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The Jamaal Magloire Confidence Game

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Jason Kidd Tosses No Look Pass to Jamaal Magloire

Jamaal Magloire is one tough guy but he’s also one 6'11", 265-pound bundle of contradictions.

Follow the bouncing ball...

*He was an all-Star and in 2004. He was named Player of the Month. Only Jason Kidd and Vince Carter on the Nets can claim both those honors. Yet the Nets will be his fourth team in the four years since then. Twice, he was traded. It seems teams couldn't wait to get rid of him.

*He has averaged 11 points and 9 rebounds in the 299 games he has started in the NBA--all but two at center--and was 17th in the NBA last season in rebounds per 48 minutes at 13.9. Yet he sat on the bench in Portland until a late season wave of injuries hit the Trailblazers.

*He won an NCAA championship with Kentucky and two Ontario provincial championships in high school--winning 67 straight games at one point. Yet he has never gone beyond the second round of the NBA playoffs and his career playoff averages are lower than those in regular season.

*He is an unabashed Canadian patriot and quite possibly the second best Canadian player ever in the NBA, after Steve Nash. Yet he has skillfully avoided playing with Team Canada for the last decade, including two Olympic qualifying tournaments.

*He is one of Toronto's most generous boosters, winning accolades from citizens and government officials alike for spending time and money on everything from beauty pageants to college scholarships. Yet when Nash brought his charity game to his town, he snubbed it, apparently out of some parochial pique.

*He is, by all accounts, physically tough, but there are questions about how just how mentally tough he is, his reputation weighted down by inconsistent training and off-court complaining.

Is there some key to understanding these contradictions, something that would unlock his potential for the Nets or is he, as some have said, a retread, over-the-hill if not worn down? There might be and it could be something as simple as that mental toughness. It’s the ultimate contradiction: Beneath that tough, chest-thumping shell lies what a biographer calls "lingering insecurity"..."Big Cat" as pussycat.

There are real if complicated reasons--some might say excuses--for his downward slide the past three years, his inconsistency, his failure to don the Maple Leaf in the Olympics, his snub of Nash, yada yada (all of it chronicled in the new biography by Canadian author David A. Goldstein).

But please don't dwell on the negative or the past, announce Magloire and the Nets. Focus on the future. Rod Thorn has chosen Magloire as his next rehab project. Both player and team are persuaded that signing him to one-year, $4 million contract is a stroke of genius...and they may be right. Both sides hint that they too know that confidence game is the issue.

"I bring a toughness that I haven’t seen in this league very often. The things that I bring along with the things that are here I think we are the team to beat," Magloire told beat reporters after signing with New Jersey. "I want to put myself in the best position I could to go back to the All-Star Game. Playing with Jason Kidd, it doesn’t get better than him. I wanted to put myself in the best basketball position I could. It was almost a no-brainer to take the contract to come to New Jersey."

Lawrence Frank was only slightly less enthused. "I think that he will bring toughness, he will rebound, he will bring a competitor and hopefully he brings a nasty edge to our team...He saw himself as a guy who could benefit from being here and we will certainly benefit from having him here." Frank did add that Magloire is going to have to prove himself on defense if he wants big minutes saying, "I told him, 'Look, if you want it, you can earn it here. It comes down to merit and how the pieces work.' He has a great opportunity to play."

Boki Nachbar, who was Magloire's teammate in New Orleans, gives him high praise indeed. "He’s good, he plays hard, he cares," said Nachbar. "When it comes down to being tough, he’s one of the toughest guys I ever played with and that’s what I think we were maybe lacking a little bit last year. So, hopefully, he is going to bring that toughness and that energy that we need. There is no doubt in my mind that he will help us; I think he is going to be a big thing for us."

In spite of all that, Magloire was hardly a hot commodity this off-season. Although the Nets contended three teams were willing to offer him multi-year deals, GM's for two of the three have said publicly they never offered Magloire any contract, period. Too many questions, too many contradictions, too big of a risk was the word why.

Indeed, his favorite NBA coach, Paul Silas, while speaking glowingly of his contributions and work ethic, noted that he hasn't developed as much as he could have and in some areas, has regressed. All is not lost however, he says. Yep, it’s all about confidence.

"The one thing I can be sure of is that I had extreme confidence in Jamaal, and that gave him confidence in himself," Paul Silas, who was Magloire's coach for his first three seasons, told the Star-Ledger recently. "I don't know if it was lacking in other coaches, but that's probably the main reason. I know this: If he knows you believe in him, he'll go the last mile for you. He's as tough as they come, but he has a sensitive side."

Silas pointed to a tangible example of how Magloire's confidence issues have affected his game.

"And the one thing I noticed the last few years is he has gone completely away from his outside game. He lost confidence in that shot, and it hurt him. There's no finesse to his game at all. He was hitting that outside shot for me -- he could also pump-fake and go around people. He has to get back to those things. And if he does, you'll see his game rise. Because right now, he's too one-dimensional -- everyone knows what he can do."

The Nets say they love their new "old-school" center. But like Silas, Magloire's biographer, Goldstein, wonders if he isn't too "old-school", wonders if his under-the-rim, plodding banger style isn't simply outmoded.

"As more and more teams were finding success in fluid, fast-paced, offense-based systems, some wondered if hulking big men like Magloire were really necessary in the NBA," wrote Goldstein in the epilogue to "Jamaal Magloire: A Biography". "Although Magloire had always been able to hang his hat on being an NBA All-Star, the value of that one-time selection was diminishing every year, to the point where one prominent writer added Magloire to his list of 'all-time worst former all-Stars' with the likes of Chris Gatling and Kevin Duckworth."

The problem fitting in with the "new" NBA was particularly noticeable during his year in Milwaukee. As Goldstein writes, "For all his prowess rebounding and defending, Jamaal was not known for being a particularly smooth offensive player and the marriage of bruising center with high flying teammates was not turning out as well as hoped."

Magloire admitted he was sort of out of it: "When I get the ball, it's congested. Everybody's running by me...I may be in the way of some of their shots as well."

More evidence, suggests Goldstein, of the "lingering insecurity" beneath Magloire's tough exterior.

What’s the basis for that insecurity? Without getting too caught up in psychobabble, there are some obvious reasons. Like many in the NBA, Magloire grew up in a tough neighborhood—not LA’s South Central tough or Chicago’s West Side tough or Newark’s Central Ward tough—but tough enough. His half-brother, Justin Sheppard, was murdered in June 2001, a killing that remains unsolved. He is a basketball player in a country dominated by hockey and a Canadian in a sport dominated by Americans and now Europeans. There are more players from Slovenia or Serbia in the NBA than from Canada As Goldstein writes, Canada has never accepted Magloire…he was branded as "selfish and unpatriotic" by countless writers for refusing to play for Team Canada. He may also be too tall, too aloof, and yes, too black for Canada to accept, Goldstein writes. In all, Goldstein writes, he may be "a stranger in a strange land" twice over.

That said, at 29 years old with two good knees, Magloire could recover his All-Star numbers if not his All-Star jersey. Ask another player who spent time in Toronto about the recuperative powers of playing with Jason Kidd!

Magloire has been in difficult situations not of his own making since Silas was his mentor. Two of his coaches, Tim Floyd in New Orleans and Terry Stotts in Milwaukee, were woefully equipped to handle an NBA head coaching job. His last two teams, Milwaukee and Portland, acquired him as insurance after picking big men high up in the draft. Andrew Bogut and LaMarcus Aldridge were always going to get more attention than Magloire. Losing 50+ games to a broken finger the year after playing in the All-Star game didn't help either.

But Magloire has contributed to his decline, as Silas reported. Before he hurt his hand in 2004, the season after his All-Star season, he showed up in training camp less prepared than his team and teammates expected. He was also one of two Hornets to publicly criticize new coach Byron Scott's decision to ban personal trainers from the Hornets' workout facility...the other being Baron Davis. Both were traded. There were complaints in Portland last year about his off-season training regimen. As Silas pointed out, his game has regressed or at least not progressed. His passing out of the post is not what it should be…and in the Nets’ offense, that's a problem. There's a reason why Jason Collins has outlasted a number of interlopers. His positional defense needs, shall we say, work. His shot-blocking numbers have gone down. His foul-shooting is dreadful.

Still, there should be little doubt by now that the Nets targeted Magloire rather than Mikki Moore this summer. The Nets low-balled the more athletic, but slight Moore. Then when he initally declined the offer, they withdrew it. Paul Jones, a columnist for Sportsnet Canada and a long time friend of Magloire, reported as early as June 29 that the Nets were "very interested" in Magloire. It may very well be that the dinner Thorn, Frank, Ed Stefanski and Magloire shared in Orlando on July 10 was a closing rather than a get-acquainted session.

It's been written that Rod Thorn fell in love with Magloire early last season. The Nets opened their Thanksgiving Eve game with the Blazers by quickly ripping through Portland, going up 30-20 in the first quarter. Nenad Krstic alone had 14 points and Nets looked like they would coast to a nice win. Then, early in the second, Magloire checked in and started pushing people around. "Once he came in, that was it for the night," said Thorn recently. Krstic finished with 18 and the Nets lost 100-97. Magloire's line in the boxscore showed only 9 points and 7 boards, but his physicality turned the game around.

It’s not the first time Thorn has tried the rehab game, of course. It worked magically with Kidd and Carter. It’s worked so far with Marcus Williams and has just begun with Sean Williams. But it didn’t work with Eddie Griffin. Jeff McInnis was a disaster, one that still affects the roster. Magloire’s issues are not the same kind that caused those two experiments to fail. He has never been arrested, has no substance abuse problems. He may be seen as aloof, even a complainer, but is not known as a locker room "cancer". In fact, Larry Harris, the Bucks GM, has credited Magloire with helping Bogut develop his game...although it was Bogut who lobbied for Magloire's departure. Nate McMillan, a tough task master, criticized his defense with the Blazers but not his professionalism in Portland.

And off the court, he is a huge contributor to his local Toronto community on a scale that is not replicated by many NBA players. He has won acclaim from city officials as well as average citizens. He is one of the league's good guys, but since so much of what he does is north of the border, it doesn't get much attention. He sponsors charities, youth basketball teams, a beauty contest, and a band, offers scholarships, hosts all day barbecues, pushes local tourism, and when with the Hornets, he organized fund drives in Toronto for those who lost everything in Hurricane Katrina’s wake. Youth Deserve a Chance To Dream, Jamba Cats, Miss Queen of the Islands, Toronto Revellers…all familiar organizations in Ontario are his creations. His website is a one-stop location for all of them, complete with links to applications for help.

So what can the Nets expect if he gets his groove--uh, his confidence--back? The Nets would like you to revisit the boxscore from the 2004 All-Star Game in Los Angeles, the high point of Magloire's career. The Eastern Conference All-Stars included three current Nets: Magloire, Kidd and Carter. Kidd was his typical J-Kidd self: 14 points, 10 assists, three rebounds, two steals in 22 minutes. Carter, the only starter, played but 16 minutes and scored 11 points on 5-for-7 shooting. Magloire, whose selection had been much maligned--there's that confidence thing again, was the East's high scorer with 19 points on 9-for-16 shooting, eight rebounds, including three off the offensive board, a steal and a block, all in 21 minutes. How'd he do that? A lot of those 10 assists in Kidd's stat line turned into easy buckets in Magloire's.

Too much to expect? Probably, but listen to one of Magloire's oldest friends in Toronto, broadcaster Sherman Hamilton. He thinks he knows what happens when Magloire gets going.

"He won a championship, playing a significant role when everyone said he wouldn't be able to cope there (Kentucky)," said Hamilton, quoted in Goldstein's book. "Then getting drafted, playing in the NBA, getting better and becoming an All-Star, playing exceptionally well in that All-Star Game.

"That's huge, especially for a kid that grew up down the street. I think it kind of gets glossed over sometimes, but you have to understand how hard it is to get into the NBA. You see guys that struggle who should be there but aren't there and then you see a guy who just willed himself into a position to play in the NBA. I have nothing but respect for the guy--the sky's the limit for him."

We should all be so confident.