The Magic believe their lack of toughness last season was one of the main reasons they were eliminated in six games by the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals.
It has also contributed to some of Orlando’s early season struggles.
“That’s another thing we’ve talked about, just being tougher,” Magic guard J.J. Redick said. “Not just physically, but mentally. That’s going to be huge for us this year.”
Toughness is something the Magic are counting on Quentin Richardson to bring them. The Magic signed Richardson to a three-year deal worth about $7.5 million during the offseason. Richardson has also been faced with the task of replacing Matt Barnes, who became a fan favorite during his one and only season in Orlando last year.
Although Richardson has had some early season struggles, he has not had a problem fitting in with his new team.
Much like Barnes, Richardson is a good defender who welcomes the challenge of guarding the opponent’s star wing. Although Mickael Pietrus remains Orlando’s best perimeter defender, Richardson will be called upon on to match up with the likes of LeBron James and Paul Pierce.
Richardson is notorious for his rivalry with Forward Paul Pierce and the Boston Celtics. That feud came back into the limelight during the 2010 postseason when Richardson approached Pierce, who was down with an apparent injury right in front of the Heat bench. Celtics players flocked to the Heat bench and Forward Kevin Garnett elbowed Richardson in the face. All of the players were separated before it could go any further.
Richardson, while playing in New York was ejected in a game in 2008 for jawing with Pierce and afterwards, screamed for Pierce to meet him in the tunnel.
Despite these actions, Richardson insists that he never goes into a game asking for trouble.
“I’m not trying to be any type of enforcer,” Richardson said. “I don’t think (being a tough guy) is something you embrace or shy from.”
“I try to do whatever the game calls for and needs me to do,” Richardson explained. “I’m not a trouble maker who goes out there looking for something like that. I’ll be just as happy if I go through a game without incident.”
That doesn’t mean Richardson is going to back down from a challenge.
“I am definitely someone who’s capable of handling of himself,” Richardson added.
“I’ve played against him (Richardson),” Redick told reporters. “I know how tough he is to play against physically.”
The Magic, who didn’t make many moves in the offseason, are banking on chemistry to improve their team, which makes learning your job and fitting with the team extremely important for a new player like Richardson.
So far the Magic are 7-3 and it appears the 10-year veteran is having no problem doing just that.
“He’s fitting in great,” Redick said. “He’s been in the league, been in different groups and ours is an easy group to fit into. As long as you have a sense of humor and work hard, you’ll fit in here.”
Of course, the Magic didn’t just sign Richardson because they think he is tough and fits in well with his teammates in the locker room – there are a lot of different things Richardson can do on a basketball court.
“Quentin is just a guy that we have always really really liked for his toughness, his shooting, his ability to post up,” Magic Head Coach Stan Van Gundy told reporters.” He’s a low mistake guy. He’s smart. He’s a great team guy. I think he’ll bring us great defense, toughness and rebounding.”
Richardson, who averaged 8.9 points per game last season, shot a career-high 39.7% from beyond the arc last season and joined a Magic team that broke a league record for 3-pointers made during the 2009-10 season. Richardson has struggled from downtown through the first 10 games, shooting just 25.0%, but all of his career numbers indicate that number will go up.
Not only can Richardson score from the perimeter like many of his teammates, but they also share a common goal.
“I’m just ecstatic to be in an organization where winning a championship is a goal – and a realistic goal,” Richardson said, with a smile on his face.
So far this season, Richardson is averaging 5.6 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. He was briefly taken out of the starting lineup in favor of Ryan Anderson (with Rashard Lewis shifting to the 3) and never once complained.
“Quentin’s a professional,” Van Gundy explained.
Richardson has since returned to the lineup.
“I just prepare myself for whatever Coach Van Gundy asks me to do and hopefully I can deliver on that and be the best at whatever Coach Van Gundy needs to do,” he added.
News & Notes:
- Guard J.J. Redick will be inactive Thursday night against the Phoenix Suns for the second consecutive game after straining a muscle in his back.
- That means big man Malik Allen will be active.
- Both Quentin Richardson (illness) and Jason Williams (foot) missed practice Wednesday but both are expected to play Thursday night.
- Thursday’s game marks the return of two former Magic players – Hedo Turkoglu and Grant Hill. They now make up Phoenix’s starting forward tandem.