By Chris Sheridan
On the night Vince Carter made his return to the Meadowlands, the following little-known fact was revealed:
"They wouldn't have done the trade if Courtney Lee wasn't in it, and we wouldn't have done the trade if Ryan Anderson wasn't in it."
Those were the words of Orlando Magic general manager Otis Smith, who revealed that nifty nugget of knowledge to ESPN.com prior to Orlando's 95-85 victory over the New Jersey Nets at the Meadowlands on Friday night. Carter scored 16 points in 15 first-half minutes before spraining his ankle and sitting out the rest of the game, and Anderson also scored 16 in support of Dwight Howard's 20-point, 22-rebound performance.
The victory moved the Magic to 2-0 as they make their way through the first 10 games without Rashard Lewis, who is serving a 10-game suspension for violating the NBA's drug policy.
Anderson is starting in Lewis' spot at power forward, and he came through with his second straight 16-point performance Friday by shooting 6-for-10, including 2-for-5 from 3-point range, in a little less than 23 minutes of playing time.
"He's very talented offensively, he shoots the ball from deep, he's a big body, he rebounds the ball better than most of those guys who shoot the ball, and he's got a little game around the basket, too," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. "I don't think even now he realizes how good he can be, and that's probably his biggest problem: He's the rare guy who coaches think is better than he thinks he is. When he figures out how good he can be, he'll be even better."
The trade talks between the Nets and Magic started shortly after the NBA Finals ended, and while the Magic made it known that they were willing to take on the financial commitment of assuming Carter's contract, they also told the Nets that if they wanted Lee in the deal, Anderson was going to have to be included, too.
In an economic climate in which it was difficult to get teams to take on long-term money, the Nets grudgingly accepted -- even though rebuilding teams tend to want to hang onto young first-round draft picks with huge upside playing under the rookie scale -- and Anderson found himself with a championship contender that immediately needed him once the Lewis suspension was announced.
Anderson had a strong preseason, averaging 19.3 points in three starts and shooting 23-for-41 (56 percent) from downtown, and he got the nod over another offseason acquisition, Brandon Bass, to be the fill-in for Lewis as the starter at the 4 spot over the first 10 games of the season. (It should be noted, however, that Bass was the finisher Friday, playing the entire fourth quarter and scoring 9 of his 13 points on 4-for-5 shooting).
"I know they love Courtney [Lee] here, and they're really excited to see what Courtney can do in the future, but what I heard was that they wanted a group of guys because they weren't going to just trade Vince for a bunch of [expiring contracts]. So I wasn't a throw-in by any means. As much as people say that or think that, that I was just a throw-in, that's not true at all. That's what I heard from everybody in New Jersey, from coach [Lawrence] Frank to Rod [Thorn] to Kiki [Vandeweghe].
"So it really doesn't matter to me if that's what people think. I've always been kind of an underdog or overlooked, so that's fine with me as long as I can go to a place and contribute," Anderson said.