Jason Richardson signed a four-year deal worth about $24 million last summer. J.J. Redick was getting paid more than Richardson, but there was no doubt that Orlando was making a big commitment on the veteran shooting guard. Richardson was still going to start and was still going to be relied upon to be a creator off the dribble, simply because no one else could and this was, after all, what Richardson was brought in for in December 2010.
Richardson did not do much to “earn” the length of his deal in the previous stint with the Magic. He averaged 13.9 points per game in 55 games with the Magic in 2011, shooting 43.3 percent from the floor. That scoring mark was his lowest in his career.
For whatever reason, Richardson never clicked in Orlando. Despite some big games and clutch shots during the regular season, it never seemed like Richardson worked out perfectly.
So bringing him back — for four years, no less — seemed a bit out there. Either Otis Smith was going to be a genius or a buffoon for this deal.
He was not a genius on this count, as we all know now that he is gone and the Magic are still stuck with Richardson for three more years. Stuck seems to be the operative word if he plans on repeating the performance he put in for 2012.
Richardson was worse than his career worst.
He averaged 11.6 points per game, shooting 40.8 percent from the floor and 36.8 percent from the line. Even more confusing, a 70.8 percent free throw shooter shot 59.4 percent from the line. His PER was the lowest of his career at 13.3 and he recorded only 2.8 win shares, the worst full-season mark of his career.
For a starter, the Magic needed and wanted more from Richardson. Richardson struggled with knee troubles throughout the year and the rushed season did not help him recover from that. He needed rest for it and his play suffered because of the lingering injury.
Still, there are no excuses when the main goal is a championship which the Magic would continue to claim was the realistic goal of the team. Even with smaller goals, Richardson disappointed. Orlando made a significant investment in him and he failed to deliver.
Then again, maybe Richardson played about how you would expect, it was only that investment that made it seem worse.
At his height, Richardson was a player that relied on his supreme athleticism and his ability to hit jumpers to score. In his younger days, his role with the Magic might have been perfect for him. But much of that athleticism is gone now. Richardson got rejected by the rim on more than a few dunks. It was an unfortunate development not only for the team but also for Richardson.
Undoubtedly giving a 31-year-old guard who relies on his athleticism a four-year deal was not an advisable decision. It seemed that the signing was made as a favor to Richardson’s agent, Dan Fegan, the embattled agent for Dwight Howard (it is always about Howard, isn’t it?).
Richardson had just an awful year. There is no way around it. The Magic were in desperate need for some scoring punch from the guard position and Richardson simply could not provide it on a consistent basis. And that did not help the Magic keep up with the top of the Eastern Conference.
So how does Richardson get better moving forward? You have to assume his contract is pretty immovable at this time. So Orlando is, for lack of a better term, stuck with Richardson. the hope is that he will improve — although asking Richardson to redefine himself as a player seems like a stretch.
Still, he will have to try.
“All of our guys need to continue to work and get better,” former President of Basketball Operations Otis Smith said at the team’s exit interviews following the playoff loss. “When you have a little bit of a change, whether it’s guys in and out of the lineup due to injury or guys starting to get older or the the season is a little bit accelerated because of the lockout, guys that are a little bit older get affected the most. We have to be smart and he has to be smart with what he does with his body in the offseason.”
Certainly, Richardson is still finding his place and redefining himself with much of his athleticism gone. An offseason to get back to work, under the Magic’s watchful eye will help.
So too might getting a new coach. Stan Van Gundy never effectively used Richardson. At some points he was extremely deadly coming off curls heading to the basket and in post-up situations. He was a decent shooter, but he is too streaky to be a reliable spot-up shooter. Van Gundy often admitted he did not go to Richardson enough and would slowly phase him out of the game plan as the game went on. Richardson often disappeared offensively after a strong spurt early in the game.
Whoever the new coach is could better use Richardson. That we will not know until he is hired, of course.
As for the 2012 season, it was a forgettable one for Richardson. The only hope is that it seems like it can only get better.