ORLANDO — For most rookies, the month before the NBA regular season typically offers a fantastic learning opportunity. The youngsters pick up X's and O's, but most of all, they discover just how much they need to improve to compete with veteran players.
Instead, Orlando Magic first-round draft pick Daniel Orton has learned patience.
Sidelined by a weak left leg he injured in high school, Orton has watched from the sideline as his teammates have spent the past month scrimmaging, playing exhibition games and jelling. Orton knows his rehab likely will pay off in the long run. Still, that hasn't made the present much easier to endure.
"I've always loved playing, so when you take playing away from me, it kind of hurts," Orton said Sunday, after the Magic scrimmaged without him. "It really is frustrating to try and get back. It's something that I've always rushed, but now they're making me take it slow. So, I figure it's going to be really beneficial for me to take it slow, take my time getting back into it and make sure I'm in the proper shape."
Orton probably would have benefitted from preseason practices, scrimmages and exhibitions more than any other player for the Magic, which opens its season Thursday against the Wizards. The 20-year-old center played one season at Kentucky, and he didn't start for the Wildcats.
Magic officials decided that Orton needed to spend the past few months strengthening the muscles around his left knee.
Orton, the 29th overall pick in June, partially tore the knee's anterior cruciate ligament during his junior year of high school in Oklahoma City. The next year, he tore meniscus cartilage in the same knee. Doctors repaired both injuries then, but Orton rushed back after surgery to play in the Oklahoma state playoffs.
So, Orton has spent more time in the weight room lately than on the basketball court. He started to do some on-court drills just a couple of weeks ago; even then, Orton has been matched up in those drills with the team's reed-thin scouting information manager, Charles Klask, not an NBA big man such as Dwight Howard, Marcin Gortat or Malik Allen.
"It's a long road back, especially for a rookie," coach Stan Van Gundy said. "It's hard enough to come back off an injury, but he's a rookie who's essentially missed all of training camp and missed the foundation of everything we've put in. So, learning it on the fly now is not going to be an easy thing.
"I think the word with him is 'patience.' It's going to take a long time. I don't think we know what the timeline is."
Orton said he hopes to be able to practice fully within two weeks.
Still, when the season begins, the team will have fewer practice days. It wouldn't be a surprise if Orton plays a few games for the Development League New Mexico Thunderbirds.
For the moment, though, he has to be patient.
"I know there's work to be done," he said. "I have to put forth the work to get back to where I want to be."
Around the league
BUCKS: The team exercised the third-year option on Brandon Jennings' rookie contract. The option for the 2011-12 season is worth about $2.5 million.
BULLS: The team exercised the fourth-year contract option on All-Star forward Derrick Rose and third-year options on forwards Taj Gibson and James Johnson, keeping them under contract through 2011-12.
LAKERS: Sacramento prosecutors won't file charges against Matt Barnes over an alleged altercation with his fiancee during the summer.
PISTONS: Austin Daye earned a starting job in his second season. Coach John Kuester said he expects to start the 6-foot-11, 200-pound Daye at power forward Wednesday at the Nets.
TIMBERWOLVES: Swingman Martell Webster will miss the next four to six weeks to recover from back surgery.
WIZARDS: Gilbert Arenas still has a sore right ankle and could miss the season opener Thursday at the Magic.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.