By John Denton
July 14, 2017
ORLANDO – Promising to be opportunistic and strategic when assets became available to them, the Orlando Magic sprang into action on Friday and might have secured a valuable wing defender.
Jonathon Simmons, a forward who greatly enhanced his value late in the playoffs with a string of solid performances in place of the injured Kawhi Leonard, has agreed to a free-agent contract with the Magic, according to several media reports. ESPN.com, which first reported the agreement, says that Simmons’ deal is for three years.
San Antonio, where Simmons played for two seasons after famously rising through the G League, renounced the restricted free agent’s rights on Thursday, shockingly making him free to sign with any other team in the league. The Magic, led by new President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman and GM John Hammonds, wasted no time in negotiating a deal with the 6-foot-6, 195-pound Simmons and reportedly came to an agreement with him on Friday afternoon.
The 27-year-old Simmons showed off his massive potential as a scorer and wing defender late in the playoffs after Leonard suffered a couple of ankle injuries. Simmons averaged 15.4 points in the Spurs’ last seven playoff games against Houston and Golden State. After averaging just 6.2 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.4 assists in limited minutes during the regular season, Simmons contributed 10.5 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.9 assists in 15 playoff games (four starts).
Simmons came up especially big in Game 6 of the second-round playoff series against the Houston Rockets, helping the Spurs win despite the loss of Leonard. Not only did he score 18 points and hand out four assists, but he also served as the primary defender on superstar guard James Harden (two of 11 shooting, 10 points).
In Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals, Simmons again proved himself ready to fill in for Leonard, who went down with a major ankle injury midway through Game 1. Simmons made eight of 17 shots, including two of three 3-pointers, and scored 22 points for the Spurs.
Simmons is expected to compete with Evan Fournier and Terrence Ross as a starter at the shooting guard and small forward positions. His reputation as a tough, hard-nosed defender could give him an edge in the battle for minutes at the wing position.
If Simmons’ signing becomes official, he will be the Magic’s second addition in free agency. Orlando came to terms with veteran Shelvin Mack on Sunday – a move that should give it more depth at point guard.
Simmons is one of the NBA’s great success stories, making it to basketball’s highest level after paying $150 to try out for the Spurs’ G League affiliate in 2013. He went undrafted out of the University of Houston, but still found a way to reach the NBA by impressing scouts at that tryout camp and developing in the minor leagues. That strong play earned him an invite to training camp with the Spurs and he averaged 6.0 points in 55 games as a rookie in 2015-16 while shooting 50.4 percent from the floor and 38.3 percent from 3-point range.
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