It’s hard to believe that Vince Carter is entering his 19th season in the NBA. What is harder to believe: the fact that Carter is still in the NBA or that it has been 19 years now? In the post-Jordan era, Vince Carter was, and still is one of my favorite players. I’m not sure why. I have no ties to the North Carolina Tar Heels or to the Toronto Raptors, for whom he played with for seven years to start his career. Carter’s high-flying dunks and athleticism took the NBA by storm and drew a lot of eyes toward Canada, including mine.
En route to earning his nicknames of “Vinsanity,” “Half Man/Half Amazing,” and “Air Canada,” Carter’s highlights included being named Rookie of the Year in 1999, an incredible Eastern Conference Semi-Final series against Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers in 2001, perhaps the greatest Slam Dunk Contest performance ever in 2000, and dunking over a seven-foot French big man in the Olympics. He unceremoniously departed for the New Jersey Nets in a 2004 trade after being unhappy with the direction the Raptors were moving. He was an All-Star each of the eight seasons from 2000 to 2007, and earned top vote-getter in half of them. To put it simply: Vince Carter was a star.
But, the star who shined brighter than anyone in the NBA to start his career, essentially became a journeyman. His stint in Toronto still remains his longest tenure, followed by his four and a half seasons with the Nets. But then his journey really began. Carter was traded in the offseason to his hometown Orlando Magic in 2009. Just two months into his second season with the Magic, he was traded to the Phoenix Suns, where he finished off the 2010-11 season. After his contract option was declined by the Suns, Carter signed with the Dallas Mavericks, a team he spent three seasons with, and this dramatic playoff moment with:
In the 2014 offseason, Vince Carter signed a three-year deal with his current team, the Memphis Grizzlies. Now, Carter enters the final year of his deal and 19th season in the NBA. Carter has said he wants to make it to 20 seasons, too. Which means that if he gets a team to sign him after this season, he will be playing in the NBA at the age of 41.
If Vince Carter does it make it to his desired 20 seasons in 2017-18, the likely future Hall of Famer will join Robert Parrish, Kevin Willis, Kevin Garnett, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Kobe Bryant as the only NBA players to reach that two-decade career milestone. He is currently 24th on the list of NBA’s All-time scoring leaders. It’s worth noting that everyone above him on the list is either already a NBA Hall of Fame member, or a future member. If he matches production of his past two seasons and scores 537 more points, he would likely pass 2016 Hall of Fame inductee, Allen Iverson, and Ray Allen for 22nd all-time early on in the 2017-18 season.
So as his super-stardom faded, how then has Vince Carter remained relevant? How has he made it to 19 seasons? Shouldn’t a player relying on freak athleticism and high-flying dunks be washed out by age of 39 and retired? Maybe the freak athleticism and high-flying dunks are washed out, but the player isn’t. Carter has remained in the league for so long by changing his game, and changing to make it valuable for teams. His willingness to accept reduced roles and different roles has equated to longevity in the league. As his athleticism waned due to age and injury, Carter transformed into a jump shooter, and a dependable three-point shooter, as his later years have seen more than half of his field goal attempts coming from behind the arc. Vince went from just over 18% of his field goal attempts being from three-point range in his years in Toronto, to nearly 50% of his field goal attempts coming from three in his last five seasons with Dallas and Memphis.
Currently, Carter’s minutes per game and field goal percentage have dipped below 17 and 39%, respectively in his two seasons with Memphis. However, he has demonstrated great versatility and flexibility on a roster that has been plagued with injuries. Yes, he could be cut by the Grizzlies at any time; however, Memphis would owe him $2 million of his $4 million plus salary if they did so. Lucky for him, the Grizzlies don’t have a lot of depth at the wing, and their newest signee, Chandler Parsons, has a history of being injury-prone. With no defined position, Vince Carter’s becoming somewhat of a utility player and will continue that role under new Grizzlies Head Coach, David Fizdale. Vinsanity has shown flashes of athleticism, still getting up to dunk every once in a while, but mostly honing his old man’s game. His greatness comes from his ability to fill any role. He has started games when injuries struck the Grizzlies squad, including four starts in last season’s playoff series against the San Antonio Spurs. In contrast, he has also come off the bench and even had games of barely playing at all. Regardless of minutes played, Carter has remained necessary veteran presence in the locker room.
The one thing missing from Vince Carter’s career is a ring. Carter could be a prime candidate for being traded later this season, and if not, could leave Memphis in the offseason. But recent history has suggested that he’d be wanted elsewhere. In an era of super teams forming, with much of their salary cap tied up in star players, Carter becomes exponentially more marketable. He will likely not draw or desire a heavy salary, his skillset is one that can be productive off of the bench and with little minutes played. And as a veteran who has only made the conference finals once, he wouldn’t be a distraction if he was a healthy scratch, so long as he had his shot at an ever-elusive title.
As a fan, part of me hopes Vince Carter does go elsewhere. In fact, now that I (wishfully) think of it, veteran wing player chasing a title who can shoot? Sure seems like the perfect bench contributor ingredient for a LeBron James-led team recipe. Carter’s old running mate from New Jersey, Richard Jefferson did it. Why not Vince? Dan Gilbert, bring your comic sans-written contract Carter’s way next offseason.
Recent NBA seasons have forced us to bid farewell to NBA players we grew up watching – Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce – officially making way for a new era of NBA superstars. Here’s to hoping Vince Carter’s farewell can be put off for a couple more years because I’m not ready to see him go. His willingness to be malleable in a professional sport is a rare sight. Vinsanity has remained relevant, yet not distracting, transforming from star player to role utility player. What’s not to love?