July 16, 2009
It's hard not to be condescending or matter of fact, but I can't help but implore to readers that the Orlando Magic have absolutely owned this offseason.
I understand why you may not be as smitten.
Starting in the 2000-01 season and really taking hold the year after, Carter shot jumper after jumper when drive after drive were called for. He acted the opposite of fellow 1998 draftee Paul Pierce(notes), who is about the opposite of Carter in terms of athleticism and length. And when VC did take a hit, look out, and hit the concession stand, because he'd stay on the court, milking every bump, delaying games and annoying fans.
So I can understand why it isn't fun to get behind Orlando trading for the man. Most of us think Hedo Turkoglu(notes) is overpaid, but we dig Hedo. He eats pizza, he throws bad lobs, he looks like Tas Melas after a bad fight and even worse shaving job. We loved Courtney Lee(notes), the plucky rookie who took on all comers even while wearing a Bill Laimbeer-styled mask. We dug the 2008-09 Orlando Magic.
And that team, more or less, is gone.
Replacing Hedo the point forward, essentially, is Carter the scorer. He's two years older, his rep is no good, and he's two summers removed from signing his own bad contract in 2007. Replacing Lee is Ryan Anderson(notes), who's not replacing Lee at all. Brandon Bass(notes) is on board, and instead of letting the Dallas Mavericks put together a mini-resurgence, the Magic cattily matched Marcin Gortat's(notes) contract offer, keeping the backup center as exactly that. A backup center. How rude.
This team is stacked. Replacing Hedo's 17-5-5-on 41 percent shooting line is Carter, who somehow managed a 21-5-5-on 44 percent shooting line last year, even while being dragged down by the weight of his massive contract and all the hatred and enmity we have for the man.
Replacing a 23-year old Dwight Howard(notes) will be a 24-year old Dwight Howard. Replacing Rafer Alston(notes) and iffy minutes from Jameer Nelson(notes) will be 30+ strong minutes from a healthy, All-Star level Jameer Nelson. The Magic need a backup point guard, but guess what? Gortat, with his blessing, can be traded for one six weeks into the season.
Now, for those of you that are telling yourselves, rightfully, that the Magic needed an injured Kevin Garnett(notes) and a hapless (through no fault of his own) Zydrunas Ilgauskas(notes) to make the Finals, re-read the preceding two paragraphs. This team has improved, considerably. And the team it improved upon was right there amongst the C's and Cavaliers last winter, before Nelson's shoulder went boom.
Does this hurt the Magic's style of play? Was it some unorthodox run that allowed the team a trip to June?
No. Dwight Howard's ability to run past Big Z allowed the team a ticket to the Finals. It wasn't the fact that they ran a point forward (something Carter, sometimes to a fault, is more than capable of acting like) or that Rashard Lewis(notes) drew attention at power forward. You want Lewis to draw attention at power forward against the Cavs next May? Run him at power forward against the Cavs next May. Until then, toss out the best, most orthodox, lineup and watch as the wins pile up.
Even if Carter steps back a bit, at his age. Even if Gortat sulks, Nelson doesn't bounce back, Howard doesn't turn into Kevin McHale, and Bass starts slowly. This team is still better. Way better. And we've barely mentioned Ryan Anderson's pretty, pretty eyes.
Have they paid through the teeth? Are they trying to win now? Hell yes. That contract was signed as soon as the sign-and-trade with Rashard Lewis went through two summers ago. When they committed that much to a player in his prime, the Magic signed off on the win now scheme, even if Howard was years away from his peak.
That's bad, if you screw it up. The Magic, Otis Smith and Dave Twardzik, haven't screwed it up. And credit the team's ownership for paying for a winner. Even before the new stadium goes up. Even in this economy. Good on them. Appreciate these moves, because this team is running rings around everyone else this summer. I wouldn't be as excited for Richard Jefferson(notes), cats and kittens.
There's a good-to-great chance it could mean a second round exit. That's how tough the East is at the top of the order, and that's OK. Hedo will be just fine in his first couple of years in Toronto, VC is past his prime, and these moves aren't exactly fiscally responsible.
Doesn't matter. They're moves. They're great moves. This team went to the Finals last month, and in the four weeks since, it's gotten much, much better. Appreciate that.