Dec 4, 2011, 10:56 PM EST
At the 2000 NBA All-Star Game, Vince Carter put in one of the most prolific, maybe the single best performances in NBA history.
In the 2000 summer Olympics, Vince Carter dunked over Frederic Weis in arguably the most famous posterization of all time.
Other than that, Vince Carter has been a model of disappointment for fans and executives. Which is bizarre since he is simultaneously one of the top 40 best players of the past decade. You can make a pretty good argument for him to be top 20 and if you got top 15, you’re not high. Top ten and things get a little smokey, but the point is the same.
In Orlando, it was supposed to be his chance to make the difference, to be the final piece. He didn’t need to be the man, he just needed to be Vince Carter Great, which is a very specific brand of Great at his age. And yet, the same issues that have plagued him and lead to mockery (easily susceptible to injury, questionable heart, failure to deliver in the biggest moments, airballing free throws) tormented him. He was traded to the Phoenix Suns in essentially a combination deal for Hedo Turkoglu and Gilbert Arenas for crying out loud (the Arenas-for-Lewis deal was separate but wouldn’t have occurred without the Phoenix deal for Carter).
So there it is. More injuries, more questions, more vulnerability, more jokes, despite an arguable Hall of Fame career if a few more things had gone his way. His 2006-2007 season? He played 82 games. And the list of players who scored 24 points and a 21 PER? It includes players like Dwyane Wade, David Robinson, Larry Bird, and Oscar Robinson.
But he never made the difference and the way he bailed on Toronto and the way his time ended in so many places will haunt his legacy.
But he gets one more shot.
Vince Carter isn’t a free agent yet, but sources close to the situation say the eight-time All-Star will be thrust onto the open market shortly after the end of the lockout.
Based on an amendment in his contract obtained by ESPN.com, Carter must be waived by the Phoenix Suns within 72 hours of the official start of free agency or his $18 million salary for the 2011-12 season becomes fully guaranteed.
The Suns, sources said, have already decided to waive Carter within that window.
The Suns and Carter amended the contract in June to delay the guaranteed-salary date in Carter’s final contract year until after the lockout ended. Waiving Carter inside the first 72 hours after the league’s schedule start of free agency Friday means that Phoenix would only have to pay $4 million to Carter and likely ensure that the Suns avoid luxury-tax territory this season even after trying to complete the re-signing of Grant Hill and moves with other potential free agents.
Carter will hit the open market. The Suns and Carter restructured his contract to help both sides out in the face of the lockout. This move was expected for months. And when he does, he’s the kind of player that can help a team win a title. “Right, like the Magic?” you say. But hear me out.
He’ll never again be the difference maker. Running the pick and roll is not a strength (ask Dwight Howard). If he’s going to make a difference, it’s going to be as a spot-up shooter and the guy who pump-fakes and hits the mid-range J. But there are simply not many guys with his ability to blend into an offense if he’s not expected to create. That’s the biggest issue with Carter at this point, he can’t create and he can’t give heavy minutes. But in limited minutes, off the bench for a stocked team, he provides enough to force away double teams. The Heat are an obvious target. But then so are the Bulls. You have to double Derrick Rose. It’s a necessity like breathing. But if you do so and he kicks out to Carter, and you do manage to recover to challenge on the perimeter, Carter is one of the few players who can pump fake and drive. He can make the plays few players can, even at his age with his injuries. Limited minutes will reduce his workload. And being a glue guy? It’s hard to fine anyone in the league who will speak badly for Carter as a teammate. Fans may hate him, but players love him, even if some may question his intensity.
He shot 42% from the field in Phoenix. Pretty bad. 36% from the arc. Not great. But it’s simply unlikely that with a better role, in a better system, with fewer expectations, he can’t be a difference maker. There’s a chance here. Carter can redeem himself, redefine his legacy.
It’s Carter’s last chance. We’ll see if the story that began with a prolific dunker gets a much-needed full-circle to greatness.
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