When the Magic

Big­ger role in Or­lando first step in process

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - jrob­bins@ or­lan­dosen­tinel.com Read his blog at Or­lan­doSen­tinel.com/ mag­icblog and fol­low him on Twit­ter at @JoshuaBRob­bins

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.”

STREETER LECKA/GETTY IM­AGES

Jonathon Sim­mons’ tenac­ity, fear­less­ness and tough­ness have been a boost for Or­lando.

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