Former Bull Wendell Carter Jr. finding Magic in Orlando




 

Ex-Bull Wendell Carter Jr. finding Magic with new team originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

ORLANDO - The NBA is a business.

That truism gets thrown around a lot.

But then that trade call comes and you're living in a hotel while trying to find more permanent accommodations and meeting new teammates and coaches and trying to remember driving directions and restaurant tips - all while trying to process emotions and play high-level basketball.

"It's a lot," Wendell Carter Jr. said Friday morning, standing on the Magic practice court just hours before he will face the Chicago Bulls for the second time since they traded him; he stuffed the stat sheet with 19 points, 12 rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block in an Orlando win at the United Center on April 14 of last season.

Carter Jr. isn't playing the woe-is-me game. In fact, he insists he's in a "better position."

He's just acknowledging that when the easily spouted sound bite becomes a reality, the business of basketball is no joke.

"It was about 30 minutes before the trade deadline. I got the call from AK and Marc (Eversley)," Carter Jr. said, using Artūras Karnišovas' nickname as he recounted the March 2021 process. "I was surprised at first. I didn't really know what to say. I just packed my bags and I was out.

"Then you start having mixed emotions. You start thinking, 'Oh, man, they didn't want me.' Or, 'They gave up on me.' But I realized you have to think about it like this: This was a whole different management team. They didn't draft me. And another team wanted me. I'm just blessed to be here. The opportunity I've had here is exciting."

It's showing. Carter is averaging career-highs in points (12.3), rebounds (9.4) and assists (2.4) while shooting an eye-popping 40.3 percent from 3-point range on 3.8 attempts per game, another career-best.

That 3-point percentage is well higher than his career mark of 30.4 percent and perhaps finally validating the pre-draft comparisons to Al Horford that surfaced when John Paxson and Gar Forman selected him seventh overall in 2018.

Coincidentally, Carter Jr. credited Nikola Vučević, the centerpiece of the Bulls-Magic trade, for helping him in this regard.

"Once I got here, with the big they had in Vooch, they were used to having a big space the floor," Carter Jr. said. "They understood I knew how to shoot.  They knew I didn't shoot as much. But they told me to be confident.

"This past summer, I put in a whole lot of work. I'm taking my time more. When you put that work in, the confidence builds with it. So now you're not even thinking about it. You're just hitting those shots when they're there."

First-year Magic coach Jamahl Mosley cited this same work ethic, plus Carter Jr.'s improvement in being able to move past in-game failure, as reasons for the shooting percentage jump.

"Once he lets it go, as long as he trusts the process of his shot, I'm OK with the shots that he takes," Mosley said. "He is understanding that."

Mosley represents Carter Jr.'s fifth coach at the front end of his fourth professional season. Carter Jr. said he still talks to Zach LaVine, who, in Billy Donovan, will have the same coach for two consecutive full seasons for the first time in his eight NBA seasons.

Carter Jr. is still just 22. He understands the NBA is a pass-fail business but also knows players can mature at different rates, particularly if some stability is achieved.

"I was just talking to somebody about this the other night. You get drafted at like 18 (years old) and come into the league with such high expectations, especially if you're a high draft pick. Sometimes those expectations are tough, especially depending on the situation or market you're in," Carter Jr. said. "There are unicorns, the ones who come into the league and hit the ground running. But sometimes it takes time. I still believe I have a lot of great basketball ahead of me."

Carter Jr. is currently wearing goggles after getting poked in the eye recently, which caused some light sensitivity issues. He laughed when asked if he's trying to be like Horace Grant, another player who successfully moved from the Bulls to the Magic. And he's happy another Bulls tie - Robin Lopez - is still following him around.

"That's my vet," Carter Jr. said.

Friday night will bring added emotion. Carter Jr. readily acknowledged that.

"I'm human at the end of the day. That's the competitor in me. That's the fight in me," he said. "But it (the Bulls) was a great organization. They took a chance on me and I will always be grateful for that. Now I just want to get a 'W.'"

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