25 June 2007

The Orlando Magic Free-Agency Countdown, Part One: Vince Carter

As the July 1 start of NBA's free-agency period comes closer, 3QC is taking a look at the free agents who may be able to help the Magic the most by counting down from the 5th-best option to the best option. Today's post concerns the player who should be the Magic's fifth resort: Vince Carter.

What I'm about to write may make me a blasphemer, at least in the Central Florida area, but I have to write it anyway:

Vince Carter is overrated.

Vince Carter wowed the crowd with this between-the-legs flush during 2000's NBA Slam Dunk contest at All-Star weekend. His performance in the competition put him on the map and increased his star-status.

Sure, he can still score with the best of them; last season, he finished seventh in scoring with 25.2 points per game. But his attitude leaves much to be desired, and his age has to be a concern.

Let's not forget the manner in which he left the Toronto Raptors, the team that traded for him as soon as he was drafted and made him a star. He demanded a trade from them after six-plus seasons, frustrated with management for not providing him with enough talent, a drama eerily similar to the one currently playing out with the Los Angeles Lakers and Kobe Bryant. After getting traded to the Nets, Carter admitted that he did not give his best effort in Toronto:
"In years past, no, [I did not push myself]. I was fortunate to have the talent ... you get spoiled when you're able to do a lot of things. You see that you don't have to work at it."
Once joining the Nets in a trade in December 2004, Carter's scoring, shooting, rebounding, and assists totals increased. Although it's true he played more minutes, the nature of the comments he made makes one question whether he just "flipped a switch" and decided to play hard. That has to trouble Carter's potential suitors because it demonstrates that Carter is capable of holding himself back considerably and to the detriment of the team.

His ability to play well in clutch situations should also be in question, especially after last season's mental lapses in the Nets' playoff series against the Cleveland Cavaliers. In a Game 4 loss, which put the Nets down three games to one, Carter scored 25 points, but made just six of his 23 shots. Worse still, he dribbled the ball out of bounds off his foot with his team down two points with under two seconds to play. A skilled veteran such as Carter should have at least been able to get a shot off in that situation, but he instead choked under pressure and failed to deliver his team the victory.

Vince Carter reacts to being called for a foul during the Nets' season-ending playoff loss to the Cavaliers. Carter's attitude and age should be concerns for the Magic.
Photo by Noah K. Murray, The Star-Ledger

The playoff woes don't end there. In Game 6, with his team down three games to two and needing a win to stay alive, Carter put on Harry Potter's invisibility cloak; he simply did not show up. In 41 minutes, he scored 11 points on just 11 shot attempts, made only three of five free throws, and turned the ball over five times. That lackadaisical performance is indicative of a lack of killer instinct and leadership skills, two psychological components the Magic are in desperate need of.

I'd be more inclined to look past those failures if Carter were younger. However, he turned 30 in January, and is just slightly past his prime. Ideally, Dwight Howard and whomever the Magic sign this summer would enter their physical peak at the same time, thus giving the Magic enough time to fill out their roster with quality role players in hopes of contending for a title. Thus, Carter's age makes him less than ideal as a free-agent, at least as far as the Magic are concerned.

That said, he would seem to fit in with Orlando. It's no secret that the Magic need scoring, and could use another All-Star to pair with Howard to win games and to bring fans into the Amway Arena. Carter also hails from nearby Daytona Beach, making him that much more marketable in The City Beautiful.

Maybe I'm being too harsh in my assessment of Carter. He has been an All-Star in each of the past eight seasons and is one of the league's premier scorers. But he distinguished himself not with stellar play during games, but with jaw-dropping dunks during one of the league's more memorable All-Star Weekends. And that's not something I can get over.

Luckily for all parties involved, it appears as though Carter and the Nets are close to reaching an agreement on a contract extension, according to the Star-Ledger. It's just as well. The Nets are closer to contending than the Magic are, so his age isn't as much a concern in the Garden State.

Would I be sad to see Vince Carter in a Magic uniform? No, because he's still talented. However, I would be disappointed knowing that the Magic could have done better.

Tomorrow: Part Two in 3QC's Free Agency Countdown.

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