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Warming up to Orlando

Ok, Ok, so I’m slowly starting to warm up to last June’s blockbuster Vince Carter trade. Although there has been several articles written bashing, trashing, and smashing the move, I’m beginning to see the silver lining in all of this.

While I do agree that Carter is a bit too much on the 30ish side for my liking and though I wish the team could’ve held on to promising youngster Courtney Lee, I guess my oppurtunistic side rather focus on the pros instead of the cons of this deal. I don’t know about the rest of you, but seeing coach Stan Van Gundy and Orlando’s once prolific offense grinded to an anemic halt by the more athletic Lakers in June’s Finals made me flat out sick.

Watching the pick-and-roll ran over and over and over again until I got tired of seeing the Lakers defend it better each and every time was tough to process. I give credit to the purple and gold defense because Los Angeles reduced the once effective staple of the Magic’s offense into a useless ineffective gimmick.

By the time game five rolled around, Orlando’s quality of shots out of the pick-and-roll had gone from good to simply “Stan would you please stop running this (expletive)!”

But that was the sickening part about it. Orlando couldn’t stop running that “expletive” because no one on the roster was qualified to get his own shot off.

Since his innaguration season in 2007. Van Gundy has inherited a talented but tainted roster. He’s been fortunate to acquire a vast array of scorers but the vacancy for a playmaking ballhandler has been an open position on advertisement for the last couple of seaons now.

The club has tried to promote from within but their list of employees haven’t been the best qualified for the position.

Turkoglu's lack of athleticism often left him unsuccessful on his forays to the cup

Turkoglu's lack of athleticism often left him unsuccessful on his forays to the cup

Not Jameer Nelson, not Hedo Turkoglu, not Lee, not Mickael Pietrus, not Keith Bogans, not J.J. Reddick, not Trevor Ariza(yes, that Trevor Ariza), not Keyon Dooling, and definitely not Rashard Lewis.

Thus, Van Gundy installed his version of the Magic pick-and-roll base offense and ran it to the max down in Orlando. Quite genius on his part, but also quite redundant and quite easy to defend by top notch defensive teams with the right personnel.

Don’t get me wrong, Nelson, when healthy, is an All-Star caliber point guard with the quickness and mindset to get to the cup. But hovering around the 6-foot inch line means more times than not, it’s difficult for him to get his shot off against bigger opponents.

Turkoglu, the 6-foot-10 Turkish Michael Jordan, was the closest thing that Van Gundy had to a playmaking ball handler so he drew up the offense to feature the silky shooting small forward as his centerpiece. A three-point sniper equipped with loads of craftiness, Turkoglu embraced his new role well and the Magic rode their gimmicky offense all the way to the NBA Finals last year.

For everything Turkoglu was to Orlando, what he was not was the guy who could free himself from defenders without the aid of the pick-and-roll and it was never more evident than in last June’s championship series. Seeing Kobe slice and dice his way to the cup and create for his teammates only highlighted the Magic’s major offensive weakness.

Vince Carter may not be the athletic wonder he used to be, but his ability to drive to the basket will certainly appease Orlando

Vince Carter may not be the athletic wonder he used to be, but his ability to drive to the basket will certainly appease Orlando

Introducing Carter, the former one man highlight reel brought in last June to possibly replace Turkoglu as Orlando’s go-to-guy. At 32, Carter can still play—and at a pretty high level if needed. Though critics suggest he’s lost much of his athleticism, let’s be honest here, whatever athleticism Carter has left is still more than what Turkoglu has possessed at any point-in-time in his underrated career.

While critics will argue that Turkoglu is able to play the point and distribute to his teammates, I deny this claim to full detail. Turkoglu is an unselfish player and can throw the lob ball pretty well. But make no mistake about it, Orlando’s system was not predicated upon him running up the court, crossing over and slicing into the lane, dishing no look style to Howard while the defense collapsed on him.

The Magic’s system was a scheme-orientated plot designed to compensate for the lack of a penetrator by making it easy for players to pass to the open guy provided top option Dwight Howard was covered on his bull rushes to the basket. Think I’m joking? Rashard Lewis, a career 1.9 assist man, has had more assists the past two seasons under Van Gundy than he’s ever had in any two-year period of his 11-year career.

In his last four games against the Lakers in the Finals, Lewis dished out seven,five,four, and four assists as the pick-and-roll was ran nonstop to counter Los Angeles’ lock down defenders who had the perimeter covered heavier than a hypothermia victim.

While we’re at it, we might as well dispel another myth. So Carter’s a ballhog they say? Last year in New Jersey—a dry land in terms of talent outside point guard Devin Harris—Carter averaged 4.7 assists per night. Surrounded by more assassins than a Mexican Cartel, Turkoglu barely edged out Carter with only 4.9 dishes a night. Keep in mind that Carter played with a true point guard in Harris while Turkoglu ran with a true gunner in Nelson, making Hedo the primary ballhandler and reducing Vince to a secondary ball carrier.

Need more proof? Since the 2006-2007 season, Turkoglu’s first full time season as a starter, he has averaged 4.38 assists per game while running with third rate point men from Keyon Dooling to Carlos Arroyo to Travis Diener while Orlando has compiled a 151-95 record over that time span. During that same stretch, Carter has averaged 4.86 dimes a game while playing alongside the likes of top tier talent at the point in Harris and Jason Kidd compiling a 109-137 record over in Jersey.

You would think the more successful the team, the lower the caliber of lead guards, the more assists that would pile up right? Wrong! To whom it may concern, this article is not an attempt to bash Turkoglu, but if the Magic are going to substitue Carter in place of Turkoglu, this article only serves as a means to say Carter will be an effective upgrade into an offense devised on scheme.

Add in the facts that Carter can create his own shot without help from a pick and is a legendary strong and acrobatic finisher at the rim, and Orlando’s offense may actually be better than it was last season.

Let’s get to the real benefit of Carter’s addition. Since his introduction into the executive office down in Florida, Orlando general manager Otis Smith has made a lot of savvy moves. If there’s one move Smith would probably like to have back, it’s breaking the bank on the one-dimensional Lewis to the ransom of $100 million plus.

Lewis’ 6-11 frame encouraged Van Gundy to play him at power forward but you don’t pay a sweet shooter over $100 million and play him out of position against down low bangers. Although Dwight Howard is a superman when it comes to blocking shots and rebounds, even Superman had his share of sidekicks.

The addition of Bass gives Superman the help he sorely lacked in last year's Finals

The addition of Bass gives Superman the help he sorely lacked in last year's Finals

The Magic needed a power forward to take the stress off of Howard and relieve him of his do-everything-on-the-block duties that he’s excelled in the last couple of years, but going up against the Lakers’ band of bigs was a task to tall for the former slam dunk champion.

Turkoglu’s lack of athleticism meant he couldn’t move over to the two-guard slot full time to make way for a true power forward but Carter’s insertion into his natural shooting guard role means a move back to the three for Lewis, where he thrived at in Seattle and it also relieves the slender forward of his low post defensive mismatches. The Magic can still run the same spread-em-out lineup if they like by inserting Pietrus at the two and letting Carter and his 220 lbs run at small forward with Lewis drawing power forwards away from the rim.

Perhaps the biggest bonus in the Carter deal is that it gets Orlando off the hook from the five-six year deal that Turkoglu was seeking and places them responsible for only two more years of Carter’s current four-year contract that he signed in ’07. With Carter coming off the books in 2011, it provides the Magic with several options: They can let Carter’s contract run out and go after another shot creating perimeter player through free agency, or they can move Carter when he enters the last year of his deal for a disgruntled young perimeter player or several players.

Carter has a team option for $18 million after the fourth year of his deal, which will more than likely not be picked up by any team. His salary in the 2010-2011 season will circle around $17.3 million, a pretty enticing number for a team looking to clear some cap room, making the Magic a possible heavy trade contender for the 2010 season.

While the loss of Tony Battie along with Rafer Alston as part of the deal may hurt the Magic’s depth, keep in mind that Orlando picked up a similar sweet shooting big man in Ryan Anderson, who’s range actually surpasses Battie up to the three-point line. Also remember that forgotten point man Anthony Johnson outplayed Alston as the team’s lead guard during several stretches in last year’s post season.

The Vince Carter trade was not the end to Smith’s summer wheeling and dealing. The Magic were officially in the hunt for a power forward and nabbed one in Dallas’ Brandon Bass, a 24-year-old underrated athletic banger with major upside while retaining the overvalued “Polish Hammer” Marcin Gortat to backup Howard.

Adding Matt Barnes will certainly add to the Magic’s depth, and it gives them a versatile swing man to help continue the stretch-the-floor-method that was ran with Hedo Turkoglu. It also provides Orlando with another long range bomber while Lewis serves a 10-game suspension to start the year.

While the Magic may have overhauled their roster, the pieces they added makes them arguably one of the deepest teams in the East if not the deepest. Cleveland and Boston will certainly be formidable, but an enhanced post game from Howard and a healthy Nelson to go along with the surrounding pieces should make Orlando the team to beat in the East.

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August 12, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , ,

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