Vince Carter in Orlando: a retrospective

Apr 3, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Memphis Grizzlies guard Vince Carter (15) looks to pass as Orlando Magic guard Evan Fournier (10) defends in the third quarter at Amway Center. The Orlando Magic won 119-107. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 3, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Memphis Grizzlies guard Vince Carter (15) looks to pass as Orlando Magic guard Evan Fournier (10) defends in the third quarter at Amway Center. The Orlando Magic won 119-107. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports /

Vince Carter was brought to the Orlando Magic in a controversial deal with championship promise. Carter failed to deliver and his tenure was tumultuous.

On June 25, 2009, the Orlando Magic were not even a month removed from reaching their second NBA Finals. The sting of that defeat was still fresh as Draft day neared. Standing still was not an option as the team sought a way to stay in the title picture.

And so, then-general manager Otis Smith swung for the fences. He traded rookie guard Courtney Lee, rescue point guard Rafer Alston and veteran forward Tony Battie for Vince Carter and Ryan Anderson.

Coming off the back of a season that saw them make it all the way to the NBA Finals, the Magic felt they had succeeded in making the upgrade that would put them over the top.

As then-general manager Otis Smith told ESPN at the time:

"“Vince gives us a veteran, go-to scoring presence, especially at the end of games. Our goal remains the same — to win a championship. Any time you can add an All-Star to help you reach your goals, you have to do it. Vince has been a bonafide scorer in this league for 11 seasons and we are excited to add both him and Ryan [Anderson] to our team.”"

Although 32 at the time, Carter was coming off a campaign that had seen him average 20.8 points, 4.7 assists and 5.1 rebounds in 36.8 minutes per game for the New Jersey Nets.

A natural-born star, he, in theory, offered something other players on the Magic’s roster were not so good at: the ability to create his own shot. He had, in years prior, slowed down considerably though, becoming far more reliant on his jump shot than earlier in his career.

Unlike Courtney Lee, Carter’s point of emphasis was and always had been offense rather than defense. But, on paper, his veteran presence was a far better fit alongside Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis and Jameer Nelson than the second-year player drafted 22nd overall in 2008. The Magic at that point knew they were going to let Hedo Turkoglu walk in free agency and Carter was the veteran to fill that void.

By failing to retain Turkoglu and ultimately replacing him with the defensive-minded Matt Barnes, Otis Smith inadvertently piled a ton of pressure on Carter.

Turkoglu had, after all, been the team’s primary ball handler while Nelson recovered from the shoulder injury that interrupted his All-Star caliber season in early February 2009. Turkoglu averaged a team-high 18 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game in the NBA Finals and recorded a string of memorable moments in the Playoffs against Cleveland Cavaliers, the Kevin Garnett-less Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers.

The Magic would miss Turkoglu’s versatility in 2010. But as far as replacements go, Carter offered a go-to scorer who was more athletic, better at getting to the hoop and even an upgrade on the defensive end.

Additionally, Matt Barnes provided some of the much-needed toughness the team lacked at times the previous year (which manifested itself most memorably in that spat with Kobe Bryant), while other new additions Jason Williams and Brandon Bass added much-needed depth.

And it all worked pretty well, as the Magic romped to 59 regular season wins behind Howard and Carter’s one-two punch, helping fans put Turkoglu and Lee to the backs of their minds.

Despite missing time in November with an ankle injury and then more in January with a shoulder injury, Carter averaged 16.6 points off 43 percent shooting, 37 percent from deep in just less than 31 minutes per game, racking up some vintage moments along the way. He even logged a season-high 48 points, 34 of which he scored in the second half, in a 123-117 comeback win over the New Orleans Hornets.

Going into the Playoffs, Carter was enjoying himself and his role on the team, telling Tania Ganguli of the Orlando Sentinel:

"“I’ve lived for playing on a team like this. Growing up on the team I played for in high school, I was the marquee guy but we didn’t really play that way. We had a lot of guys who were really capable. At North Carolina we played the same way. I’ve always understood the game played that way. It’s great to come back to a team like this with this many scorers. I love being in this role. This is great.”"

And that was certainly reflected in his performances. He averaged 16.8 points per game to help the Magic sweep the Charlotte Bobcats and the Atlanta Hawks in the First Round and the Conference Semifinals respectively, setting up an Eastern Conference Finals matchup with the heavyweight Boston Celtics.

Making his first career Conference Finals appearance, Carter played pretty well in Game One, scoring a team-high 23 points in a disappointing 92-88 defeat. Unfortunately it was all downhill from there. He struggled in Game Two, scoring just 15 points off 5-for-15 shooting.

Carter did make a clutch shot late in Game Two and also had a chance to cut Boston’s 95-92 lead to just a single point from the foul line with 31.9 seconds left on the clock in that one. Unfortunately he inadvertently channelled his inner-Nick Anderson and missed both shots, leaving the door open for Boston who went on to clinch and steal both games on the road.

It shook him clearly and his confidence was gone. Again in game three, he logged another 15 points off 5-for-12 shooting Celtics’ stellar defense.

Things also got worse for Carter, as in Game Four he almost disappeared completely, scoring just three points off 1-for-9 shooting. Game Five only saw a marginal improvement that resulted in eight points off 3-for-10 shooting.

Of course, the Magic won both those games, but the series was already out of reach by then. The Celtics wrapped things up with a 96-84 Game Six victory.

Carter made just 22 more appearances for Orlando, averaging 15.1 points during the 2011 season before being involved in a six-player trade that smacked of desperation on the Magic’s part.

That deal, along with the one that sent Rashard Lewis to Washington for Gilbert Arenas, marked the closure of the Magic’s championship window.

As a result, Magic fans do not necessarily have particularly fond memories of Carter’s time in Orlando, even though few can argue it was a bad move for the Magic at the time.

He was a great fit on the team and the perfect sidekick for Howard, as his age meant he was never likely to overshadow his superstar teammate.

Lee has had a solid career as a role player. Now at the 30 years old, he has played for six different teams (the Knicks will be his seventh), averaging 9.6 points per game along the way.

That said, had he succeeded in converting Turkoglu’s inbounds lob in Game Two of the 2009 Finals, things may have been very different for Lee, Carter and for the Magic.

Instead, Orlando’s attempt to get better by exceeding the achievement of 2009. It resulted in them falling a hurdle sooner just a year later. Although, in retrospect, that had as much to do with the brilliance of that 2010 Celtics team as it did with a Magic team whose inside-out approach was no match for the stifling defense of an opponent that fell one game shy of winning it all that year.

Sadly, 2010 was the last year of a Magic team capable of competing for a championship. Not to mention a fully functioning “Half-man, half-amazing”.

Still, Carter’s time in Orlando was a lot of fun. A LOT OF FUN.

Next: Orlando Magic top 25: Nos. 11-15

And sometimes, that has to be enough.