Vince Carter expected to be back with the Magic

Over the weekend, I outlined the Magic’s options with regard to Vince Carter, but it looks like GM Otis Smith is intent on keeping him around, assuming he’s being forthcoming (which is not his strong suit).

Carter is expected to remain with the Magic through next season, according to Smith. Carter, 33, fell short of being the go-to guy that many expected. “I think that Vince will tell you he’d like to have had a better season, but I’m not putting it on one guy. We failed as a unit,” Smith said. Carter has an expiring contract next season at $17 million — salary-cap friendly for other teams in a trade. But Smith said he “anticipates” Carter staying the entire season. Asked about the prospect of being dealt, Carter told the Sentinel, “I’m not worried about that. I know how the business works. I think I can stand on my body of work.”

When asked how close he thought the Magic were to winning a title, Smith responded:

General Manager Otis Smith put his thumb and index finger together and there was very little space left in between.

“Getting better for us, you’re talking one-eighth of an inch, not two feet,” Smith said Monday as the Magic met for the last time until training camp in October.

Hmm. I’m not sure how you can see this season as progress when you were nearly swept in the Eastern Conference Finals a year after losing 4-1 in the Finals with two of those losses coming in overtime. Unless, of course, you’re a general manager and want to spin the job you’ve done over the last year.

By nearly any measure, the Magic are further away from a title than they were a year ago and that has a lot to do with the addition of Vince Carter. For the sake of Magic fans everywhere, I sure hope that Smith is blowing smoke.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

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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.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

Magic GM doesn’t think Turkoglu was worth $50 M

I think we can file this one under “obvious,” since the Magic didn’t re-sign Turkoglu, but it’s interesting nonetheless…

Per Real GM…

In a conversation with Blazers’ general manager Kevin Pritchard, [Magic GM Otis] Smith told Pritchard that he had “caught a break” with Turkoglu signing elsewhere and made it clear the Blazers “weren’t missing out on anything,” sources tell RealGM’s Alex Kennedy.

Smith didn’t feel that Turkoglu was worth the five-year, $50 million Portland was ready to spend.

Turkoglu is 30. If anyone thinks that he’s going to be worth $11-$12 million when he’s 34 or 35 and at the back end of this contract, I’d like to have some of what they’re smoking. But both the Blazers and the Raptors knew that in order to get Turkoglu to agree to a deal, it had to be a long-term contract.

Smith didn’t say this publicly, so I’m not going to blast him for throwing a former player under the bus. But it still seems odd that he’d be badmouthing Turkoglu — one of the main reasons the Magic made an appearance in the Finals — to other GMs around the league. When Jameer Nelson went down, Turkoglu took over the ballhandling duties and acted as a point forward. He ran countless pick and rolls with Dwight Howard, dished out a bunch of assists and hit several huge shots. Simply stated, Orlando wouldn’t have made it to the Finals without him.

Is he worth $10 million a year heading into his thirties? Probably not. But he’ll probably earn his keep for the first few years of that contract, and that’s all the Raptors are worried about right now.

Turkoglu agrees to terms with the Blazers

Per TrueHoop…

Although a verbal commitment may be announced sooner, the terms of the contract cannot be finalized until Wednesday when the NBA informs teams what the 2009-10 salary cap will be.

The Orlando Magic’s recent trade for Vince Carter, who has a large salary and plays small forward — which is Turkoglu’s position — made it highly unlikely Turkoglu would be back in Orlando.

The Toronto Raptors expressed interest in Turkoglu, but were constrained by their other efforts to keep Shawn Marion and Carlos Delfino.

Turkoglu, a 6-10 forward from Turkey who played a prominent role in the Magic’s recent trip to the NBA Finals, had been looking for a five-year deal in the neighborhood of $50 million.

Five years and $50 million is a lot for Turkoglu, who is already 30 years-old and isn’t particularly efficient statistically. But his game is a pretty good fit for the Blazers, who want to space the court for Brandon Roy. Turkoglu is a good enough shooter to do that, plus he can handle the ball really well for a small forward, which help to take the pressure off of Roy. In fact, with Roy at the two and Turkoglu at the three, there’s enough ball handling there that the team doesn’t have to play with a traditional point guard. This may open up minutes for Rudy Fernandez, who was reportedly upset about the Blazers’ interest in Turkoglu.

The other thing to remember is that the Blazers’ cap space wasn’t going to last. They have to sign both Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge to big extensions as soon as this summer and Greg Oden will be eligible for an extension next summer. It was sort of a “use it or lose” it scenario for the Blazers, and owner Paul Allen has never been afraid to spend. They added a versatile, experienced small forward who proved in the playoffs that he knows how to win. $10 million per season is a lot for Turkoglu, but his game should age pretty well, so at worst the Blazers should get quality play for the first three or four years of the deal.

What’s lost in all of this is the fact that Orlando will not be bringing back the core that went to the Finals this year. Chemistry is a rare quality and the Magic may rue the day that they brought in Vince Carter and waved goodbye to Turkoglu. After all, there were two overtime games in the first four, and the Lakers won both. Had those games gone the other way, the Magic would have led the series 3-1 with Game 5 at home to clinch the title. They didn’t need to tinker this much, and GM Otis Smith may eventually regret it.

Otis Smith is the real Executive of the Year

All due respect to Denver’s Mark Warkentien, who won the 2009 NBA Executive of the Year Award, but Orlando GM Otis Smith deserves the honor. This is the problem with how the league hands out these awards at the end of the regular season — there’s no way to take the playoffs into account. Granted, it’s a regular season award, but in that case, wouldn’t Danny Ferry deserve it for pulling the trigger on the Mo Williams trade, which led to an All-Star nod for the guard and a 66-win season? Mitch Kupchak also deserves mention for his theft of Pau Gasol (now a year and a half old) along with mining Trevor Ariza and Shannon Brown from other team’s benches.

Of course, Warkentien pulled arguably the best in-season move by sending Allen Iverson to Detroit for Chauncey Billups, which gave the Nuggets the toughness and defensive intensity to go from a Western Conference also-ran to a legitimate contender. I didn’t like his decision to give away Marcus Camby last summer in a salary dump, but in his defense, his signing of Chris Andersen offset that loss. Still, it would have been nice to have Camby on the roster against the Lakers, but there probably wouldn’t have been enough minutes for three centers. Warkentien rolled the dice that Nene was ready to explode and that Andersen could bring energy, rebounding and shotblocking off the bench, and it worked out, for the most part. Warkentien also signed Dahntay Jones, who eventually turned into (sort of) a starter for George Karl, and re-signed J.R. Smith.

Now let’s take a look at the job Otis Smith has done (from HoopsHype):

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