Wendell Carter is getting his swagger back, getting off the trade block

Wendell Carter has started to get himself going since returning from injury. That has shifted what the Orlando Magic might do at the trade deadline.
Wendell Carter has found his groove since returning from knee tendinitis and has quieted trade rumors by showing the Orlando Magic his worth.
Wendell Carter has found his groove since returning from knee tendinitis and has quieted trade rumors by showing the Orlando Magic his worth. / Todd Kirkland/GettyImages

The trade deadline is about market efficiencies.

This team has a goal it wants to accomplish by the end of the year and needs to buy something to get there. This team is not focused on this year and is looking to set up their long-term. They have something to offer.

To make things happen at the trade deadline then often takes a buyer and a seller. And a team has to have something to sell in order to buy something at the deadline. The market often dictates what a deal can or will be.

For the first time, in a long time, the Magic are seemingly buyers and out there looking to add something to their roster. But they are still at the whims of what the market wants. Their ability to get something depends on what the market is willing to take back.

Increasingly as the Magic wound their way through this season, the market seemed to start salivating over Wendell Carter. If the Magic were going to make a major move, it seemed like it would require them to part with their young big man. With Goga Bitadze and Moe Wagner holding the spot down with Wendell Carter's early season injury, it seemed like this might end up becoming a good bet.

Carter may have put a stop to all of that. He may have told everyone now he is back from the hand injury and beyond the knee tendinitis that slowed him down. He is back to being the vital big man to anchor the Magic's defense.

Carter has gotten his groove back. And that may be taking him off the trade market.

"It feels good just to be back out there," Carter said after the Magic's loss in Atlanta a few weeks ago. "Fortunately, I found my groove offensively. Just to be out there with my teammates, just helping them win and doing whatever I can to help this team win. Fortunately, it has been scoring. I have taken a lot of steps to just get my swagger back from last year. I got hurt five games into the season and I haven't really been myself. These last two or three games, I feel like I've started to get my swagger back."

Carter indeed started to find his groove on that road trip -- he scored 17 points in the win over the New York Knicks and 18 against the Atlanta Hawks in his first two games back from the tendinitis issue.

That groove has continued since then.

Carter has averaged 15.6 points per game and 7.1 rebounds per game, shooting 62.7 percent from the floor and 44.0 percent from beyond the arc in eight games since returning from injury. He followed that up the Hawks outing with 25 points in the loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.

These past two games against the Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks were his first two failing to eclipse 10 points since his return. Carter has become a reliable offensive weapon.

As important, his defense has started to return, too. The Magic have a 113.6 defensive rating with Carter on the floor -- worse than the Magic's full season average of 112.0 but 2.3 points per 100 possessions better than the team's average in the last eight games.

Indeed, it does seem like Carter has gotten his groove back. He has started to look like the player that brought so much promise from last season.

"I know what I'm capable of," Carter said after the loss to the 76ers last week. "Just to be back out there is really good. I just find joy in that and whatever happens happens. My teammates are finding me in my sweet spots. I'm making my shots and shooting with confidence. Make or miss, I shoot them over and over. It's one of the things we preach in the locker room is process over results. We get good shots, we shoot them. My work has just been showing in these last three games. Hopefully, I will continue that for the next couple of games."

That play and the way Carter has helped boost the team may have put some trade discussions on the back burner for the time being. The Magic can clearly see -- as if they needed the confirmation -- that Carter is their best option at center for the moment.

The market may want the Magic to move Carter and his extremely team-friendly contract -- he is owed $35.9 million for this year and the next two years with declining salaries starting at $13.1 million this year and down to $10.9 million in the final year in 2026 -- but the Magic do not appear set to make that move.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com reports there will be suitors if the Magic make Carter available, but "the signs point to Orlando keeping him."

Much of the trade deadline reporting and rumors -- both Marc Stein and Yahoo! Sports' Jake Fischer reported as much -- that league executives were intrigued with whether the Magic might move Carter with how well they handled the center position in his absence.

That perception seems to have passed with how well the Magic have started to play with Carter back.

It does not mean the Magic do not need an upgrade -- that became apparent when Carter could not explode above the rim for a key finish at the rim late in Monday's loss to the Mavericks -- but it may delay trying to answer those questions. It is not a pressing need. Carter is a serviceable option until the team can find an upgrade. This only quiets the noise for now.

This version of Carter, with his ability to step onto the perimeter and defend or stretch out defenses to the 3-point line while providing solid screening and finihsing with finesse around the basket, is supremely valuable to this Magic team. He makes a lot of things for Orlando make sense.

Carter struggled to start the year and the broken bone in his hand put him on hold. He needed some time to ramp up. But he clearly has his groove back now. He clearly is playing the way everyone expected.

There is not much time for the Magic to make decisions and that Carter has played so well is a big boost as the team prepares for this playoff race. At the end of the day, that is what this is about: Making the team better.

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Carter finding his place and finding his groove and continuing that for several weeks now has the Magic on a better path as they start to come back together in the face of the deadline next week.