September 05, 2008
We -- the supposed, impartial, uncaring, unCanadian hordes -- should be over Vince Carter at this point.
Yes, he limps. He loafs. He still forces the YES Network to go to a commercial break after every hard hit or awkward fall turns into a "look at me!" chance to writhe on the hardwood. He still shoots way too many fadeaways, looks like the NBA's most potent and/or most listless offensive talent within the span of a few possessions, and he still reeks of the whiff of unrealized potential.
Even more shocking? Vince is 31. At some point, you have to stop being angry, and just let the case go. Or do you?
The reason I'm bringing all this up is because Vince was quoted in London's Telegraph recently as wanting nothing to do with what Lakers coach Phil Jackson had to say about his relative effort level as the Nets closed down the stretch within the stench of a 34-48 season. I can't find Jackson's quote, and honestly don't recall his complete thoughts on the situation at full bore, but the gist of the insistence was that Carter was going through the motions as the Nets ended things last season.
"I care nothing about Phil Jackson and what he says. He's entitled to his opinion. It means nothing, it's just a coach feeling that he can say what he wants to say, and that's fine. His opinion means nothing to me. Maybe it made him feel good saying it, but that's it.
"I've been in this league 10 years now, seen it all, been expected to do this, not expected to do that. But it's really about my team and what we need to do and it's about me focusing on what I need to do."
OK, you were drafted ten years ago, but nobody from your 1998 Draft class played until February of 1999, so chill on that.
Other than that? You should care about Phil Jackson and what he says. The guy has 11 rings as a player and coach. He's been in the Finals 13 times. He's coached the best and brightest and Dennis Hopson. He knows dogmeat, and he knows what the real deal tastes like. This is someone you should be willing to impress. This is someone that, should they effuse negativity regarding your work habits, you should feel ashamed to have let down.
Vince doesn't feel that way. Never has. As long as, at the end of the season, he gets his 20-plus per game, VC is cool. Doesn't matter how he gets it. Doesn't matter if he should be living at the line, or tearing up the baseline where nobody could guard him. Or working in the post, where no mortal could guard his fadeaway. He's akin to the sort of player whose stereotype nearly downed the NBA in the 1970s and 1980s; oblivious to trends and the purportedly ambivalent to the win/loss column, just as long as he got his 20.
Some of that's wrong, though.
Vince does care who wins or loses. And he has shown signs, on and off, since becoming a Net in December of 2004. This guy does care, he feels it, he gets it, and he has a head on his shoulders.
Whether he decides to do something with that or not is his call. And, sadly, his consistent clarion call for years has been to take ‘er easy.
Yes, he should be at the point in his career (turning 31 last January) where the output should start to slip. But we watched the games.
The Nets had no chance last year, I told that to anyone that would listen but nobody would listen, and once the team wised up and initiated the rebuilding process, Carter packed it in. That wasn't age catching up to him. That was a player barely showing up, while still having the talent and touch to muster 21, six rebounds, and five assists.
He didn't just stand on the perimeter and chuck three-pointers, the attempts actually went down last season, he just sort of showed up without showing up. He wasn't lost in the mix as Jason Kidd replacements like Marcus Williams and Devin Harris flailed away, he was willing to be part of the crowd, and rarely put his imprint on the game. He floated. As he's done for years.
Phil Jackson was one of millions to notice. And it's VC's right to shoot PJ down in the Telegraph (I'm a Guardian man myself, though I do appreciate the stylings of James May), but it's also Jackson's right to speak for the lot of us that still expect great things from Vince Carter. We're idiots for expecting as much, I know, but we still remember his rookie year, and 1999-00. God, he was great.
And we remember how scary things looked in 2000-01, when Vince first started to meander, and rely on talent alone to throw in heaps of fadeaway jumpers while failing to take that next step. Raptor fans killed me for it, they killed me for any honest thing that I wrote about Vince until that Nelly concert or (for the diehards) his trade early in 2004-05, but I was right. The guy was on a path toward basketball oblivion.
He's ended up the Michael Ray Richardson of his generation, without the excuse of being strung out. Impressive numbers on talent alone, no impact, while still giving us assorted stretches of dominance (how great was his work as a Net in 2004-05?) while we still knew better.
In the end, Vince is right. He doesn't care what Phil Jackson thinks. He shouldn't care what Phil Jackson thinks, ideally, and all his on-court machinations pale in comparison to what he does off the court. Joke all you want about him attending his graduation ceremony in 2001 on the morning of a Game 7, but his Raptors shouldn't have made it to a Game 7 that year against a superior 76er team. He got them that far, and his work in the early morning hours had nothing to do with that last-second jumper bouncing off the rim.
And in England, where the footballers must be pretty useless when it comes to this sort of stuff, he came off pretty well:
"'First comes the student, then the athlete,' Carter, sporting a gargantuan track suit, tells his wide-eyed audience at the Larkhall Park basketball court in the south London borough. The money you can make in the NBA is nothing compared to the riches that you can achieve through education.'
Hardly the stuff that normally rolls out of your average Premier League footballer's mouth."
So, the Telegraph was impressed. I just don't expect, this late in the game, to be nearly as impressed with Vince's on-court work in 2008-09. I hope I'm wrong, but it's a pretty safe bet that I'm spot on.