Diener's on, Bird sees ROY for Morrison

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The 6-foot-nothing, buck-70-pound guard with the floppy hair and boyish looks was doing his best Steve Nash impersonation Thursday -- right down to the eye-popping, jaw-dropping statistics.

Only these 34 points, seven 3-pointers, five assists and four rebounds didn't come from first-round picks Tyrus Thomas or Marcus Williams.

Instead, it was all-but-forgotten Orlando Magic guard Travis Diener, who was playing the role of giant killer and looking so very much like Nash the way he controlled every aspect of Thursday's 93-87 defeat of Chicago.

Charlotte rookie Adam Morrison is the unquestioned star of this week's Pepsi Pro Summer League in Orlando (and a primary reason why the Magic's Web site has been inundated with more than 1 million visitors this week). But quite possibly no player has caused more of a stir than the player who could hardly get on the floor this past season for the Magic.

Diener made 11 of his 16 shots, seven of his 10 3-pointers and five free throws against Chicago's Aaron Miles, Jackie Manuel and Eddie Basden. Of course, that's not exactly the starting lineup in the next NBA All-Star Game, but virtually no one has been able to slow down the cat-quick Diener this week. Through four games, he's averaging 20.3 points, 6.5 assists and 4.0 rebounds a game.

Most importantly to Magic fans who just endured a season and a half of Steve Francis' dribble-dribble-dribble-turnover routine, Diener has turned the ball over exactly four times in four games.

Amazingly, Diener, the smallest guy on the court most of the time, has played with the most swagger. Getting that confidence back after playing just 23 games this past season has been a work in progress.

"My confidence is as high as it's ever been,'' Diener said. "I know that I can play at this level and contribute to a team. I'm just happy I've had this chance, and I just want to keep playing the way I'm playing.''

Because he has just a partial guarantee in his contract, it's no certainty that he will be back with the Magic next season. And even if he is, he'll likely be stuck behind Jameer Nelson and Carlos Arroyo for minutes at point guard.

But he knows considering the way he's played this week, he belongs in the NBA -- even if he's smaller than practically everyone else around him.

"I'm just having fun out there, and I think it shows,'' he said.

Playing four games in the past four days is starting to take its toll on the players. First-round picks Thabo Sefolosha (Bulls) and Shawne Williams (Pacers) didn't play Thursday because of back and hamstring injuries.

Diener likely will sit out Friday because of a nagging foot injury, and Sean May could rest his surgically repaired left knee after four strong days.

May, the 13th pick of the 2005 draft, has consistently been the best big man in this camp. He poured in another 32 points Thursday on 11 of 18 shooting.

"I'm sure people came into this camp expecting me to be timid after having knee surgery, but I've been working hard since December getting ready for this,'' May said. "I'm just trying to prove that I'm not only the player I was before the Bobcats drafted me; I've actually added quite a bit to my game and I'm a better player.''

• It's no coincidence that many of Morrison's moves and mannerisms on the basketball court closely resemble those of basketball legend Larry Bird. The Charlotte Bobcats rookie freely admits that he's studied hours of tape of Bird's games, copying everything from his high-arcing shooting form to his wispy mustache and bushy haircut.

"He's the greatest player ever in my mind and I just liked how he played and how hard he played,'' said Morrison, who had 31 points on 10 of 21 shooting Thursday in Charlotte's 94-87 loss to New Jersey. "He revolutionized the game as far as coming off screens. So, yeah, I've tried to emulate him just because I have a similar body type. I'm not the most athletic person on the planet, and neither was he. I'm certainly not him, but we're both effective at that style.''

Bird, the Indiana Pacers president, has been on hand for most of Morrison's performances in this week's summer league, watching the rookie average 24 points a night through four games. Bird was flattered that Morrison has patterned his game after him, and he has some lofty praise for the 6-foot-8 small forward.

"I've heard [Morrison's emulated me], but I just think he has his own style,'' Bird said. "He'll probably win Rookie of the Year with the talent that he has.

"He's been doing this for years, so it shouldn't be any surprise to anybody the way he's playing. He can score in so many ways.''

• The Orlando summer league hasn't been filled with quite as much free-agent buzz as its counterpart in Las Vegas, but one signing Thursday did send some ripples through the gym.

The Magic refused to meet DeShawn Stevenson's demands for a four-year, $16 million free-agent contract, instead opting to sign Keith Bogans (three years, $8 million) for half the money.

Stevenson is coming off a career year in which he averaged 11 points a game while shooting 46 percent. He was the Magic's best on-ball defender and he was vital to Orlando's impressive 16-6 closing kick to the season.

Reached in Miami late Thursday, Stevenson admitted that he was devastated by the Magic's unwillingness to work with him on a new contract. He said the Magic's refusal to budge -- their top offer was $10 million over three years -- was particularly galling.

"I didn't want to leave because I felt I worked my way up there, going from the gutter to being a starter,'' Stevenson said. "For it to all happen like that, it's really frustrating.

"I really wanted to get the situation in Orlando done. Obviously they thought I was replaceable. It's just frustrating to me because I wanted to play with Jameer Nelson, Keyon Dooling and Dwight Howard and now I'm not going to get that chance. It just [stinks] because I was a good guy who did everything I was supposed to do.''

Stevenson said he has four or five teams interested in signing him, but no concrete deal just yet. One of those teams could possibly be Miami, where he was visiting on the day he officially broke ties with the Magic.

"With this business you never know because sometimes you have to wait it out to get a better situation,'' Stevenson added. "You don't want to hop on things too early. It's a chess game. It's just very disappointing to me that I'm not going back to the Magic.''

• It's certainly ironic that the Magic chose Bogans over Stevenson in this free-agent season considering what happened two years ago. Orlando dealt Bogans to Charlotte before the start of the 2004-05 season after signing Stevenson to a two-year contract. On Thursday, the roles reversed with Stevenson being the one shockingly leaving.

When Bogans was in Orlando last, the Magic were a mess coming off a dreadful 21-61 season in 2003-04. Despite that horrendous season, Bogans was admittedly furious when former Magic GM John Weisbrod dealt him to the Bobcats.

"I never wanted to leave [Orlando] in the first place,'' said Bogans, who spent the past season with Charlotte and Houston. "I wasn't happy when I left because they told me I'd be here for the long haul. They were rebuilding at the time and they told me that I was going to be a part of it. But that's business, I guess. It's just funny how things turn around in this league sometimes.''

• New Jersey shooting guard Antoine Wright, who had 28 points Thursday on 9 of 16 shooting, said he's a dramatically better player now than he was this time last year despite playing just 39 games for the Nets. Facing Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson every day in practice will do that for a player, Wright said.

"[New Jersey president] Rod Thorn always tells me, 'You can't teach confidence,'" Wright said. "Coming into the system last year it was kind of intimidating to me because I didn't want to mess up with Vince and Richard there. But I've got my confidence back now. Me and Vince have become good friends and he's taught me a lot of his tricks. That's really helped my confidence.''

John Denton covers the Orlando Magic for Florida Today.