By Vittorio De Zen.
I can’t wait to watch the Orlando Magic play next season.
There, I said it. Yes, I live in Toronto. I’m aware Vince Carter is on their team. I’m aware that they eliminated the Raptors from the playoffs in 2008 and stand as a significant barrier to the Raptors advancing deep into the playoffs for the next few seasons. Hell, I’m aware that J.J. Redick is on their team.
To the first point, I’m over the Vince thing. Even after this.
…Argh. Actually, watching that again kind of upset me. I was at that game. But, still, hear me out. The awfully one-sided Vince Carter trade that sent him to New Jersey took place in December of 2004. Since then, the Raptors have built around a new franchise player whose mother does not impact the team’s personnel decisions.
I’m not going to defend the way Vince Carter left Toronto, but Raptors fans aren’t doing themselves any favours with the way they hold this grudge. It’s as if all of our girlfriends dumped us almost five years ago and we still haven’t moved on. We’ve gotta let it go. We’ve gotta be bigger than that. This booing, it makes it about Vince, instead of our team. I don’t like that. I especially don’t like it after all of this time. It irks me the same way the “Beat L.A.” chants irk me. The Lakers don’t chant “Beat ____” at anyone. You know why? They’re the Lakers. They also don’t raise banners every time they win their division.
There’s another thing about Vince. I’m going to make a confession here: I love Vince Carter’s game. He’s smooth, he makes his teammates better, he’s got swagger, and, whilst he doesn’t soar like he used to, he still makes some unbelievable highlight-reel plays. He was my favourite player in the league during his time in Toronto and I could never turn around and hate his game after his departure. The fact is, even if I had become a hater, the reasonable part of me wouldhave to begrudgingly acknowledge that he is an extremely effective NBA player.
Orlando’s got Vince instead of Hedo Turkoglu now. This makes them better. To put it crudely, he does everything Hedo can do, except better and in a more exciting fashion. Vince has always been a team player and he is at the point in his career where he will have no problem with taking a few less shots than his norm. Yes, they lost Courtney Lee, a favourite of mine, but I do not believe this will impact them, as Michael Pietrus is at least on his level and J.J. Redick is a fine backup two-guard (I hate Duke as much as the next guy, but it’s true).
In addition to VC, it appears that the Magic have made two key additions to their frontcourt. Ryan Anderson, who came to Orlando from New Jersey with Vince, adds something they didn’t have before, a floor-stretching backup power forward for when Rashard Lewis goes to the bench. This gives coach Stan Van Gundy the option to play their four-shooters-around-Dwight game for as long as he wishes. Brandon Bass is a completely different type of player than Anderson, as his home is in the paint. He is a rebounding machine and is also capable of scoring on the block. There has been some speculation that he will start at power forward for Orlando, giving them a more traditional look. Bass was probably my favourite under-the-radar free agent this summer and, at his four-year, $18 million contract, he is great value and a great fit for this team, regardless of if he starts or comes off the bench.
The one question mark surrounding this team is what will happen with Marcin Gortat. The Polish Hammer has signed an offer sheet with the Dallas Mavericks for the full mid-level exception. Since he is a restricted free agent, the Magic can match this five-year offer if they choose to. Until recently, it seemed as though there was no way the Magic would match the offer, as they already have a very sizable payroll. However, there has been speculation that Orlando may hang onto him. This is big, as Gortat was, to my eyes, the best backup center in the league last season by a wide margin. His per-minute, pace-adjusted stats from last season are those of a starting-calibre NBA center. He is a skilled shot blocker and intimidating presence defensively, plus he runs the pick-and-roll as well as any big man in the league and has tremendous finishing ability on the offensive end. This guy is a huge luxury to have off the bench and it meant that they weren’t screwed when Dwight Howard got himself in foul trouble last season. As it stands, the acquisition of Brandon Bass would ease much of the burden of losing Gortat, but he is not a center and would not be able to go up against the Shaquille O’Neals and Andrew Bynums of the world if and when Dwight Howard picks up some untimely fouls against them.
Even if they choose not to match the contract offered to Gortat, Orlando should be contenders again next season. The return of all-star point guard Jameer Nelson, at full-strength, along with GM Otis Smith’s impressive additions to the roster, have me wishing the season would start already so I can see these guys play. I rooted for them all the way through the 2009 playoffs, despite the protestations of my friends here in Toronto, and I’m not going to apologize for being excited about the brand of basketball they’re going to bring to the table next year.