The last thing Arron Afflalo expected was a trade. The Denver Nuggets seemed to love him. Last December, the franchise committed almost $40 million over five seasons to keep him. And the investment seemed to pay off for both sides when the Nuggets nearly upset the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference playoffs.
Everything changed in mid-August. He was in Barçelona for a youth basketball event. Unable to receive cell service, he logged onto the Internet and — boom! — learned that the Nuggets would send him to the Orlando Magic in the four-team deal that routed Dwight Howard to the Lakers.
If Afflalo feels slighted, he won't say so.
"I tend to think that things don't just happen just because," he said. "There was some need for me here, for some sort of purpose, and I'm ready to take on that challenge."
That challenge could yield some of the biggest opportunities of his career.
The 26-year-old shooting guard almost certainly will start for the Magic, who rave about his intensity and the example he can set for the team's younger players.
Team officials knew all about Afflalo's reputation as a gym rat long before the Howard deal.
Scott Perry, now a Magic assistant general manager, was the Detroit Pistons' vice president of basketball operations when Afflalo was in his second season with the Pistons. This summer, when the Magic were thinking about obtaining Afflalo, Perry told Magic general manager Rob Hennigan that Afflalo's attitude would rub off on teammates.
Afflalo was known for his defense when he entered the league, but his offensive game has evolved each of his last four seasons. He's a career 41 percent 3-point shooter who has made strides attacking the basket.
He's not the quickest shooting guard in the league. Or the most explosive. Or, at 6 feet 5, one of the tallest.
He's just one of the grittiest.
"He's done an unbelievable job of making himself a player," Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. "He believes in his abilities, and the great thing is I do, too. He'll be a leader on this team, and we'll lean on him for sure."
Afflalo's scoring average rose to 15.2 points per game last season, second-highest on a good Nuggets team. But some analysts thought he lost ground on defense.
Afflalo also sensed he needed to improve.
He spent most of his offseason working on his stamina.
"I feel like I'm a very skillful offensive player when I'm fresh, I'm going, I'm motivated," Afflalo said. "Defensively, I've been at my highest levels when I had the most energy and I could put forth the most effort."
He changed his diet.
He ran, often up to five miles a day.
Power forward Al Harrington, who also came to Orlando from Denver in the Howard trade, thinks Afflalo will fit in well with the Magic.
"He's come a long way from his Detroit days," Harrington said. "I feel just from watching him mature every year he's getting a lot better, and he's adding something to his game."
The Magic now will ask Afflalo to add something to their team.
"My reputation as a defender came from making guys just flat-out miss shots and making it difficult on them," he said. "There's a lot of things that factor into that, but, personally, you'll see it this year. You'll see that I'm getting after the best scorer on the other team."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun