Originally posted on Fox Sports Florida  |  Last updated 6/29/12
ORLANDO -- The Orlando Magic didn't solve the Dwight Howard dilemma on NBA Draft night still clinging to hopes he will stay -- but they certainly raised the team's collective IQ level. Newly-hired Rob Hennigan, the youngest general manager in the league, just drafted the smartest player coming into the NBA. Maybe Howard was looking for a tutor. The Magic have done everything else to placate him. The Magic rejected several trade possibilities involving Howard on draft night and used the 19th selection in the first round Thursday to take St. Bonaventure power forward Andrew Nicholson, who played four years in college and graduated with a degree in physics. This is the guy who made his selection of colleges based on the new science building that was opening his freshman year at St. Bonaventure. He may have started as a chemistry major, but he switched to physics because it was more challenging, laughing at the suggestion a year ago that he could leave school after his junior year to join the NBA. "I just had a natural knack for the sciences," he said Thursday. "It transfers well in society." Nicholson, who grew up in Ontario, was the first major move for Hennigan, the 30-year-old GM who was hired in Orlando earlier this month after the zaniest season in franchise history. It began with Howard's initial trade request and a season-long speculation over his future, ending with Howard in Los Angeles recovering from back surgery, but not before the admission that he had asked for coach Stan Van Gundy to be fired. Although Howard has told friends that he wants out of Orlando, he bypassed the chance to become a free agent this summer, instead opting for the final year of his contract and delaying free agency until 2013. The Magic have been exploring trade possibilities this month, vowing not to repeat the turmoil of last season with an unhappy superstar. Hennigan has insisted that no decision has been made, still clinging to hopes he will sign an extension. "We had talks with a lot of different teams (about Howard), but I'm going to keep that in confidence," Hennigan said. "We talked with a handful of teams about a handful of topics." Hennigan is expected to meet with Howard and his agent next week in Los Angeles to lay out his vision for the future. "I'm pretty excited about the chance to speak to Dwight. We'll continue to speak with him, one step at a time, and we'll see what happens," he said. "We're not looking to hit a home run, or a grand slam. We're just looking to keep getting better." The Magic were busier than most in the days leading up to the draft. Hennigan, in his first week on the job, dumped long-time assistant GM Dave Twardzik and director of player development Adonal Foyle, along with the entire scouting staff. Hennigan was replacing former GM Otis Smith, who was fired alongside Van Gundy in the wake of a tumultuous season. Hennigan also has hired Scott Perry of Detroit to be his assistant general manager. The Magic still are awaiting a decision from starting point guard Jameer Nelson, who must decide by the end of Friday whether to waive the final year of his contract (worth 8.1 million) to become a free agent this summer. Reserve forward Earl Clark, earlier in the day, opted against his final year (at 1.2 million) and will become a free agent July 1. There also is a new coach to hire, a process that will accelerate after Hennigan visits with Howard next week. And free agency begins July 1. "The next few days will be big for us, mapping out strategy, goals," he said. "We'll take it one step at a time." While the future of the franchise still hinges on what happens with Howard, Hennigan sounded thrilled to have landed both Nicholson, and Kyle O'Quinn, the power forward from Norfolk State University, who was taken with the 49th pick. Nicholson (6-9, 250 pounds) averaged 17.1 points and 7.2 rebounds in his four seasons at St. Bonny's. He was Atlanta 10 Player of the Year as a senior. His cerebral side is just one of the many reasons Hennigan liked him so much. Unlike many American players, Nicholson didn't start playing basketball until he reached high school. He led the Bonnies in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots for three consecutive seasons. He can score from inside and out, able to stretch defenses with his versatility. "I'm beyond elated right now," Nicholson said. "It's like a dream come true. I'm going to work hard, and I'm going to get bigger and stronger and better."
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