The Orlando Magic will assign rookie center Daniel Orton to the New Mexico Thunderbirds of the NBA's D-League, reports SB Nation colleague Scott Schroeder, writing for NBA FanHouse. Orlando made Orton the 29th pick in this year's NBA Draft, but he's yet to appear in a game this season. The Kentucky product struggled mightily in NBA summer-league play, averaging 3.2 points, 1.8 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks, and shooting 14.8 percent from the floor, in five contests. During Media Day, Orton said. the team had him on a program to strengthen the muscles around his left knee, which he injured in high school. He also didn't sound excited about the prospect of joining the D-League:
When I asked how he'd respond if he got word the team was sending him to the D-League, he said, "I'd be upset, but I'd understand where they were coming from. It's just something that I wouldn't be happy about--like, thrilled about--but I'd be understanding."
But the D-League could really help the 20-year-old. As Schroeder notes, New Mexico has a coaching staff attuned to honing big-man skills:
His D-League coaches might also be able to teach him a few tricks as both head coach Darvin Ham and assistant Sean Rooks -- who played his final NBA season as a member of the Magic -- have NBA experience in the post.
The Magic have yet to officially announce the transaction, but when they do, it will have been three years since they last sent a player to the D-League; Orlando shipped Marcin Gortat to the Anaheim Arsenal in 2007 to briefly create a roster spot after trading Trevor Ariza to the L.A. Lakers for Brian Cook and Maurice Evans. Upon waiving Bo Outlaw, Orlando recalled Gortat after just five D-League appearances.
It's unclear how long Orlando plans to keep Orton in the D-League, but sending him down now makes sense, as it will play seven of its next eight games on the road, with fewer opportunities to practice and shoot-around. The Thunderbirds will play eight games between now and December 18th, when Orlando's long stand of road games ends.
Orton will certainly get more reps in the D-League than he will with the big-league team, a big reason why this move is essentially a no-brainer for the Magic's decision-makers.
UPDATE: Zach McCann of the Orlando Sentinel spoke to Otis Smith, the Magic's Presdident of Basketball Operations, about the decision to send Orton down:
Orton, 20, will report to New Mexico immediately. Smith said Orton could remain there a couple of weeks, but he wasn’t sure how long it would be.
The move was made because Smith wants Orton to receive some playing time.