When Mickael Pietrus got word this summer that Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy was flying to Paris to chat with him, the good-natured, but sometimes quirky Magic swingman got somewhat worried. After all, it was Pietrus who vowed that he would be “sleeping with one eye open,” this summer because he feared an offseason trade that would have him playing elsewhere.
But much to Pietrus’ delight, he and Van Gundy spent much of their time in the City of Lights munching on French pastries. They met with Pietrus’ family, they joked and made small talk and even took a brief tour of some of the tourist sights in Paris. And in the midst of the get-to-know-you-better session, they even talked some basketball.
For Pietrus, a thoughtful type who deeply values friendship and family, the visit from Van Gundy meant everything to him. And it’s the Magic who are now reaping the benefits with Pietrus feeling fully welcomed to the Magic and playing as well as any wing player in training camp. His eyes light up when up the topic turns to his meeting with Van Gundy and the effect it had on his mindset.
“It meant so much to me. I’m not going to lie to you, I was very surprised that he came,’’ said Pietrus, a native of the French-speaking Caribbean island of Guadeloupe and a Paris resident in the offseason. “What I liked about it was that when coach came to Paris it wasn’t like we were talking about why I wasn’t playing more or why I was only getting a few shots. It was about coach coming to see me like a member of my family. I showed him how people love me in France. I took him on a tour of France. We ate a little French cake.”
“We talked about basketball and the upcoming season,’’ Pietrus said. “I’ve never had a problem with coach, to me he’s a great coach and he’s a part of my family. We’ve always had a great relationship, but we needed a deeper relationship.’’
That relationship has seemed to spark Pietrus and bring out the best in him so far. Van Gundy has talked openly to Pietrus about the need for him to shoot for becoming an All-Defense selection this season. He wants him to solve the mystery that has made him an erratic enigma at times in Orlando and become a consistent rock that the Magic can count on nightly.
It’s safe to say that Mickael Pietrus is going to be a very important player for the Orlando Magic this season, now more than ever. The argument behind whether or not Pietrus should start at small forward for the Magic is somewhat irrelevant. What matters is that Pietrus plays to the best of his abilities when he’s on the court.
Pietrus’ calling card, when he performs at his peak, is three-point shooting and defense. Pietrus, like the Bruce Bowen’s of the world, is a prototypical “three-and-D” player that is on the floor to provide the requisite perimeter defense required to slow down the likes of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and other elite scorers in the NBA. And with the extremely harsh reality that the Miami Heat have the aforementioned James and Wade on their roster, while Paul Pierce and Kobe Bryant handle the main scoring duties for the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers respectively, it becomes clear that Pietrus’ defense will need to be at its best if the Magic want to beat these teams.
What’s fascinating is that head coach Stan Van Gundy, by making a visit to Paris during the off-season, may finally coerce all the latent potential that has resided in Pietrus since he arrived in the league in 2003.
Pietrus is a player with enormous physical gifts and athleticism, yet his worst enemy has been himself. Consistency, as well as the random injury here and there, has always been an issue for Pietrus, which is why it’s a pleasure to watch him play when he’s locked in on both sides of the ball (just watch the 2009 NBA Eastern Conference Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers).
That’s the player the Magic need this season — a lights-out shooter and a rugged defender that makes the likes of James work hard for their points.
It’s early, but it’ll be interesting to see if Pietrus can transfer his “unbelievable” effort in training camp to the regular season when the time comes.
Pietrus is unequovically Orlando’s best perimeter defender and since last year, one of his goals has been to be named to the All-Defensive team.
Can Pietrus do it this year? Time will tell.