Where do the Magic go from here?

While it takes more than one player to lose a series, this season was about Vince Carter, and the Magic’s decision to trade for him last summer in lieu of re-signing Hedo Turkoglu. Here’s what I wrote about the move in mid-July:

Let’s see, your team just lost in the Finals — losing two games in overtime — and your main ballhandler is a free agent. What do you do? It’s tough to create the kind of chemistry that gets a team to the Finals, so you re-sign him, right? Not the Orlando Magic, who balked at Hedo Turkoglu’s $10 million-per-season asking price and instead pulled the trigger on a trade for Vince Carter. So essentially they gave up their most consistent player (Turkoglu) and a budding star (Courtney Lee) for the 32-year-old Carter. A healthy Jameer Nelson (along with a savvy mid-level signing) may have been enough to put this Magic team over the top, but now we’ll never know.

Turkoglu has had his problems in Toronto, but on a per minute and per shot basis, he was just about as productive as he was in Orlando. We’ll never know if the Magic would have beaten the Celtics if they had kept their Finals core intact, but one thing is for sure — the Vince Carter move was a bust. Against Boston, he averaged 14-4-2, shot 37% from the field and just 21% from long range. The question remains: Does Vince Carter have what it takes to win an NBA Championship?

If the Magic have learned their lesson, they’ll try to move Carter this summer. He has one more year on his contract (at the tune of $17.5 million) and another year that is a team option. So he essentially has an expiring deal, which could be valuable to a team trying to get out of another big contract. Three trade partners spring to mind…

Perhaps Golden State would be willing to take on Carter’s contract for a year to get out of the four years remaining on Monta Ellis’ (26-4-5, 45% shooting) deal, which would allow the Warriors to fully commit to rebuilding around Stephen Curry. Along with Jameer Nelson, Ellis would give the Magic the league’s smallest backcourt, so that may not be a very good idea.

The 76ers would almost certainly be willing to trade Elton Brand (13-6, 48% shooting), though that would force Rashard Lewis to the three. (Andre Iguodala is another possibility, but the Sixers would want something else in return, like Marcin Gortat.)

Finally, the Wizards would love to unload Gilbert Arenas (23-4-7, 41% shooting), and Carter would take some of the scoring pressure off of rookie John Wall. The move would also create a ton of cap space (for the Wizards) in the summer of 2011 for a possible run at Carmelo Anthony. Arenas would represent another roll of the dice for Orlando, but if he can get back to All-Star form, he could give the Magic the playmaker on the perimeter that they had hoped to find in Carter.

I’m not sure if any of those options sound good to Magic fans, but this is where the team is at with regard to Carter. Given his inability to win in the postseason, no one will want him at his current salary, so the possible trade partners are limited to teams looking to dump a bad contract of their own.

Or the Magic could elect to hold onto Vinsanity and tweak the roster around the edges, hoping that this core has better luck next season. Clearly, that hasn’t been Otis Smith’s style, so I’d expect a big change or two as Orlando tries to find the right players to surround Dwight Howard.


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ECF Game 5: We have a series

Man, between the Suns’ tying up the Lakers in the West and the Magic’s two-game winning streak in the East, the playoffs just got a whole lot more interesting.

A series of injuries to the Celtics’ bigs along with some timely buckets from Rashard Lewis (9 points in the fourth quarter) and Jameer Nelson (24-5-5) led to a decisive 113-92 win for the Magic in Game 5.

Dwight Howard posted 21-10 while J.J. Redick continued his fine play off the bench, scoring 14 points and hitting 2-of-3 threes.

Now the pressure shifts back to the Celtics, who need to close out the Magic in Game 6 or else they’ll have to try to avoid being the first team to lose a series after leading 3-0 by winning Game 7 on the Magic’s home floor.

Jeff Van Gundy didn’t think that the C’s would feel pressured since they have so much experience, but he shouldn’t underestimate the “making bad history” aspect of this scenario. No team wants to be the first in league history to suffer a collapse of this magnitude, and given the collapse of the Boston Bruins, it will definitely be on the C’s collective psyche.

Complicating matters, the Celtics will be a little unsure of the availability of certain players for Game 6. Kendrick Perkins faces suspension unless one of his technicals is rescinded (which is likely to happen) and Glen Davis may not be able to play due to a concussion he suffered in Game 5. Rasheed Wallace also left Game 5 with back spasms, so the C’s could be very thin on the front line.

If they expect to close out the series, the Celtics need better play from Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, who combined to shoot 8-for-25 from the field for just 19 points in Game 5.

ECF Game 2: Celtics take 2-0 lead

Celtics 95, Magic 92

Well, we can pretty much stick a fork in the Magic. When a team loses the first two games of the series at home, they aren’t coming back. They’re just not. It doesn’t happen. Well, maybe it’s happened once or twice, I don’t know. (Update: Teams that win the first two games on the road have won the series 22 of 25 times, per John Hollinger.) It would take a miracle…or maybe an injury.

So barring that, the Magic have to be left wondering what happened. They cruised through the first two rounds of the playoffs, winning eight straight games, and ran into a brick wall in the form of the Boston Celtics. The difference in this series is that the C’s are simply a lot better than the Bobcats and Hawks. In fact, I think you could combine the rosters for the Bobcats and Hawks and Boston would still beat them in a seven-game series. That’s how good the Celtics are playing now.

Ray Allen lit it up in Game 1, but was quiet in Game 2. Paul Pierce picked up the slack, posting 28-5-5. Kevin Garnett (10-9) struggled shooting the ball once again, but there was Rajon Rondo with a timely 25-5-8. Quick — name five point guards that are better than Rondo right now. I bet you can’t.

Dwight Howard (30-8) played a lot better in Game 2, and even hit his free throws (12-of-17), but the rest of the Magic shot just 19-of-58 (33%) from the field for 62 points. Jameer Nelson (4-of-12), Vince Carter (5-of-15) and Rashard Lewis (2-of-6), who combined to make $42 million this season, shot a collective 11-of-33 from the field. At home.

I’ll wait until the Magic actually lose the series before I write their offseason piece, but at this point the entire region of Central Florida has to be regretting that Vince Carter move. In the final period, Carter went 2-of-5, turned the ball over once, and missed back-to-back free throws with 0:32 to play that would have cut Boston’s lead to one. Luckily for Otis Smith, Hedo Turkoglu’s play fell off a cliff in Toronto, so it’s not like Smith’s detractors can point to Turk as a no-brainer re-signing.

As for Boston, what has spearheaded this rejuvenation? To me, it’s a combination of several factors: 1) Rondo is now a Top 5 point guard, so it’s the Big 4 instead of the Big 3, and at least two are showing up every night, 2) Garnett’s knee looks a lot better, 3) they’re playing arguably the best defense in the league, and 4) someone on the bench — Tony Allen, Rasheed Wallace or Glen Davis — seems to show up every game with an unexpected 8-15 points.

The Celtics are also made up of consummate professionals, so even though they have their ring, they’re going out every night and laying it on the line.

With the way both teams are playing, there’s a good chance we’re going to see a matchup of the last two Finals winners (Lakers, Celtics) and a rematch of the 2008 Finals.


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Blogging the Bloggers: Chris Johnson, Jim Zorn, Rashard Lewis and more

– SHUTDOWN CORNER wonders if Chris Johnson’s 2009 campaign was the best ever season by a running back.

– SPORTZ ASSASSIN notices that three Week 17 blowouts will become first round playoff rematches next weekend.

– RASHARD LEWIS reminisces on his blog about jumping straight from high school to the NBA. I posed a question to him (about how his hometown Rockets passed on him three times), but he has yet to answer. Sigh.

– THE SPORTS GURU lists a few NFL players that would benefit from a position change.

– In honor of his (unsurprising) ousting, SPORTSbyBROOKS has the many faces of Jim Zorn.

Rashard Lewis refuses to enter game

Per the Orlando Sentinel

Controversy brewed during the Orlando Magic’s 120-111 loss to the Utah Jazz on Thursday night when power forward Rashard Lewis said he declined to go back in the game during the second quarter.

Coach Stan Van Gundy was upset and said he had never had a player overrule him.

“(Lewis) didn’t want to go back in. I wanted to put him back in with six minutes to go in the second quarter and he didn’t want to go back in,” Van Gundy said after the Magic (17-5) had their six-game winning streak broken. “He said it was because he had two fouls, and so if you have a guy who doesn’t want to play, I’m not going to get in an argument and put him back in if he doesn’t want to play at that time.

He said, `I’m going to back in and be out in three or four minutes and Ryan (Andersonn) is playing good.’

“I didn’t have time to get into it. It’s rare and I’ve never had that in the first half of a game. I was a little baffled by it.”

Lewis confirmed the story, but said that he wasn’t being defiant. He already had two fouls and he thought that his replacement, Ryan Anderson, was playing really well.

However…

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