In Magic youth movement, Jason Maxiell became odd man out
Before the start of the Orlando Magic’s 25th anniversary season, Jason Maxiell was viewed as a player who might make wearing goggles seem in vogue again.
By the time April rolled around, you needed a microscope to find his playing time.
Maxiell, who spent eight seasons with the Detroit Pistons prior to signing with the Magic last summer, saw his minutes dwindle to next to nothing from mid-January on.
Even after Glen Davis’ contract was bought out the week following the All-Star break, coach Jacque Vaughn chose to take more of a look at second-year pro Kyle O’Quinn as a backup center to Nikola Vucevic and later as a starting power forward.
That meant Maxiell, who started 71 games and had a career-high 95 blocks for the Pistons during the 2012-13 season, became the odd man out.
As difficult as it may be to remember now, Maxiell was the Magic’s starting power forward for their first 10 games. Both Davis and Tobias Harris were sidelined when the season began because of injuries. Vaughn preferred to bring 2013 first-round pick Andrew Nicholson off the bench.
Maxiell averaged 5.6 points and 3.4 rebounds in 21.1 minutes during that stretch. After undergoing retina surgery toward the end of his stay with the Pistons, his decision to wear goggles as a precautionary measure made him hard to miss and drew inevitable comparisons to Horace Grant, the Magic’s starter at the same position when they reached the NBA Finals in 1995.
Oddly enough, it was right around the time Grant was honored during the Jan. 19 home game against the Charlotte Bobcats that Maxiell began to all but disappear. After playing in 29 of the Magic’s first 38 contests, he got off the bench just five times the rest of the way, including the regular-season finale last week against the Indiana Pacers.
During the final two months, he served primarily as an off-the-court mentor to rookie center Dewayne Dedmon, who signed a pair of 10-day contracts Feb. 25 and for the rest of the season on March 17.
"He’s a very athletic guy," Maxiell said of Dedmon, who played at least 20 minutes in each of the Magic’s final five games. "He’s very skilled with a great jump shot, which amazed me learning that while playing him one on one."
Although Maxiell’s jumper is one reason why he has been able to remain in the league for almost a decade, he didn’t get to use it very often. And while the Magic improved from 25th in blocked shots a year ago to a tie for 22nd, that was largely due to O’Quinn and Maurice Harkless.
But Vaughn couldn’t speak highly enough of what Maxiell, Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo and Ronnie Price provided as the only players on the Magic older than 25.
"They’ve been great for us," he said. "I couldn’t ask for four better stewards in the locker room, teaching our guys a lot of lessons that they don’t know about this league."
WHAT HE DID RIGHT
If Maxiell was able to impart enough wisdom to Dedmon and Nicholson to make them more productive members of the Magic in the years to come, his time in Orlando will have been worth it. His averages of 3.2 points and 2.5 rebounds in 34 games were his lowest since he backed up Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace and Antonio McDyess as a rookie with the Pistons.
WHERE HE NEEDS TO IMPROVE
Listed at 260 pounds, Maxiell appeared to be heavier than that by the end of the season. He can still be a physical presence when the need arises without carrying additional weight.
Jan. 2 at Cleveland. Forced to start at center with Vucevic out because of a sprained ankle, Maxiell blocked three shots and grabbed six rebounds while playing a season-high 43 minutes.
At 31, he will make $2.5 million next season after signing for the mid-level exception a year ago. As is the case with Price, the Magic have until July 10 to decide whether to keep Maxiell for the final year of his contract. If they don’t, that money is not guaranteed.