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Redick Continuing To Improve As He Morphs Into Orlando's Veteran

The Orlando Magic have played tough, inspired basketball to surpass expectations in what was widely expected to be a difficult rebuilding season. After trading away Dwight Howard, most expected the Magic to have one of the worst records in the NBA and a high lottery pick. They’ve responded to the doubts by playing extremely hard and competing every night. While their effort has been admirable, it hasn’t translated into wins ever since they won four out of five in mid-December.

Some positives can be found in some of the worst situations; J.J. Redick is one of the positives for the Magic.

The seven-year guard has played great this season. He’s posting career-highs in scoring, assists and field goal percentage while excelling in a leadership role on a team going through a transition period.

This season isn’t an easy task for any of the veteran players of the Magic. They’re accustomed to competing at a championship level. In the final year of his contract, the popular opinion was that Redick would spend the season hoping for a trade that would send him to a contender. Instead, the popular Magic player has remained professional and vowed to do all he can to help the franchise move forward. No complaining, no reminiscing on the good old days. Just doing the things his coach asks and his teammates need. Setting an example with his hard work, Redick has become one of Orlando’s best players and one of the league’s premier sixth men.

“J.J. has improved every year and that's the sign of an ultimate pro,” Jameer Nelson said. “Every year he steps on the court he's better. You can notice it and his level of production says it.

"I jokingly told him early that I wanted to work as hard as he does one day. But he really does work hard and guys see that. Guys look at him as a leader and see him, our best shooter, getting up extra shots up and working on other areas of his game. That makes you want to do the same.”

Entering the NBA, Redick was viewed as nothing more than a shooter. His days of being a scoring machine at Duke didn’t matter to the established guys in the league. In fact, many players looked forward to getting the best of one of the ACC’s most prolific scorers. Redick, however, knew he was one than a guy with a good jumper. The 28-year-old guard didn’t let his college accomplishments or the opinions of his peers motivate him, he just wanted to improve every season.

“I've tried to improve every year I've been in the league,” Redick said. “During my rookie year someone told me that you'll have a job if you get better every year.  I'm just trying to keep my job and play as long as possible.

"I've tried to add something to my game every year. Subtle things and even improving things I've gotten better at continue to improve things. The things that I've improved this year has been my passing and creating for other people. It's not really important to me that I earn people's respect. To me it would be great if I got to shoot spot-up threes all day. Unfortunately that option is generally taken away so I've had to find other ways help the team offensively. That's why my game has grown. I had to work at the things that I wasn't great at when I first got to the league.”

His improvements have been noticed and are greatly appreciated by Jacque Vaughn, his first-year head coach.

“He's been great,” Vaughn said. “His ability not only to shoot the basketball but create opportunities for other guys on the floor. His ability to pass the ball and defensively he's done a great job of being in the right place. He's been a leader for us. Everyday he's had a professional approach to him. He's helped our young guys tremendously.”

The older players have also taken notice of Redick’s improvements and have a found that they’re gaining new respect for his game and contributions.

“He’s doing a really good job in the way he’s drawing the defense and also hitting shots,” Glen Davis said. “J.J. has been a professional; that’s what he’s all about. We feed off of the energy he brings. I appreciate him as a player because he helps me with my game, especially when he’s coming off screens and finding me open. He’s a big, big, big piece of this team.”

Redick has come a long way since his rookie year when then coach Brian Hill wouldn’t give him a consistent chance to play. He’s now a valued NBA commodity and will be the subject of many trade rumors in the coming weeks. But Redick won’t allow himself to lose focus. He’s loyal to the Magic and will continue to play hard for the team so long as he’s in Orlando.

Kemba Walker Breaking Out Despite Another Rough Season For Bobcats

The Charlotte Bobcats had a few moments throughout the first two months of the season, but the reality is they remain a bad basketball team. That reality is what makes Kemba Walker so good. It’s easy for a guy to put up gaudy numbers on a lottery team, but it’s not easy for a talented player to shine in a bad situation and separate himself from those that pad their stats while the rest of the league feasts on their team.

Walker has done that and more this season.

The Bobcats have a lot of issues, but it’s easy to see that selecting Walker in the 2011 NBA draft was the right decision, perhaps the best in the franchise’s eight-year history. Walker is a heck of a player and has a world of potential. He’s exciting, likable, talented, and confident. It would seem that the Bobcats have a young guy they can build around, but that speaks to the future. In the meantime, Walker has become the go-to guy in Charlotte and quickly gained the trust and respect of his coaches and teammates.

“He just brings it every night,” said Gerald Henderson. “He obviously plays hard and he’s going to compete. But he’s also a very skilled guy and does a lot of things at his size that are special. He’s just doing it every night for us and that’s the biggest thing.”

The mix of Walker’s skills has first-year coach Mike Dunlap leaning heavily on the second-year pro. He’s see’s his star as a one-man wrecking crew and doesn’t intend on getting in the way of his growth or production.

“He’s a one-man break,” Dunlap said. “We encourage him to freestyle until he comes down the floor; the possession is his until he stops. He doesn’t turn the ball over. He’s very responsible with it and is doing a better job of finding other people out of the pick and roll. He’s also right up there for us in charges, hand on balls, deflections and even rebounds.”

Seeing Walker in a feature role with so much confidence from his coach and teammates wasn’t something that was certain. He had a few good games last season, but certainly didn’t do anything to suggest he would be anything different than the Bobcats’ previous high-profile draft picks. Walker, however, has exceeded the expectations of some of his teammates while making people forget about his up and down rookie season.

“You never really know what to expect from a player especially coming off of a season like last year,” Henderson said. “But one thing you’re always going to get from Kemba is someone that competes every night. He’s exceeded my expectations, especially from last year because I don’t think anyone played that well. He’s playing well and having a special year.”

The experience of his rookie year was tremendous for Walker, especially a year with so many challenges at the shortened 2011-12 NBA campaign. It turned into quite the teaching tool for the lead Bobcat.

“It’s all about having one year under your belt,” Walker said. “I was able to realize the things I could do this year after playing and watching film. Things have slowed down for me and I’m able to see and process things much faster.”

Good thing he was able to learn. This season he’s been asked to be the team’s go-to guy and step into a leadership role. That’s a lot to ask of most 22 year olds, but Walker has embraced the challenges and is enjoying the increased responsibility.

“Being a leader is pretty tough,” Walker said. “I’m trying my best to embrace that role and to get better at it each day.  The older guys have given me an opportunity to be a leader and it’s been fun.”

The team’s increased confidence in Walker has played a big role in his adjustment. They believe in him and that belief allows him to attack his role without fear of failure.

“It’s all about confidence,” Walker said. “If your coach has confidence in you, well, that’s all you need. It’s easy to play with this team and my teammates have shown that they have confidence in me and that makes it easy to play with these guys.”

Hawks Find Short-Term Success After Making Moves For Long-Term

Not much was expected from the Atlanta Hawks this season. The Hawks' collection of talent enjoyed a few good moments over the years, but a championship wasn’t in their future and a shift towards a rebuild project was looming.

Trading six-time All-Star Joe Johnson was a great and unexpected long-term move for the franchise. Johnson was great for the Atlanta, but Iso-Joe was owed nearly $90 million over the next four seasons and severely hurt the team’s ability to sign quality players. It was an opportunity that Hawks’ GM Danny Ferry couldn’t turn down.

Following the trade there were talks of immediately blowing up the team and going after top-tier free agents in the summer of 2013 and subsequent offseasons. The idea was met with great fanfare as Johnson’s contact had become a major issues with fans that felt the 31-year-old guard was failing to live up to his massive deal. Still, trading the team’s best player was viewed as a loss that would result in a season destined to be filled with tough nights, disappointment and turmoil, even if the move put the franchise in a better position to compete long-term.

Situations leading into a rebuild can often cause issues with the players still on the roster after a big trade, especially a team that’s enjoyed moderate success. The uncertainty surrounding their situations will often motivate a player to abandon the team concept in favor of proving that they were just as good as the big-name player that was traded. It can also become a season-long audition for potential suitors and many familiar with Atlanta’s personnel expected Phillips Arena to be the home of a lot of me-first basketball this season.

The Hawks have been the opposite.

While there are many things guys like Josh Smith and Al Horford would like to prove personally, they’ve led a team-first approach that has positioned the Hawks near the top of the conference standings. Everything is about team this season, especially the motivation to prove they’re more than a one-man show.

“We’re playing with a chip on our shoulder because at the beginning of the season people were saying we wouldn’t even make the playoffs,” Josh Smith said. “We’re playing with a chip on our shoulder; we weren’t given a chance at all when lost Joe.

“It was definitely a big loss for us, but we have a lot of talented players on this team. We’re in this thing together. Nobody is playing selfish and we have a good cohesive unit.”

Johnson was much more than a recognizable name, as was the focal point of the Hawks’ offense. Many times ball movement was scrapped in favor of isolation plays that allowed Johnson to thrive. Those plays, however, limited the opportunities for other guys to get into a groove, forcing them to wait –and-see mode as Iso-Joe did his thing. These days there are many more opportunities for guys to make plays, something that’s been essential to the team’s early success.

“I think there are more opportunities for everyone else,” Al Horford said. “We have scorers like Lou Williams and Jeff Teague that can come in and get hot on any given night, but there are more opportunities to score and we’re taking advantage of it.”

The on-court product has also been helped by off-court growth. This season the Hawks have made it a priority to learn more about each other personally. Those relationships have motivated guys to invest in their teammates professionally in hopes of playing better basketball.

“I think we’re very unselfish and it speaks to things that we do off the court together,” Smith said. “We do a lot of off the court things together and taking that time to hang out and get to know each other makes you more willing to help a guy on the court. You want to get to know guys personally and start to look at guys as more than just you teammates.”

So far the formula is working for the Hawks. They’re playing well and enjoying playing with each other. It tough to know how the business of basketball will change things in Atlanta, but until otherwise notified this is their team and they intend on playing well and proving doubters wrong.

Jamal Crawford's Return

The Clippers needed a guy that could provide them instant firepower without disrupting their talented core. Crawford was looking for a winning team that would let him contribute without striping him of his ability. It was a perfect marriage and both sides are benefiting.

Felton's New York Return

The things Raymond Felton can do have made people forget about Jeremy Lin and the hysteria that surrounded his rise to fame last season. Still, the pressure of being the Knicks’ starting point guard in a year they’re expected to win at least one playoff series comes with lofty expectations.

Pacers Confident, Comfortable Under The Radar

The Pacers won't get caught up in the dismissal of their championship chances. In fact, they're pretty confident in Indiana. The media may not be talking about them, but they're sure the elite teams in the league know they're a team on the rise.

Glen Davis' Time To Star

Glen Davis will be one of the Magic's go-to guys, a challenge he has wanted for many years. The spotlight, and everything that comes along with it, will be on him this season. He can't wait to get started and is eager to prove he can handle the responsibility of being in a featured role.

Dwight's Orlando Quagmire

The Magic are positioned to lose Dwight Howard and come out looking like they did everything in their power to keep him. In the meantime, Howard’s image will take another hit.

Howard To Remain With Magic

Dwight Howard realizes the impact that his indecision has caused and wants to make things right in the city that has watched him grow both professionally and personally since he came into the NBA in 2004 as the first overall pick.

Aldridge Finds Confidence In ASG Weekend Despite Lack Of Minutes

The biggest part of the weekend for LaMarcus Aldridge was the time he had around the other players. He learned a lot from the guys and plans on taking his lessons back to Portland for the season's stretch run.

Nets Simply Can Wait It Out With Dwight Howard

Sources say the Nets are the only team Dwight Howard is truly interested in joining, which incentivizes the option to wait for him to come as a free agent.

Hamilton's Rejuvenation Comes With Return To Title Contender

While the losing took its toll on Richard Hamilton, he hasn't forgotten what it takes to win and intends on showing his new teammates what is necessary to become a championship team.

Questions And Rumors Of The Orlando Magic

The early playoff exit of the Orlando Magic has made the organization a target for rampant speculation and a nervous fan base. Here are the answers we are hearing to some of the major issues.

No New York Revisionist History For LeBron

LeBron James isn't 'about saving franchises' and his first trip to New York since choosing the Heat will truly signify how all sides have moved on from a two-year courtship.

Crawford Puts Hawks Ahead Of Uncertain Future

Jamal Crawford wants to stay in Atlanta, but the Hawks aren't in any rush to reward him with a new contract. Coming off one of the best offensive seasons a reserve has ever put up, he's content to win.

Carlos Who?

While Paul Millsap is comfortable knowing he’s the starter and the bulk of the minutes are his, he still is focused on the team’s success and not his own.

A Human Highlight Reel With Production

On the verge of his first All-Star Game appearance, Josh Smith and several of his peers sat down with RealGM to discuss what has changed in the 24-year-old forward.

Picking Through The Western Reserves

Picking the All-Star reserves for the Western Conference this season was much easier for Jarrod than deciding on the East.

Taking A Hard Line On The Eastern Reserves

The announcement of this year's All-Star reserves will certainly cause a lot of debate, with a few more snubs than we're used to seeing.

Howard's Role In The Gold

For the first time in eight years, there won't be any talk of failure, or the world catching up, only praises for the Olympic champions ? that is unless your name is Dwight Howard.

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