Magic's Wendell Carter Jr. faces Bulls with chip on shoulder

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Rob Schaefer
·3 min read
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Carter returns to Chicago with chip on his shoulder originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

For the first time in his NBA career, Wendell Carter Jr. will play at the United Center as a member of the opposition Wednesday night when his Orlando Magic visit the Bulls.

“I’m gonna approach it as another game,” Carter told reporters after the Magic’s 120-97 loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Monday. “With it being recent, yeah I’m going to have a certain chip on my shoulder. I’m a competitor. I’m gonna just play my game. Like I said before, help my team win.”

The “it” to which he refers was a blockbuster, trade-deadline-day deal that saw the Bulls send Carter and Otto Porter Jr. to the Magic in exchange for All-Star center Nikola Vučević and Al-Farouq Aminu. 

And “it” capped a turbulent, injury-riddled tenure in Chicago for Carter, who the organization drafted as a 19-year-old out of Duke with the seventh overall pick in 2018. After missing 60 combined games across his first two seasons, Carter started his third year well under Billy Donovan, but struggled for consistency upon returning from a quad bruise that cost him 11 games between January and February and was eventually removed from the starting lineup in favor of Thad Young.

Donovan encouraged Carter to expand his shooting range and playmaking abilities beginning in the preseason. By the time of the trade, Carter was averaging 10.9 points, 7.8 rebounds and a career-high 2.2 assists, but in a career-low 24.8 minutes per game, through 32 appearances (25 starts).

“I really appreciate Wendell. I appreciate him as a person. I appreciate the work he put in here, the way he conducted himself every single day, the kind of teammate he was,” Donovan said the day after the trade. “Everybody's got their own course that they kind of develop and go through, and I think Wendell is gonna be a really really good player in this league because of his character, his work ethic and the kind of guy he is.”

At the end of the day, as far as the Bulls were concerned, he was part of a hefty price to pay for an All-Star that included top-four protected first-round picks in 2021 and 2023.

But Carter has settled nicely into a role with the now-rebuilding Magic, bumping his point (13.4), rebound (8.3), block (1.1) and steal (1.0) per game averages while shooting 55.3 percent in his nine appearances. He was elevated to Steve Clifford’s starting lineup after game three and has averaged 29.4 minutes since.

“I’m pretty comfortable,” Carter said after the Spurs game. “Still trying to figure out my teammates, what they like to do, how they like to play, because I’m all about helping my teammates get shots...

“Just trying to do what got me into this league. Be a great defender, anchor our defense. Be a great rebounder, and that’s something I can improve on. With this team, I just want to help this team win.”

The Bulls, meanwhile, have sputtered to a 3-7 record since the trades, up against some tough opponents -- and some not-so-tough opponents -- plus a road-heavy schedule. 

In that sense, a home bout with the 17-37 Magic represents a get-right opportunity. Just not if Carter has anything to say about it.

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