ORLANDO, Fla. — Orlando General Manager Otis Smith said he didn't give Western Kentucky's Courtney Lee any indication the club would pick him before Thursday night's NBA Draft — on purpose.
”Just like I had to sweat when I got picked years ago,“ laughed Smith, a former Magic forward and second-round pick by the Denver Nuggets.
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It was Smith, though, who ended up sweating as an executive, wondering whether Lee would still be available by the time Orlando picked at No. 22 in the first round. He was.
”Until you get a guy, you don't have a guy,“ Smith said. ”You sweat it the whole way through. We were sweating. He's a guy we targeted in that area.
”I had concerns he'd get there. He's NBA-ready, and we have some holes to fill.“
Lee said he got some good vibes after working out for the Magic but said, ”It was up in the air. On draft night, anything can happen, so I was keeping my fingers crossed and just praying.“
Brandon Rush of Kansas was the Magic's top-rated shooting guard in the draft, but Rush was selected No. 13 by the Portland Trail Blazers and then traded to the Indiana Pacers.
Lee will be introduced on Friday in Orlando at a news conference. He is expected to sign a three-year contract worth a little more than $3 million, starting at $980,000, according to the NBA rookie salary scale.
With incumbent starter Maurice Evans exploring free agency, shooting guard became a priority for Orlando.
Lee, 6-foot-5 and 200 pounds, is described as a terrific shooter, especially from mid-range. Evans is a slasher who also was stationed in the corners for three-point attempts.
The Magic lived and died with the three-point shot last season, with Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu launching from deep at will. They needed a player who also could offer a mid-range shooting game as Grant Hill did, but that is not a strength for Evans.
”Lee can really shoot the ball, which is what I like. He's real athletic and can defend,“ Coach Stan Van Gundy said. ”He's a guy that got better every year in college. ... Not a guy we're looking at for potential; he's a guy that got it done in college.“
Lee is unusual these days: He played all four seasons in college. But Smith said Lee's maturity is a plus, not a negative, and Van Gundy admires his calm under pressure.
Lee made great strides since overcoming homesickness as a freshman, increasing his scoring average from 14.9 to 20.4 as a senior. He averaged 17.6 points per game for his career and was named Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year last season.
Lee's selection marks the first time a player from Western has been selected in the draft since the Vancouver Grizzlies chose Chris Robinson with the 51st overall pick in 1996. And it's the first time a Hilltopper has gone in the first round since Tellis Frank went 14th overall in 1987 to the Golden State Warriors.
Although unlikely, Smith also said that the drafting of Lee did not preclude the Magic from signing another shooting guard once the free-agent signing period begins next month.
”So many things can happen,“ Van Gundy said. ”We're definitely trying to improve our roster as much as we can. You're trying to get the best players you can even if there's a glut at the position.“
Evans, who started after arriving in a trade with the Los Angeles Lakers early last season, is likely seeking a bigger deal than the Magic are willing to offer. Smith said the team ”is open“ to re-signing Evans at the right price.
Former Kentucky star Keith Bogans and J.J. Redick — who are both under contract — are the backups.
Bogans decided not to opt out of his contract and has one more year remaining. Redick, frustrated with his playing time, had asked for a trade in January. Smith said the club had no plans to deal Redick on draft night or over the summer.
Redick, who turned 24 on Monday, told the Sentinel on Wednesday that he hoped the hoopla about trading him ”was laid to rest.“
Curiously, Smith said Lee's arrival should not affect Redick, adding, ”I don't think it does anything to him. Most teams have two or three guards.“