ORLANDO, Fla. — Ronnie Price hadn’t played in so few games for so few minutes since his rookie season with the Sacramento Kings nine years ago.
In spite of that, he wouldn’t trade his first season with the Orlando Magic for anything.
"This year has been kind of refreshing for me in a lot of ways," the 30-year-old guard said. "And I can’t really explain where it came from or why I feel that way. I feel like a kid again. I really enjoy the game."
Price and forward Jason Maxiell were the two veterans signed by the Magic last summer largely for the purpose of providing guidance to one of the NBA’s least experienced rosters. They combined to play a total of only 65 games, with Price’s activity in the final week of the season being due to an injury to Jameer Nelson.
But having his locker right next to that of rookie Victor Oladipo meant Price couldn’t avoid the exuberance of the second overall pick in last year’s draft or second-year players Maurice Harkless, Andrew Nicholson, Kyle O’Quinn and Doron Lamb.
"This unit was definitely an experience," he said. "The younger guys in the locker room … that age gap, you notice it, just in basic conversations, talking about things that you did in junior high and high school with Jameer and Max. And then some of the younger guys, they were 5 years old (at the time). So they don’t relate."
While quickly insisting that "I don’t consider myself an old guy by any means," Price was quick to credit the general youthfulness of the Magic for helping the season be far more enjoyable than the team’s final record of 23-59 might suggest.
"Being around younger guys, it’s a different energy. That’s the honest truth," he said. "And it’s a good energy because guys are experiencing the NBA at a young age. Their energy level toward the game is a lot different from ours. So it makes me feel good. I love being around younger guys. And it keeps the older guys young. When you have all the young blood around you, with the way they carry themselves, it rubs off on you. And hopefully some of the older things we do rub off on them. So it’s a good mix."
Price played a key role in an early-season victory over the Milwaukee Bucks when Magic coach Jacque Vaughn went to a smaller lineup with power forwards Tobias Harris and Glen Davis both sidelined with injuries. Three weeks later, he logged a season-high 40 minutes in a double-overtime loss at Philadelphia.
But a sinus condition prevented him from flying on a five-game road trip in early January, and he sprained his right foot shortly after the team came home. Price played in only 31 of 82 games, with his two starts coming at the beginning of March when Nelson couldn’t go.
Having played for five teams since coming into the league undrafted in 2005, Price’s career bears some similarity to that of onetime Magic guard Kevin Ollie, who led UConn to the national championship in just his second year as coach of the Huskies. Could a coaching career be in Price’s not-too-distant future as well?
"I would lie if I said I haven’t thought about it," he said. "But my mindset has changed as of late. I’ve kind of rejuvenated an extended love for what I do. You go through years five, six and seven, and you get kind of content with where you are. But this summer, it’s like I’ve been motivated to be better at what I do. I’m just really loving the game of basketball right now, loving being an NBA player, and loving the opportunity to continue to get better while my body still feels good. So my focus has been all about me as a player. I haven’t really thought about anything after that."
Price is scheduled to make $1.3 million next season in the final year of his contract with the Magic, although that money is not guaranteed if the team waives him by July 10.
"My contract situation is definitely in their hands," he said. "But I don’t think about that. I don’t focus on that. If it’s meant to be for me to be here, then I’ll be (here). If not, I’ll have to be a professional and move on. But I have definitely enjoyed my season here with these guys and this organization. I don’t regret one minute of it. And I’m very thankful and fortunate to have the opportunities that I’ve had. It’s definitely been a positive for me."
WHAT HE DID RIGHT
Averages of 2.4 points and 2.1 assists in 12 minutes a game aren’t what defined Price. His professional approach did not go unnoticed by coach Jacque Vaughn, whose playing career mirrored Price’s in some respects.
And he was good for an occasional highlight-reel dunk:
WHERE HE NEEDS TO IMPROVE
While never a prolific 3-pointer during his years in Sacramento, Utah, Phoenix and Portland, Price set a career low in shooting percentage by making only nine of his 43 attempts with the Magic. By becoming more dependable as a spot-up shooter, he could extend his playing days for another year or two.
April 14 at Chicago. Price handed out a career-high 11 assists in 25 minutes off the bench in the Magic’s 108-95 loss to the Bulls. He did not score in double figures once all season.
He’ll turn 31 on June 21, and the Magic have until July 10 to decide whether to keep him for the final year of his contract. If general manager Rob Hennigan intends to trade Jameer Nelson, the Magic can’t afford to become too young at point guard.