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October 30, 2009

Carter Brings Magic Back to IZOD

You might not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, but that doesn't stop new dogs from falling for old ones.

Awaiting their first chance to speak with Vince Carter in person during the 2009-10 season, the Nets' reporters congregated along the Magic bench during Friday's shootaround. As a multi-player halfcourt shooting contest wound down, Carter continued a conversation with swingman Mikael Pietrus, who had unleashed a constant stream of French-accented trash talk while watching Carter and others bomb away.

The duo approached the bench and Carter's eyes went mischevious: "Wanna make a bet?"

There's a sucker born every minute, and 60 seconds were up: Pietrus said yes.

Carter promptly went into the third row of courtside seats, and was generous enough to let Pietrus shoot first. He hit the side of the backboard. Carter's shot swished, and he was ready to talk.

"I think I shoot well in here," Carter said. "Been here five years I know where all the dead spots are on the floor. It was great to see the guys. I went in there, walked in on their film session the glass in the door is broken. L-Frank was standing there and I grabbed him by the neck through the glass. So that was pretty good."

Carter was in high spirits, glad to be back where he spent "five good years" and connected with his teammates and the basketball staff, though he admitted not making the playoffs felt like leaving behind unfinished business. With Orlando slotted in as one of the top three teams in the Eastern Conference, Carter has the opportunity to be part of a team with a chance to close out the season a champion, for arguably the first time in his career.

It's unquestionably a motivating factor, because it advances the timetable Carter had readied himself for as a member of the Nets. He's ready to join the team in proving prognosticators correct when they identify Orlando as a championship contender, though he dismisses any thought he might struggle to fit in alongside this slew of highly talented teammates.

"I havent cared about how many points I score in a game in a long time," Carter said. "Ive been programmed to win. Im team-first; Ive been that way a long time. When I got to Toronto, Day One, my coaches wanted me to win Rookie of the Year. Its a great accomplishment, but I just wanted to win, and will continue to do so."

Nets coach Lawrence Frank, who helmed the team throughout Carter's stay, couldn't say enough about his former player, calling Orlando a perfect fit for Carter due to the guard's playmaking and shooting abilities combining with the Magic's wealth of shooters. Frank believes Carter is a Hall of Famer, and several times described him as "outstanding."

Frank's analysis seemed spot on, as Carter's Magic career began exactly the way he wanted: with a "W." The Magic knocked off Philadelphia, 120-106, in Orlando on Wednesday as Carter scored 15 points on 5-of-12 shooting (3-5 3Ps) and added three assists. His 12 shots led the team, but 10 of the 11 Magic players hoisted at least five, with three others (Dwight Howard, Pietrus and Ryan Anderson) tossing up 10 or 11.

That Anderson started and succeeded (16 points, 5 rebounds) reflects well upon Carter's leadership abilities. As the Nets' captain last season, Carter made a special effort to go above and beyond in aiding the development of the Nets' three rookies: Anderson, who was traded with Carter to Orlando, Brook Lopez and Chris Douglas-Roberts.

All three speak highly of Carter's positive influence, and Carter claimed watching them grow into their own as NBA players ranked among his best and proudest moments as a Net. The jersey is a different color; the visit, only temporary. And yet Carter remains fond of his former squad, believing the organization is headed in a positive direction.

"They have a lot of athletes, a lot of young guys who are very talented," Carter said. "Just watching CD-R on film, hes gotten so much better, man I can see his confidence, and thats very important. We all know what Courtney can do, he played phenomenally in the Finals last year. Brook, I know hes talented, hes destined to be an All-Star and a dominant big man in this league soon. I really believe that. Thats the first thing I told Dwight: I told him, "Hey, dont take him for granted.

"I really have a lot of respect for Brook. He had that rough beginning, and just couldnt really find his way, and to watch him emerge and see him now Hes on his way."

Ruing Ryan's Departure
Though Carter was the trade's centerpiece, many Net fans rued the inclusion of Ryan Anderson, who had just completed a rookie season in which he averaged 7.4 points and 4.7 rebounds while shooting .396 from three. The 21-year-old is happy to be with the Magic, but remains fond of his year with the Nets.

"It was hard," Anderson said. "With all the guys, I gained such a close relationship, theyre like my brothers, like my family. (But) thats just the way it is, its a business. You gain relationships and its great, but you still stay in contact. Its weird, its a different experience. Its not your option to leave a team, youre kind of forced into it, but Im extremely happy to be in Orlando. I love it here."

Ryan Anderson

Anderson caught up with BFF Brook Lopez over a meal, and Lopez said Anderson needled him about being able to go to Disneyworld reguarly now that he was in Orlando. Meanwhile, Coach Frank reeled off effusive praise for the 6-foot-10 forward, asserting that he was more than a catch-and-shoot player. Frank took particular note of Anderson's offensive rebounding, and envisions that down the line Anderson will develop a post game that furthers his versatility.

But before he gets there, there's a game to play tonight, and Anderson's looking forward to getting out there as much as anyone on the two rosters. He knows the storylines are running rampant, and feels it's going to be an interesting one.

"For tonights game, be ready to see some highlights," Anderson said. "Guys are going to be trying to go off against each other. All of us are going to be battling, so itll be an exciting game."

Courtney's Cold Night, IZOD Comforts
Though Courtney Lee struggled in Wednesday's opener, shooting only 2-of-11, his teammates aren't worried that it will prove to be anything but a blip.

"He had great looks at the basket," Devin Harris said. "He stretches out the floor hes a great pump-fake-and-one-or-two-dribble pullup guy. And he didnt take a lot of bad shots. Those are not just shots hes been getting all preseason long, but shots hes been hitting all preseason long. Obviously, (with) first-game jitters and whatnot, he didnt have a great shooting night. I dont expect him to have too many more of those."

And after seven preseason games in six different venues none of which included the IZOD Center the Nets were somewhat relieved to return to their own arena.

"I actually know where to go on this one," said Harris, with a chuckle. "Its good to be home. It felt good to get out there and have a shootaround here, finally. And well see what happens tonight."

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