ORLANDO, Fla. – Beno Udrih, Tobias Harris and Doron Lamb have gone from a team in the thick of playoff contention to one enduring some thin times.
And they say they couldn’t be more thrilled.
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The newest members of the Orlando Magic, obtained last week in the trade that sent J.J. Redick to the Milwaukee Bucks, didn’t have the benefit of a practice with the team before Saturday night’s loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. But their impact was immediately felt, with Udrih scoring 10 points and handing out seven assists in 27 minutes and Harris finishing with 14 points (all in the second half), six rebounds and three blocked shots.
“I’ve been here three days, and I’ve already felt more at home than I did in Milwaukee for a year and a half,” Udrih said before the Magic departed for Philadelphia and their meeting Tuesday night with the 76ers. “It was just a bad situation there. I’m a professional, and I’m a man. So I like to be told straight up what they expect from me. In Milwaukee, that never happened.”
The eighth-year pro and native of Slovenia was teammates with Magic coach Jacque Vaughn on the San Antonio Spurs’ 2007 NBA championship team. That familiarity is a significant reason why the change of scenery has put him in a good mood. Plus, with Jameer Nelson sidelined because of a strained left patella, he should continue to come close to evenly splitting minutes at point guard with E’Twaun Moore.
Almost anywhere would have been preferable to staying with the Bucks for Udrih.
“They basically had two guards – Brandon (Jennings) and Monta (Ellis),” he said. “And both of them were playing 40 minutes a game. So it was not possible for me to get in and do what I do, which is move the ball around and get in the offense. It was definitely not a good situation for me. So I just wanted to get out of there. It was the most frustrating time of my career.”
Of the 10 Magic players who saw action against the Cavs, eight were 23 or younger. That included Harris, a first-round draft pick in 2011 who was traded by Charlotte to Milwaukee, and Lamb, a second-round selection known most for helping lead Kentucky to a national championship last season.
Like Udrih, they will make up in a hurry for the time they didn’t get as members of the Bucks.
“We’re coming into a good situation,” said Harris, whom Vaughn has already utilized at both forward positions. “And Orlando’s a great city also. It’s not like we’re in a depressing city. We can hold our heads up. There’s a lot of bright side to here, especially the weather. Every time we have a conversation, it’s just about positives.”
Harris got those same types of vibrations during the talks he would regularly have on the phone with his father while he languished on the Bucks’ bench.
“My dad always tells me, ‘They’re not paying you to play right now, but they’re paying you to stay ready to play.’ That’s what I wanted to do – continue to work out, continue to get better,” he said. “And this opportunity came, and now I’m here and now I’m playing. So all that time spent getting ready paid off.”
With the Magic playing five times over the next seven days, Vaughn admitted the first practice with the three newcomers was atypically intense for a team 56 games into its season. Udrih is a bit of a known commodity to him, so it became more of a crash course on acquainting himself with Harris and Lamb.
“He’s got a really good competitive nature about him that I enjoy already,” Vaughn said of Harris. “And getting a chance to work with Doron (Sunday) a little bit made me smile. He’s fundamentally sound at this age, which is great to see. That means you can work with him and do some things. He has the ability to shoot the ball and plays at a nice, even, calm pace.”
“They’re definitely two talented guys with a lot of potential,” Udrih said. “And they both work hard. So they’re going to be great for this team.”
Harris might have taken a few fans aback when he checked into the game for the first time. That’s because he is the first Magic player to wear No. 12 since Dwight Howard – the franchise’s career leader in scoring, rebounds, blocked shots and minutes played – was dealt to the Los Angeles Lakers over the summer.
The reason Harris selected that jersey number is because he wore that in college at Tennessee and when he joined the Bucks in tribute to Morgan Childs, a former teammate who became his best friend before dying at age 16 of a rare blood disorder.
“When I had the opportunity to get the number, I jumped on it,” he said. “I know it was Dwight Howard’s number, but that’s the number I chose.”