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After spending two years with the San Antonio Spurs and learning from one of the greats in Gregg Popovich, Jonathon Simmons was ready for a new challenge and wanted to spread his wings elsewhere.
The versatile swingman signed a three-year, $20 million free agent deal with the Orlando Magic despite Popovich wanting him to stay in San Antonio and continuing his development under Kawhi Leonard.
Simmons says his hunger to be great forces him to be stubborn at times and that Popovich wasn’t the only NBA legend he said ‘no’ to this summer.
According to Simmons, Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James reached out to him in the hopes of convincing Simmons to join the three-time defending Eastern Conference champions.
Simmons, however, wanted to compete against LeBron instead of joining him.
“That’s just a part about me – improving, wanting to be better and wanting to have a bigger role,’’ Simmons told NBA.com. “I said it to Pop. I said, ‘I can be good over here (in San Antonio), but I can’t be great.’ I want to be able to go against Kawhi night in and night out.
“I even talked to LeBron over the phone and he was like, ‘We want you in Cleveland.’ I said, ‘Naw, I want to play against you.’ I want to be able to play against elite guys, and in a couple of years down the line, be where they are. He [LeBron] said, ‘I respect that.'”
Simmons, 28, is averaging 15.0 points on the season while shooting 50.7 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from three. He’s taking almost 11 shots per game with the Magic, nearly double the amount he averaged with the Spurs.
The Magic are a surprising 8-6 on the season, sitting in fifth place in the East.