When the Magic
Bigger role in Orlando first step in process
face the Trail Blazers tonight, coach Frank Vogel will ask Jonathon Simmons for a lot of things — and primarily to help the team break its losing streak.
By Josh Robbins Staff Writer
PORTLAND, Ore. — Jonathon Simmons craved a bigger role.
He has it with his new team, the Orlando Magic.
Tonight, Magic coach Frank Vogel will ask Simmons to provide a spark on offense against the Portland Trail Blazers and will expect Simmons to play lockdown defense when, and if, he occasionally guards Blazers stars Damian Lillard or CJ McCollum.
And the Magic will count on Simmons to help break their two-game losing streak.
“That’s just a part about me: improving and wanting to be better and having a bigger role,” said Simmons, who left Gregg Popovich’s San Antonio Spurs in free agency this past summer in search of greater opportunities and a big payday.
“I expressed that to Pop. I said, ‘I can be good over here, but I
can’t be great.’ I want to be able to go against the Kawhis night-in and night-out. I even talked to LeBron James over the phone, and he was like, ‘We want you in Cleveland.’ And I said, ‘No, I want to play
against you.’ I want to be able to play against elite guys and be able to, in a couple of years down the line, be just where they are.”
Simmons, a 28-year-old swingman who had to pay $150 to attend an open tryout for the Spurs’ DLeague team in 2013, is making the most of his opportunity with the Magic.
But his impact has been felt in more than his 15.0 points per game and his energetic defense. He has brought intangibles: fearlessness, tenacity and toughness the Magic have lacked for years.
“He brings that kind of ‘nasty stuff,’ like Pop would say,” the Magic’s Evan Fournier said. “He has a little attitude, and every team needs it.”
That attitude — the desire to prove himself against the likes of Kawhi Leonard, James Harden and, yes, LeBron James — sparked him to rebuff the Cavaliers and James in free agency.
“Plus,” Simmons added, “it wasn’t enough money, anyway. I have a family. I expressed that to him, which he kind of already knew. He said, ‘I respect that and I’ll see you soon.’ ”
As it turned out, Simmons didn’t receive quite the financial windfall he initially hoped for. He and the Magic agreed on a three-year deal worth an average of $6 million per season.
The final year of the contract, the 2019-20 season, is only partially guaranteed.
The signing ranks as one of the biggest bargain signings of this past offseason.
“He’s really vocal,” Magic swingman Terrence Ross said. “He’s easy to talk to. He wants to win. He just pushes everybody to be better.”
Vogel said: “It’s confidence and edge and all those words you want to use. But the biggest thing for me that ‘Simms’ has brought us is quality play. He’s delivered on the court. That alone gives everyone else confidence.”
Simmons’ boldness can be seen whenever he attacks the rim on offense. Not only can he drive to the hoop almost at will, but he delights in driving at a bigger defender, even if it means he’ll absorb contact and fall hard to the ground.
When he was asked if it was difficult to say no to LeBron James, Simmons responded that it wasn’t tough. After all, Simmons said, he made it to the NBA even though he grew up in one of Houston’s roughest areas.
Compared to that, choosing not to play alongside basketball’s best player isn’t tough at all.
Tonight, Simmons will have another chance to prove he deserves the bigger role he found with the Magic.
He doesn’t want to stop there.
He has said he wants to show teams something they haven’t seen before.
What does he mean by that?
“Just expanding my offensive game and showing that I’m more than just a energy guy,” Simmons answered. “I can give a team whatever it needs: passing, rebounding, scoring, defense. Just expanding my role, period, and being an elite player in this league.”
Jonathon Simmons’ tenacity, fearlessness and toughness have been a boost for Orlando.