Orlando Magic general manager Otis Smith brought Mickael Pietrus into the NBA in 2003. Now Smith has drawn him across the country and a little closer to home.
The Magic introduced the 6-foot-6 free agent Thursday after signing him away from the Golden State Warriors. Smith leaked word earlier this week the team had reached an agreement with the native of the French Caribbean island Guadeloupe.
The Magic GM was executive director of basketball operations for the Warriors when Golden State drafted Pietrus No. 11 overall in 2003.
“I remember five years ago when I got drafted by the Warriors, Otis drafted me and then after a couple of weeks he left me,” Pietrus said, chuckling.
In Pietrus, 26, Orlando sees a lockdown defender and proven scorer. He averaged a career-best 11 points and started half the season for the Warriors in 2006-07 but fell out of Golden State coach Don Nelson’s rotation last season. He is also a career 35 percent 3-point shooter, important to the trigger-happy Magic.
But Pietrus’ contract will use most of Orlando’s $5.5 million midlevel salary exception, making it hard to reel in the help they need at point guard. Excluding free agent Maurice Evans, who isn’t expected to return, Pietrus’ addition gives Orlando a total of four players at the shooting guard spot.
They have only one true point guard, Jameer Nelson, and badly wanted to retain combo guard and free agent Keyon Dooling to back him up. But Pietrus’ contract seems to effectively end the Magic’s bid to keep Dooling.
Pietrus played four pro seasons in France, starting at age 17. He said he probably could’ve signed elsewhere for more money but wanted to play on Orlando’s young team with All-Star center Dwight Howard. The Magic advanced in the playoffs last season for the first time in a decade.
“I like the team and I like Superman,” Pietrus said, calling Howard by his nickname. “He’ll make everybody better around him and he’ll make your life easier on the floor. Hopefully we’re going to make some noise this year.”
Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said Smith was already talking about Pietrus last season, even before he was available. Van Gundy said he is most impressed with his intensity and versatility.
“Go to Cleveland and he’ll probably guard LeBron James, then go and guard [Dwyane] Wade and guys like that at the two,” Van Gundy said. “He’s an outstanding rebounder, and obviously that’s an area where we need some help.”
Pietrus’ signing could finally trigger the trade that former Duke star J.J. Redick has been requesting for several months. Redick has appeared in just 76 games in two seasons with Orlando, averaging 12 mostly insignificant minutes an outing. Further potential trade bait is Keith Bogans, who slipped out of the starting rotation after Evans appeared in a midseason trade with the Los Angeles Lakers.
“I have four [shooting guards] and only one at the position right next to it,” Smith said, “so there’s still some more work to be done.”