I know, I know, a lot of people don't like VInce Carter. But as SB Nation's Magic blog Orlando Pinstriped Post writes, this team is so much more than him. If you take some time to appreciate the entire package, you'll come away a fan.
Last season, the Orlando Magic won a lot of admirers on their unlikely trip to the NBA Finals. They dethroned the reigning Boston Celtics in the second round, dismissed league MVP LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals, and gave the L.A. Lakers a pretty tough go of it in the Finals. A tougher go than the 4-1 loss might indicate.
But that was with a roster that included two easygoing role-players (Rafer Alston and Hedo Turkoglu), as well as a surprising rookie (Courtney Lee), logging heavy minutes. This summer, the Magic went a bit mainstream when they ditched the pizza-chopming, hard-partying Turkoglu for Vince Carter, the career underachiever and lazybones. And, in Matt Barnes, they added a real instigator, a guy not afraid to go forehead-to-forehead with Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce, and the like. And while these moves, among others, have made the Magic a better team, they also might have reduced their appeal. Who wants to root for Carter, anyway?
But that's just it: the team is far more than Carter. Coach Stan Van Gundy, who himself has drawn criticism for his insistence to the media that his team doesn't get any respect, has the Magic playing sound, fundamental, fun-to-watch basketball. Yes, Orlando takes more three-pointers than any other team in the league, and yes, sometimes role-players like Mickael Pietrus and Ryan Anderson start chucking threes on the break. But if you watch the team, you'll see it plays some beautiful pick-and-roll basketball: Drive, kick, move the ball to the weak side, shoot. Orlando works the ball from side-to-side as well as any other team in the league.
It also employs Dwight Howard, the league's most dominant post player. The talking points about his lack of a post game are simply outdated. He's not quite Tim Duncan or Al Jefferson on the low block, but he knows enough moves that he can usually free himself for a dunk or baby hook. Or, if the double-team gives too much resistance, he's an improved passer from the low post, and he'll find Barnes, Jameer Nelson, or J.J. Redick, cutting to the basket for an easy hoop. And we haven't even touched on his defense, where his ability to lock down the paint and force opponents to alter their offensive schemes simply to account for him is without peer.
The bench boasts some great players as well, and can be good fun to watch. Jason Williams may be 34, but he still makes at least one baffling, how'd-he-do-that pass per game. Pietrus is unstoppable when he catches fire from beyond the arc. Redick and Williams have great on-court chemistry with backup center Marcin Gortat, who's as exciting a pick-and-roll finisher at that position that we have in this league ... and that's counting Howard.
And if you want to talk intangibles and chemistry, this team has them in spades. The guys are loose, have fun, have their teammates' backs ... this is a true team, from Howard all the way down to Adonal Foyle. Just watch them in the pregame layup line sometimes, when third-string point guard Anthony Johnson leads a team-wide breakdance battle, Howard throws a tomahawk jam down on Rashard Lewis' head and Lewis boosts the 6'1" Williams for a windmill dunk.
I know the idea of cheering for Carter, or Redick, or Van Gundy, or even Howard might sicken some of you. But I implore you to look beyond the individuals. Again, this is a fantastic team to watch, during the game as well as before it. And when you consider the alternatives -- the world champion Lakers, the James/Shaquille O'Neal duo in Cleveland -- well, there's no comparison. Go with the underdog.
Go with the Magic.