving wing Quentin Richardson, combo forward Justin Harper and wing Chris Johnson, the team created a space for undrafted rookie DeQuan Jones, an explosive wing who offers potential as a defender.
The roster moves took on a symbolic significance, too. In cutting Richardson and Harper, the new-look Magic front office severed yet more vestiges of the Otis Smith era — but not without a lingering cost.
The franchise still will owe Richardson $2.6 million this season and $2.8 million next season unless another team takes the unexpected step of claiming him off waivers within 48 hours.
“When we started the transition period over the summer, we said to ourselves we want to evaluate everything, and we want to make sure that we judge our players based on the work they put in and the merit that comes with that,” new Magic general manager Rob Hennigan said.
“All throughout the preseason, we evaluated everything, and we made the decision that, yeah, financially we’re going to have to make a decision that impacts us in that way. But we feel that the decision was [best] for the organization and the culture we want to start to set.”
Harper’s guaranteed salary of $760,000 for this season is a pittance by NBA standards, but the franchise still owes the Cleveland Cavaliers a second-round pick in 2013 and a second-round pick in 2014 for acquiring the combo forward’s draft rights last year.
The cuts trimmed Orlando’s roster to 15 players, the maximum allowed under league rules.
“Actually, Rob did a great job just getting out front and being open and everything, so it wasn’t something that blindsided me,” Richardson told the Orlando Sentinel. “He kept in constant communication with my agent, Jeff Wechsler. I’ve got nothing but the utmost respect for the way Rob handled everything.
“I’ve been around long enough to know it was definitely a possibility, and I just appreciate the way Rob handled it. From Day One, I just wanted him to be honest and open with me, and that’s how he handled it. So I have no ill feelings about it.”
Harper, 23, a worked tirelessly in the weight room over the last year and willingly attempted to make the transition from power forward to small forward. But he would have struggled to earn playing time at either forward spot.
“They both gave me effort, which was great,” Vaughn said of Harper and Richardson. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for what they both did while they were here in camp. It’s just a part of the numbers game.”
Jones, 22, worried about his chances to make the team until he met with Hennigan and assistant general manager Scott Perry on Saturday morning.
“I couldn’t stop smiling,” Jones said. “They were talking, and I just had this grin on my face. It still hasn’t fully hit me yet.”
Richardson sent out a message over Twitter early Saturday afternoon to congratulate Jones.
Richardson wrote: "Congrats to @DequanJones5 on making the squad!! Bright future ahead! Kid got game!! Embrace him Magic Fans u won’t be disappointed!!"
Richardson has played 12 NBA seasons, and he had an inkling that the Magic tried to include him in the deal that sent Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers.
He said Hennigan contacted Wechsler about a week ago to give Wechsler a heads-up that the Magic were leaning toward waiving him.
Richardson hopes to keep playing.
“Even right now, as we speak, my Twitter is being flooded with just thank yous and people sad to see me go,” he told the Sentinel. “I have so much appreciation for the fans and the way they’ve received me. This is my 13th year in the league and I absolutely understand the way things go, and I know they’re in a rebuilding period.
“I don’t have any particular choices right now, but obviously I’d like to be a on a playoff team or a contending team or a situation where I can help. But I’m a pro and whatever comes, I’m going to put my best foot forward and bring my best to the team, wherever I go.”
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.