By John Denton
July 28, 2017
ORLANDO – When agent Andy Miller recently called Marreese Speights and gave him a rundown of all the teams interested in signing him to a free-agent contract, the talented big man’s heart raced with excitement when one potential option was mentioned.
Kimberly Speights, wife of the 6-foot-10, 255-pound power forward/center, was there when the call came in and she still vividly remembers her husband’s bright smile and child-like glee.
“He told me, `Of all my options, if I can get here to Orlando, that would be great,’’’ Kimberly recalled. “This is something that he’s always dreamed of and we couldn’t be more excited about coming to Orlando.’’
When Speights officially signed with the Magic on Thursday it meant that the family would at long last all be back home together in Florida. Marreese is a native of St. Petersburg and grew up rooting for the Magic as a child, while Kimberly hails from Clearwater and the two of them still live there in the offseason.
Speights’ mother, Regina Glenn, and his sister, Willena Speights, shared in the joy of the Central Florida homecoming, knowing that they will be able to make the 130-mile drive from St. Pete to see Marreese play in Orlando at least 41 times a year. In the past, the family would always drive over when Marreese was playing for the opposition of the Magic and they’d pack the stands with an average of 55 family members. Now, “Mo’’ will be playing for the family’s all-time favorite team and they couldn’t be happier about it.
“Once he made the decision to come here, he has been so excited about it,’’ Willena Speights said just minutes after Marreese raised a Magic jersey up chest-high for a photo shoot for the first time. “It’s always been exciting to drive over and see him play in Orlando. We’d always gather up as many people as we could from our family and come and support him.
“Now, we’re going to have to rotate them in and out because there will be so many people wanting to come to the games,’’ Willena added with a chuckle. “The immediate people – his mom, his wife and me – we’re never going to not come. We’re coming to all the Magic games.’’
As excited as the family is for Marreese to play in Orlando, the power forward admitted to being very emotional about the prospect of playing with the Magic. As a basketball prodigy growing up in St. Pete and a highly regarded high school player, Speights always considered wing Nick Anderson and point guard Darrell Armstrong to be his favorite players even though he was a blossoming big man. Later, he gravitated toward Magic superstar guard Tracy McGrady – another Central Florida native (Auburndale in Polk County). Like McGrady, he also dreamed for playing for the team he watched on television every night while growing up.
Now that being a member of the Magic is a reality, Speights said he hasn’t stopped smiling for days. He’s been in the NBA for nine years and he almost gave up on the dream of playing for the Magic after spending time with the 76ers, Grizzlies, Cavaliers, Warriors and Clippers. But, at long last, his boyhood dream is coming true.
“Being from Florida, (others) really don’t understand what it means to put that (Magic) jersey on,’’ Speights said candidly. “It means more than anything else to me. I feel like this year is going to be one of the most important years that I’ve ever had in the NBA because (Orlando) is a name of a team from where I’m from. I’m going to cherish that.’’
The Magic are as excited about what Speights can bring to the team in his role as a backup center/power forward who can generate instant offense. Speights has been one of the NBA’s best bench players for nearly a decade because of his ability to pile up points in short bursts.
He averaged a career-best 10.4 points per game (in just 15.9 minutes a night) while playing for the Warriors and winning a championship in 2014-15. Last season with the Clippers, Speights scored 8.7 points and grabbed 4.5 rebounds a game despite playing just 15.7 minutes a night. Among players who played in at least 70 games as a reserve last season, only Lou Williams (17.6 ppg.), Enes Kanter (14.3 ppg.), Tyler Johnson (13.7 ppg.), James Johnson (12.5 ppg.), Jamal Crawford (12.1 ppg.), Greg Monroe (11.7 ppg.), Allen Crabbe (10.8 ppg.), Marco Belinelli (10.5 ppg.), Shabazz Muhammad (9.8 ppg.), Jamal Murray (9.5 ppg.) and Patty Mills (9.2 ppg.) scored more than Speights (8.6 points per game in 80 games as a reserve).
What makes Speights an even more valuable commodity is the fact that he has expanded his shooting range out to the 3-point line. After years of being one of the league’s top mid-range shooters, Speights started taking more 3-point shots at the urging of Warriors coach Steve Kerr. The Clippers were the beneficiaries of that growth last season as the big man made 103 3-pointers – 60 more than he had hit in his first eight NBA seasons.
How Speights will find playing time alongside of Magic centers Nikola Vucevic and Bismack Biyombo and power forwards Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac and Khem Birch is uncertain. But what isn’t in doubt is Speights’ ability to score points in bunches.
“I just know my role in this league and if I want to stay in this league I’ve got to be a role player,’’ Speights said. “That’s my role and it always has been my role – coming in and giving a team a spark when it is down. That’s what championship teams (need).’’
Quite possibly the only thing better than playing for his “hometown’’ team would be leading the Magic someday to a championship. Speights certainly has experience in that department, being one of just 42 players in NBA history to win a NCAA title (at the University of Florida) and a NBA title (with the Warriors). Until that day comes, Speights will simply savor his Central Florida homecoming and the chance to be surrounded by his family at every Magic game.
“This is my dream team,’’ he said. “I’ve been dreaming to come here since I started watching basketball. So to have the opportunity to come here is an unreal feeling.’’
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