Harkless has no hard feelings over Sixers trade

Harkless has no hard feelings over Sixers trade
February 4, 2013, 5:15 pm
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Maurice Harkless is not one to hold grudges.

The St. John's product didn't feel any ill will toward the Sixers when they traded him last August to the Orlando Magic in the three-team deal that landed Andrew Bynum in Philly and Dwight Howard in Los Angeles. And Harkless won't hold a grudge now, as his career is taking shape.

The 19-year-old Harkless recorded his first double-double (19 points, 14 rebounds) last week in a 107-98 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, and finally appears to be getting used to the NBA game.

It was the grind of the NBA schedule that kept him from getting adjusted earlier. The back-to-back games, the night-end-night-out travel. In fact, Harkless has played more games in his rookie season (41) than he played his entire college career (34).

"It's gotten a lot easier," he said on Monday as the Magic prepared to play the Sixers. "In the beginning it was tough, you know, everyday, in the gym all day long, it was tough. ... My body's got used to it."

And now that he's used to it, the Magic should start to benefit.

Harkless has started 24 games this season, including the last four, in which he's averaged 12.2 points and 7.2 rebounds. Those numbers are above his season averages (4.6 points, 4.7 rebounds).

Magic head coach Jacque Vaughn said he sees Harkless coming along as he gets more playing time. He admires the way Harkless was able to play different roles for the Magic and still produce.

"Whether he was starting or coming off the bench," Vaughn said, "he's just gotten better during the course of the year.

Vaughn said he noticed Harkless becoming more "confident at what he was doing, and understanding at what's going on on the floor, just learning the NBA game, which is different for a guy that's played one year of college."

Harkless also gives credit to guard-forward Arron Afflalo, another name in that three-team trade. Harkless has been starting in place of Afflalo, who is out with a strained calf. Afflalo advised Harkless to be aggressive, to step up in his absence. Harkless listened.

"For him to tell me something like that, it tells me a lot about his character," Harkless said. "It shows how much respect he has for me and how much he expects from me."

Though he's experienced some success the last few games, Harkless would be the first to admit that his game is nowhere near where he wants it to be. Listed at 6-foot-8, 210 pounds, adding more muscle is one of his goals.

"I feel like I've got to get stronger," he said. "Work on my shooting a lot more, ball handling ... pretty much all parts of my game."

Vaughn concurred.

"He's got a lot to work on," said the first-year coach. "He'll continue to work on his game offensively, whether it's extending his range of three, or giving it to him in the post, he'll be able to do a lot of things for us going forward."

One has to wonder, deep down, if Harkless has revenge on his mind for Monday's game. Here he was, all settled in, waiting to start his career with the Sixers, and then came the trade.

He laughed when asked if he wanted to prove the Sixers wrong, prove that he would've been a key addition. "At the end of the day it's business," Harkless said. "There's no hard feelings at all. I stood with those guys in the front office, and the coaches in Philly, you know, they're cool people. So, there's no hard feelings."

He recapped how he heard the news on Aug. 9. Harkless was at a Wal-Mart in Queens with his uncle when his agent called and told him he'd be in Orlando by the end of the night.

"I was surprised," Harkless said. "But I felt like it was a good opportunity in Orlando, and I'd try to make the best of it."

Harkless is embracing the challenge of helping to put the Magic back on the map, too. After trading Howard, firing head coach Stan Van Gundy and parting with general manager Otis Smith, Orlando headed into this season in complete rebuild mode. By adding Harkless and forward Nik Vucevic -- another ex-Sixer who is averaging 12.1 points and 11.3 rebounds for Orlando -- Orlando is hoping its future will be bright once again.

"I feel like I can be a part of that," Harkless said. "Me as well as other pieces -- guys like Nik, who's been playing really well -- I think we're a pretty good core to build around."

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