Vince Carter couldn’t go home again with Orlando Magic

The Orlando Magic hoped Vince Carter would pair with Dwight Howard and deliver them a title to his hometown team. (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
The Orlando Magic hoped Vince Carter would pair with Dwight Howard and deliver them a title to his hometown team. (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic acquired Vince Carter hoping he could bring his home team a title. He could not take the team over the top, unable to recapture his star.

All eyes were on Vince Carter at the end of Game 2 of the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals between the Orlando Magic and Boston Celtics.

The Magic had put in a year’s worth of work to get to the second seed and home-court advantage against the 4th-seeded Celtics. They had given that away with a sloppy and lethargic Game 1, perhaps a product from a week-long layoff after dispatching the Atlanta Hawks in the second round.

Orlando had again struggled to find space against the veteran Boston team. But the Magic fought back to give themselves a chance at the end of the game.

Everyone knew this was the exact situation the Magic planned for when they started to transform their Finals team from 2009 to build a title team in 2010.

On the broadcast of that game against the Celtics, Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Jackson and Mike Breen all said as much. On the national stage, the deepest he had ever gone in the playoffs, all eyes were on Vince Carter.

Carter carried the Magic through those first two games. In that Game 1, his 23 points on 9-for-18 shooting kept that game close even when the Magic did not have their best effort. Game 2 was equally an offensive struggle, but Carter was up to the challenge with 16 points, albeit on 5-for-15 shooting.

With Orlando down three and about 30 seconds left, Vince Carter got to the lane and fouled out Paul Pierce. He would have a chance to draw the Magic within a point.

This is the exact reason the Magic brought him in. This shot and this moment.

In an unfortunate theme in Magic history, Carter missed both free throws. The usually stoic and chill Carter did not seem to change much of his expression, maybe venting some frustration on the bench during the timeout.

But the Magic’s chance to win a title slipped through their fingers as the Celtics celebrated two wins on the Amway Arena floor.

This may not have been something that lingered with Carter. But it turned out to be a turning point in his career.

He was never really the same in that series — he scored 11 points on 4-or-19 she Magic’s Game 4 and 5 victories. He was never really the same for the Magic after that either. The team fell short and the biggest thing that was different was Carter.

Essentially, this series marked the end of Carter as a superstar player. Carter could not go home and find the championship success he sought. He was not what the Magic needed.

While Carter has continued to play into this year, finding his second act as a reserve and eventually a mentor for a young team, Carter never rose back to the All-Star level.

Carter is revered throughout the league and remains a fan favorite. He will be in the Hall of Fame one day. But it will not be about the successes his team had.

He never played at a championship level again. This was as close as he got.

Keeping the window open

Vince Carter never took the public blame for that 2010 loss. For a lot of fans, it turned to Otis Smith and the Orlando Magic’s front office and the moves they made.

For a host of Orlando Magic fans, the decision to trade Courtney Lee, Tony Battie and Rafer Alston to the New Jersey Nets for Vince Carter and Ryan Anderson was the biggest mistake the franchise could have made. It meant turning away from Hedo Turkoglu (a free agent that offseason) and trading away one of Dwight Howard‘s closest friends on the team in Courtney Lee.

But the move made sense. Hedo Turkoglu had a strong playoff run that endeared himself to Magic fans. But he was inconsistent throughout the season. Orlando was not willing to make the big gamble of a long-term contract.

They hit the trade market and aggressively pursued a player who was an established All-Star. Carter averaged 20.8 points per game on a 49.3-percent effective field goal percentage in 2009.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

The Magic did not need him to be an All-Star. They just needed him to be able to create offense for himself and give the Magic a second one-on-one option when they could not run plays for Dwight Howard late in games.

The Orlando Magic saw in 2009 how the Los Angeles Lakers — and even the Cleveland Cavaliers — could upend all their work with one player playing brilliantly.

It is a lesson the current Magic are learning: In the Playoffs, it is about your best players making plays more than being able to run efficient sets. At a certain point, it is about the best players beating a defense loaded up against them. Winning at the highest levels requires that.

Orlando understood that after 2009 especially. And they took the chance on Carter as that solution.

It never really came to fruition in the regular season. He averaged 16.6 points per game and a 48.6-percent effective field goal percentage. His usage rate still hung around 25.2 percent, but it felt like he tried very hard not to ruffle feathers and fit in with the team.

That was always kind of Carter’s m.o. He was always a smooth and calm guy. It took a lot to fire him up.

Waiting for the playoffs

His 48-point outburst against the New Orleans Hornets was the lone game where Vince Carter really went supernova. This was the Carter the Orlando Magic wanted.

Otherwise, the Magic could rely on everyone doing their part. That was what won them the East in 2009 and that was still at the heart of their approach. They just needed Carter when it mattered most late in the playoffs.

In the playoffs, he averaged 15.5 points per game on a 43.5-percent effective field goal percentage. On the biggest stage playing for the best team he had ever played on, he took a back seat.

That was the ultimate failure for him. The biggest stain on his illustrious resume is the lack of playoff success. The only other time he really threatened to make the conference semifinals in the 2001 Playoffs, missing a go-ahead shot to upset the Philadelphia 76ers while he was with the Toronto Raptors.

Carter’s playoff record is devoid of much success besides that.

The story when he came to Orlando in the trade was this was Carter’s chance to win a title. This was his chance to be on the stage.

When he got there, he seemed game to step up and help the Magic get to that level. But in the biggest — or second-biggest — moment of his career, he missed the shot. Carter did not step up to the plate.

More from History

In the pecking order of early 2000s wing players, Paul Pierce’s dominance in that series put him clearly over Vince Carter. And Carter had to settle for being a fan favorite, dunk pioneer rather than a winner.

The following season, Carter was clearly struggling to fit in even more. There was clearly some discontent among the team. He averaged 15.1 points per game in 22 games before getting traded. He shot better than 50-percent effective field goal percentage. But something was just off.

By the time Carter arrived in Phoenix to play for the Phoenix Suns, his time as a superstar was long gone. Carter had gotten close to the mountaintop and could not measure up. Not even the joy or sentimentality of returning home could get him there.

In the end, the gamble to acquire Carter did not pay off. All that mattered in 2010 for the Magic was winning a championship. They failed to do so.

And the desperation to keep the Magic’s window open eventually led to the team’s complete downfall.

Carter has carved out a great second and third act to his career. He is undoubtedly one of the most influential and important players of his generation, inspiring an entire nation to take up the game. He remained a fan favorite to the end of his career.

Next. 2009 Orlando Magic's biggest strength was their resiliency. dark

He may have played his final game with the league currently on hiatus. He never got closer to a title than he did in Orlando.