Marreese Speights did not need a Player’s Tribune article or a TV special to announce his homecoming to Florida. He is not here for the attention; he is here because he loves his hometown squad and knows what needs to be done to push the Magic to the next level. Speights will be joining his 6th NBA team after being drafted in the first round of the 2008 draft, and this might be the one that gets the most from Mo’ Buckets.
Welcome Home, Marreese Speights
Speights’ Journey to the NBA
After a dominant High School career, Speights signed with the University of Florida to play for a championship team and learn from fellow big men Al Horford and Joakim Noah. He exploded as a sophomore and earned himself a spot as a first round draft pick.
During his freshman season, Speights did not shy away from competing against the more experienced and skilled players ahead of him. Not only did he attempt to outwork them in practice and games, but he also reached out to them for guidance. Speights has been a successful role player throughout his career. In order to produce as a role player, you need to understand your skills and deficiencies. You have to be able to play without an ego and be team first. His experience at Florida created the hardworking team-first player he is today.
Becoming an NBA Champion
Speights bounced around the league with Philadelphia, Memphis, and Cleveland, but it was in Golden State when he showed his true value. This is also where he earned a great nickname that spoke to his skills and the fondness that his teammates had for him, Mo’ Buckets. Speights performed one of the most difficult jobs that can be expected of an NBA big man; come off the bench, and be ready to produce quickly when the rest of the team is flat. His former coach, Steve Kerr, spoke directly to this quality after game 4 of the 2016 Conference Semifinals against the Trailblazers. Kerr noted that even in the face of difficult match-ups, Speights was able to produce when it mattered the most.
Locker Room Presence
It’s not a secret every NBA team needs “locker room” guys; players that have an impact beyond measurable statistics. Speights has the ability to come to Orlando and teach the young players how to be professionals. Even though he shot down the story that described him criticizing Draymond Green for being too hard on teammates, Speights is the guy that can instill habits of hard work and professional respect amongst the team. He will not hesitate to call players out when they are showing up teammates rather than uplifting them. That is what teams with a strong culture do. Here is the best part for Magic fans: this is not just a locker room move. Speights can still play and produce real numbers.
Influencing the Young Players
The Magic have a young trio that desperately needs to learn how to make a consistent impact in the NBA. Who have been Elfrid Payton and Aaron Gordon’s mentors so far? Nikola Vucevic has not had the fortune of experiencing a winning culture. Jeff Green brought a veteran presence to the team, but clearly was not able to create a strong culture during his lone season. Serge Ibaka certainly was not looking to mentor or do anything other than get the shots he missed out on while playing next to Westbrook and Durant. Mario Hezonja has been an obvious disappointment. Speights could teach Hezonja the value of being an impact role player. This is the type of move, and season, that can save a career and prevent Hezonja from being known only as a lottery bust.
Yes, Speights is a champion. No, adding a champion to an underdeveloped team will not make them a playoff or championship contender. Speights, along with Simmons, are more of a signal of what John Hammond and Jeff Wheltman plan to execute. Hammond has rebuked the old regime’s policy of vacillating between half-hearted tanking and panic trades for win-now players. Hammond is building for the future while simultaneously creating a safety net for his young players.
I anticipate this year’s Magic team ending up with a similar record as last year’s squad. While fans should expect to see somewhat similar results in the win/loss column, they should also expect to see a different attitude from Orlando. Bismack Biyombo has already spoken about his appreciation for the attitude that players like Simmons and Speights will bring to the team. Not only will the young players be pushed in practice and in games, but they will also be encouraged to develop at their own pace. Speights did not light it up as a freshman at UF and he had a slow development early in the NBA. He will be able to impart on the young guys the value of finding where they fit in the league.
Embracing the Central Florida Community
Something else Orlando should expect to see from Speights is a dedication to uplifting the local community. Speights already has a foundation, Mo4Kids.org, and I would expect to see his philanthropic side shine while in Orlando. The NBA generates a lot of money and many people are the financial beneficiaries from this. Nearly all players find ways to contribute and give back, whether through their own foundations or by partnering with NBA Cares. When a player feels an inherent connection to a community and city, their philanthropic side usually comes out in a big way. Expect to see Speights use his time in Orlando not just for basketball. Look for him step up and look to make the most of his opportunity to be a key role player and a valued member of the Central Florida community.
Welcome home, Mo’ Buckets.
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