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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Vince Carter hits 86-foot shot, sitting down [video]

I don’t know about you, but if I were shooting a career low 40.4% from the field, these are NOT the kinds of shots I’d be practicing. Anyway, here it is…

The Top 10 Head Scratchers of the 2009 NBA Offseason

The NBA offseason is by no means over, but the lion’s share is behind us, so it’s a good time to take a look back at a few of the…um…let’s say “questionable” decisions of the summer. Here are my Top 10, in no particular order. Feel free to add to the list if I missed something.

1. Trevor Ariza plays spiteful hardball…and loses.
Let’s get this straight — the Lakers offered Ariza the same deal he was getting on the open market, and he refused since the Lakers could have offered more, but didn’t? Um, okay. David Lee (the agent, not the Knicks forward) says that Ariza wanted to go somewhere where he’d be “appreciated.” Lee overestimated the market for his client, and the Lakers quickly moved on to acquire Ron Artest. Now instead of playing for the world champs, Ariza is stuck in Houston on a team that faces a very uncertain future. Lee now says that Ariza turned down a deal worth $9 million more, but still picked Houston. It sounds to me like he’s just trying to save face.

2. Grizzlies acquire Zach Randolph.
Once the Clippers traded for Randolph (and his toxic contract) last season, I thought the bar for NBA general managers had hit a new low thanks to Mike Dunleavy and his wily ways. But Dunleavy proved that he wasn’t the dumbest GM in the league when he convinced the Memphis Grizzlies to take on the final two years Randolph’s contract at the tune of $33.3 million. Remember that $25 million or so of cap space that the Grizzlies were going to have next summer? Yeah, that’s down to about $8 million with this brilliant move. Just when it looked like Chris Wallace was going to rehab his image after the Pau Gasol trade — Marc Gasol panning out, trading for O.J. Mayo — he goes and does this. Sigh.

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Report: Magic to acquire Vince Carter

Whoa! I thought Vince Carter might be on the move, but I wasn’t expecting this.

The New Jersey Nets have agreed to a trade in principle with the Magic that will send Vince Carter and Ryan Anderson to Orlando for Rafer Alston, Tony Battie and Courtney Lee, two league sources told ESPN.com.

As for the Nets, the move is a cost-cutting measure. Both Alston and Battie are in the last year of their contracts, and trading for them would shave $16.5 million off New Jersey’s roster in the summer of 2010 and put the Nets well below the salary cap.

Now this is a trade that helps both teams, unlike the Suns’ Shaq giveaway and the Bucks’ donation of Richard Jefferson to the Spurs’ championship fund. Not only do the Nets get loads of salary cap relief — Carter has three years and $52 million remaining on his contract — they get a nice prospect to replace him in Courtney Lee, who averaged better than 11 points per game and 43% 3PT shooting in February and March. The Nets project to go into the summer of 2010 with almost $30 million in cap space.

For the Magic, Carter adds a boost of athleticism to lineup of spot up shooters. But how will this affect the team’s ability to re-sign Hedo Turkoglu? If they can get him to re-up, they’d have a lineup of Jameer Nelson, Carter, Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis and Dwight Howard that looks deadly on paper. I think they’re planning on retaining him, but the Magic are looking at a pretty hefty payroll over the next few years with Carter on the roster.

Take my overpaid star…please!

Memphis GM Gerald Wallace took a lot of heat for trading Pau Gasol to the Lakers. But if we’ve learned anything in the past few days, it’s that Wallace was simply a man ahead of his time.

On Tuesday, we learned that the Bucks agreed to trade Richard Jefferson to the Spurs for Bruce Bowen, Kurt Thomas and Amir Johnson. (Fabricio Oberto was part of the original deal, but San Antonio sent him to Detroit for Johnson, who was then sent to Milwaukee.)

Regular readers know I’m a Bucks fan, and I spent the last couple of days grumbling on the Sports Bubbler message boards about how we didn’t get anything in return for Jefferson, who is still a pretty good player. When Wallace traded away Gasol, at least he got Javaris Crittenton (who was considered a prospect with upside at the time) and Pau’s brother, Marc, who turned out to be a productive center for the Grizzlies.

Then I wake up today to see that the Cavs and Suns have agreed to go through with that long-rumored trade that will send Shaq to Cleveland for salary cap relief. Who do the Suns get in return? A retiree (Ben Wallace), a bench player with a partially guaranteed contract (Sasha Pavlovic), some cash and a second round pick.

This is the going rate for a Third Team All-NBA center these days.

We knew that this summer had the potential to be a rough one for free agents, but it’s a little surprising to see that good players like O’Neal and Jefferson could be had for virtually nothing. Bucks owner Herb Kohl and Suns owner Robert Sarver realize that their clubs aren’t legitimate contenders, so they don’t see the point in paying the luxury tax just for the privilege of being knocked out in the first round of the playoffs. What kind of an effect these moves have on season ticket purchases remains to be seen.

The bottom line is that if a team is willing to spend, there has never been a better time to acquire talent. You’re not going to get someone like Caron Butler, who plays for a (pretend) contender and has a reasonable contract, but you can get Jefferson, who is overpaid and is on a mediocre team that is up against the luxury tax. And the older the player, the more likely he’s available. Teams aren’t going to give up good players that are in their early- or mid-twenties because the plan is to rebuild before they’re over the hill.

So who might be on the move for a bag of peanuts and some salary cap flexibility? How about Tracy McGrady, Baron Davis, Chris Kaman, Marcus Camby, Vince Carter, Tyson Chandler, Amare Stoudemire, Jermaine O’Neal, Michael Redd, Ray Allen or Rip Hamilton?

Truth be told, a team like the Suns isn’t going to give the youngish Stoudemire away for cap flexibility alone. But as the price of a star goes down, the price of superstar goes down as well.

It promises to be an interesting summer.

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