Rafer Should Be Told To ‘Skip’

By Mike Bianchi
Updated: June 16, 2009

ORLANDO — Once the Magic clear their heads of the hellacious hangover that comes with getting bounced from the NBA Finals, the common thought is that their No. 1 priority must be to do whatever is necessary to keep free agent Hedo Turkoglu.

Think again. The Magic’s first order of business during this all-important offseason must be to do whatever is necessary to get rid of point guard Rafer Alston.

You heard me. “Skip to My Lou” must skip outta town if the Magic are to move forward with Jameer Nelson as the starting point guard and de facto leader of the team. Just call it addition by subtraction.

This is not a knock on Alston; far from it. Magic GM Otis Smith’s decision to make a deal for Alston when Nelson went down with a supposed season-ending shoulder injury was brilliant.

And Coach Stan Van Gundy integrating Alston into the lineup was masterful.

But as much as Alston meant in getting the Magic to the Finals this season, he must now be jettisoned if the Magic expect to make a return trip next year.

This is not about ability; it’s about stability. It’s not demoting Alston; it’s about promoting harmony.

The Magic have let it be known that Nelson is this team’s starting point guard for years to come, but let’s be honest: as long as Alston is around, Nelson will be continuously looking over his shoulder. The first time he goes through a bad stretch next season, fans will be calling for him to be benched and replaced by Alston.

Just think of it in football terms. Much like a talented backup quarterback, Alston will become extremely popular next season and a classic “two-quarterback” scenario will develop. Fans, media and even Magic players themselves will split into factions.

We’ve already seen the genesis of it. Fair or not, many fans believe Nelson’s unexpected return for the Finals somehow robbed the team of chemistry and camaraderie.

If you want proof of the disenchantment, just read the message boards or listen to the talk shows. Nelson, who has always been a fan favorite, even received several boos when he checked into Game 5 Sunday.

Smith and Van Gundy have gone on record as saying Nelson’s return has had little effect on team chemistry. Such a contention is just plain silly. It’s no secret the Magic’s clumsy, clandestine way of handling Nelson’s return coupled with Van Gundy’s wacky substitution patterns created waves in the locker room.

Alston, after he was benched for the entire fourth quarter and the overtime period in the Magic’s crushing Game 4 loss to the Lakers, told the Toronto Star he had some friends who “were ready to fly in and wring [Van Gundy's] neck.”

Veteran point guard Anthony Johnson, who didn’t log a single minute in the Finals after being a key contributor all season, said he was disappointed Van Gundy didn’t tell him he was out of the rotation until the morning shoot-around before Game 1 against the Lakers.

“I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs, but this is the toughest thing I’ve had to deal with throughout my entire career,” Johnson said. “To help your team get to the Finals and not be able to participate and sway the outcome, it’s difficult to deal with.”

Hmmm, one player says his buddies would like to rough up the coach and another player says this was the toughest thing he’s had to deal with in a dozen years in the league. If the Magic think this is good chemistry, they probably need to recalibrate their Bunsen burners.

But what’s done is done, and now the Magic must deal with the fallout. It’s irrelevant whether the point guard controversy had anything to do with impeding the Magic’s potential championship season.

What’s important is the franchise cannot let the distraction spill into next season. Rafer Alston did exactly what he was brought here to do — and then some.

He should be commended for a job well done. He should be applauded for his contributions to the greatest season in franchise history.

He should be thanked for quarterbacking the Magic into the NBA Finals.

Then he should be traded.