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With the New Season Looming Large, Orlando Magic Turn to Vince Carter

Bruce Maddox - Orlando Pinstriped Post
Bruce Maddox - Orlando Pinstriped Post

As the Orlando Magic kick off training camp, one of their biggest concerns is the play of starting shooting guard Vince Carter, who had an uneven first season in Magic pinstripes and faded in the playoffs. To wit, three Orlando-area writers--that'd be Tim Povtak of NBA FanHouse, Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel, and John Denton of published feature stories on how important Carter is to this team.

Povtak says that Carter brushes off any talk about his uncertain future with his hometown team--his partially guaranteed contract means he could become an unrestricted free agent next summer--and he wants to let his performance do the talking for him:

"I just play and let my game speak for itself,'' Carter said. "And hopefully, that's good enough at the end of the year.''

Schmitz says he understands he needs to play his way, rather than adapting to the Magic's style, in order to succeed. And Carter apparently said "Bring it!" when asked about the challenges facing him this season.

Denton says that the team agrees with Carter. GM Otis Smith, coach Stan Van Gundy, "and even many of the Magic's players" told Carter during the season-opening meeting Monday morning that he needs to play "at a superstar level" if Orlando is to contend for a championship:

``Vince is easy at saying all of the right things, but I don’t particularly care what he says,’’ Smith continued candidly. ``I’m more interested in what he does once the games start. And his teammates told him the same thing (in Monday’s meeting) that he has to be more aggressive.’’

And it's not just the Orlando writers who are covering this angle. Yahoo! Sports' Kelly Dwyer listed Carter among the players seeking redemption this season.

There are two interesting things to consider with this sudden spike in Carter features. For one, it's that the media believe Carter needs more touches. For another, it's that the entire Magic organization, it seems, agrees with that idea. I'm surprised on both counts.

I wrote last week that, ideally, Carter would trim his usage even more, but play the same general style, and the Magic's offense would rely more heavily on Dwight Howard as a result. The season's last 41 games showed that this strategy can be successful. Yet it appears that, if anything, Orlando wants Carter to use more possessions. Povtak writes that Smith and Van Gundy "don't want [Carter] deferring to Howard offensively."

Maybe the Magic are right. After all, Carter averaged 21.1 points per game over his last season two seasons with the New Jersey Nets on reasonably efficient True Shooting (54.7 percent) with a usage rate north of 25 percent but less than 30 percent in both years. Yet I can't help but feel like Carter needs to transition to role-player mode. Yes, he needs to play more aggressively, but his ending so many possessions runs counter to the balance and versatility that makes the Magic a tough cover in the first place.

We'll see how everything looks soon enough. Orlando's preseason schedule kicks off in six days, and Carter's offensive approach during that time should give some indication about his effectiveness and willingness to take on an increased role.