Quentin Richardson and Chris Duhon started 2010-11 in the rotation. By December, it was clear Orlando could not do much with them in the lineup. The trades came and Richardson and Duhon found themselves relegated to bench warming and limited action. It was not the role either likely imagined when they signed with Orlando for what amounted to the team's mid-level exception.
That was a lot of money and years spent on guys outside the team's rotation.
Richardson was supposed to be the replacement for Matt Barnes, providing the team with some defensive edge on the perimeter and a strong shooter. Duhon was supposed to be a better Anthony Johnson -- consistent, pass-first guard who could beat you in the pick and roll. There was no reason to believe, judging from the years they had prior to coming to Orlando, that they would not be able to fill these roles.
In the perfect storm of things that went wrong in 2010-11, Richardson and Duhon did not pan out. Topped off with the sudden aging of Rashard Lewis and Vince Carter and then the hastily made trades in December, and you might claim they were part of the reasons the Magic fell from the top of the NBA.
Year Two has to be different for both of them and for the Magic. And it appears both will get their chance.
Richardson and Duhon were both firmly in the rotation as back ups to Hedo Turkoglu (Richardson started in Wednesday's win over Miami) and Jameer Nelson. Richardson hit three of his seven 3-point attempts and scored 10 points in 31 minutes in the two preseason games. Richardson had six points and five rebounds in 22.3 minutes in Wednesday's win. Duhon scored four points in 34 minutes adding four turnovers and three assists.
"I thought Chris has played a lot better already than he probably did at any point last year," Stan Van Gundy said before Wednesday's game. "He seems to be much more confident and much more comfortable.
"And Q is Q. He's a great professional. He's a tough guy. He's afraid of nothing. Really what happened to him last year, quite honestly, was he didn't shoot the ball well enough. His value is really his rebounding, his toughness and stretching the floor and making shots. And he didn't do that last year. Hopefully he can get back to doing that this year."
Richardson's shooting last year was pretty atrocious. He averaged a career-low 4.4 points per game, a career-low 34.1 percent from the floor and a career-low 28.8 percent from beyond the arc. Richardson ended up playing in only 57 games, averaging 16.8 minutes per game. His PER was a well-below-average 8.0. It was, by just about every measure, the worst year in Richardson's 11-year career.
Duhon, too, had a career-worst year. He scored a career-low 2.5 points per game (5.8 points per 36 minutes), 5.5 assists per 36 minutes, 25.0 percent 3-point shooting and an abysmal 30.3 percent turnover rate. When Gilbert Arenas arrived, Duhon was pushed to the side and pretty much discarded. Now with Arenas gone, Duhon is back in the mix to fill the backup role behind Jameer Nelson. That is, unless Larry Hughes beats him out.
Stan Van Gundy is willing to give both players their shot for the moment to regain their roles. And, as he said with the young players who were not getting game action in the preseason, he is seeing a lot more from them and their play through practices opposed to just games.
"People will say Player X is not playing well, why don't you give so-and-so a chance," Stan Van Gundy said Tuesday before Wednesday's preseason finale. "All those guys get a chance. Fans will act like, because they haven't seen them, that these guys get no opportunity. We watch them every day. We played today. So that's how we make decisions. And quite honestly, no matter what happens in the game [Wednesday against the Heat], we've seen them for however many days, one game tomorrow night isn't going to change my mind. It's an overall evaluation."
Obviously the expectations for the players will change now that the regular season is set to begin. Performance in games WILL matter and performance in practice will be a consideration, but not the be-all end-all it has been the last two weeks. There is a different mindset to the regular season player evaluations than training camp evaluations.
The second year is different too.
Second years under Stan Van Gundy are notorious for being breakthroughs for many players. It was the year the Magic went to the Finals in 2009. It was the year Mickael Pietrus busted out and had an incredible postseason run and became the team's defensive stopper. Brandon Bass showed dramatic improvement from his first to his second year under Van Gundy. It takes a while to get Stan Van Gundy's defensive principles down.
Richardson agreed. He said he is much more comfortable in his surroundings this year. For Richardson, it is all about winning. That was important to him in signing with Orlando. Duhon said being back for a second year adds to that familiarity. He now knows what to expect from the coaching staff and what the coaching staff expects from him -- to be a defender, run the team and be aggressive when the opportunity is there.
"I think I just played tentative," Duhon said of his struggles. "When you come on a team that has been together for a while, you come in somtimes trying to fit in. You don't really play your game because you want to be liked and fit in with everybody. It kind of took away from my aggressiveness and from my game. Now, I'm more comfortable around everybody and be myself."
Nothing is going to be given to either Richardson or Duhon just because they have this familiarity. Certainly they have to earn playing time through their play through practice and in games.
Stan Van Gundy will be experimenting once again a bit with who will be in his final rotation. As it stands now, though, Duhon and Richardson will get their shot to fulfill the role dreamed up for them, and the one they failed to fill, last year.