No Longer in Shadow of Knicks' LeBron Chase, Chris Duhon Happy in Orlando
Duhon was the starting point guard for the Knicks the past two seasons, trying to lead a team whose only real goal was creating salary cap space to lure James in his celebrated summer of free agency.
James never came, but his presence always was felt.
"It was tough because that's what you heard every day in New York. 'We're going to get LeBron.' That's what everyone was hoping for,'' Duhon said. "The last two years, it was like, whatever happens, happens ... because then we're going to get LeBron.''
Duhon directed the make-shift Knicks to just 32 and 29 victories the last two seasons, trying unsuccessfully to stabilize an unstable situation. In two seasons, Duhon had 31 different teammates in New York. It was more of a revolving door than a real roster with players and roles changing constantly. By the end of last season, he also had been replaced in the lineup.
"It's tough to win like that, where you have a group of guys who start to figure it out, how to win, how to get going, and the next week they are traded,'' he said. "But that's the league. I learned a lot. It was a good experience for me.''
Duhon came to Orlando as a free agent this summer, signing a four-year, $14.4 million deal, going from a Knicks starter to a Magic backup, but going from a rebuilding team to a contending team.
"Obviously, it's a different mentality here, a winning atmosphere with a team that's been successful and is knocking on the door to win a championship,'' he said. "Last year (in New York), we knew we weren't good enough to win a championship. We were just hoping for a shot at the playoffs. This team already knows it's good enough, and it just wants to win a title.''
Duhon, who came into the league with Chicago in 2004, averaged 7.4 points and a team-high 5.6 assists last season in New York. He averaged 7.7 and 5.1 assists the season before.
The adjustment period never seemed to end.
"I have to learn new guys here, what they like to do, where they like the ball, but you can do that during training camp and in the preseason, and you know those guys will still be around,'' he said. "In New York, you had to do it on the fly during the season. That makes a difference.''
The addition of Duhon gives the Magic a much-needed, younger backup behind Jameer Nelson, who has played fewer than 70 games in each of the last three seasons. He'll be replacing Jason Williams, who was already slated to become the No. 3 point guard before it was learned he'd miss four weeks following arthroscopic knee surgery.
In contrast to Nelson, Duhon is more of a pass-first point guard. He won't play as many minutes as he did in New York, but he may feel more comfortable around a stable roster.
"It was disappointing for New York when LeBron didn't go. They pitched to him something that was going to make him what they believed he wanted to become,'' Duhon said. "New York is a city where they expect people want to come and play. It was a tough hit for that city.''