In the days before we could immediately hit Twitter to mock his miserable play, or construct YouTube mixes highlighting his lethargic work off the ball, Vince Carter's 2004-05 season was an underrated gem of team-killing selfishness. Upset at his role on a rebuilding team with no clear plan, with a frustrating 2003-04 season only resulting in the lottery selection of 24-year-old Rafael Araujo and hiring of hard-line coach Sam Mitchell, Carter sulked and sleepwalked through his 20 games as a Raptor before the Raptors sent him to New Jersey in a trade.
And not before, according to then-Raptors teammate Jalen Rose, Carter and Sam Mitchell got into a tussle that resulted in VC slamming the coach to the floor after an extended bout of needling. Watch the clip, from Grantland:
The depth behind Jalen's details goes into areas so deep that even a Geiger Counter would have a hard time documenting the resulting spirals.
According to Jalen, this incident took place in Portland, before the Raptors were set to take on the Trail Blazers, in the team's seventh game of the season. That's right, after just six games the rookie coach and his superstar scorer were so at odds that they were resorting to pregame wrestling just to blow off some steam. Six games into a season; and following the incident Jalen cracks about how the duo's month-long "relationship was never the same." As if they were best men at each other's weddings a decade before.
On top of that, this was Mitchell's first month as an NBA head coach. He'd been an assistant for two seasons prior, but it's worth noting that it took him six whole games as a head coach to rile the famously unflappable Vince Carter into actually caring enough to body slam his own head coach.
Worse, the ploy didn't work. Relative to his previous success, and brilliant work with the Nets once he was dealt, Vince was in the midst of a miserable season. That game against Portland, just a few minutes after the tussle, saw Vince take just nine shots and make only two in 22 minutes of tepid work against a Portland team that had a just-as fractious locker room. The Raptors lost by just three points. We'd consider that part of Vince's miserable year, and nothing to be alarmed by, if only...
1). Vince hadn't scored 25 points on 10-16 shooting with four assists in only 31 minutes in what was easily his best game that year as a Raptor … six days before against that same Portland team.
2). VINCE CARTER HADN'T JUST BODYSLAMMED HIS HEAD COACH BEFORE THE GAME STARTED.
Then we get to brain-scratchin', and we remember this story that leaked soon before Vince was dealt to New Jersey:
According to the Tacoma (Wash.) News Tribune, three members of the Sonics said that Carter allegedly tipped off Seattle players to a play the Raptors were going to run in the final minute of Toronto's 101-94 loss to the Sonics Nov. 19.
The Raptors, who were down by seven with 29 seconds remaining in the game at the time of the alleged incident, still scored on the play.
According to the report, Carter informed members of the Sonics bench that the Raptors would run a "flare" play for him, which they did. Carter then passed to Matt Bonner, who hit a jumper.
(Yeah, Matt Bonner.)
This game against Seattle came just a week after Toronto's loss in Seattle, which happened the night before the incident in the Toronto locker room. Vince missed 12 of 17 shots in that initial loss, and perhaps (with both Portland games out of the way), he was hell-bent on a little reparations that went behind the self-satisfaction of slamming someone 15 years his elder to the ground just because he was acting like a bit of a jerk to him.
Magically, Vince put together what was just about a career-year once he hit the Nets in 2004-05. Carter jumped from an above-average Player Efficiency Rating of 17 in Toronto to a top-five rating of 24.5 with New Jersey; playing an aggressive brand of all-around ball that Raptor fans hadn't seen before, and Nets fans didn't really see after. Credit Jason Kidd's presence all you want for that turnaround, but Carter never came close to those 2004-05 numbers over the next three years that he and Jason played together. The jump came because he cared, and it was sickeningly obvious just in watching the games.
Double-sickening for Raptor fans, who had to settle for Eric Williams, Aaron Williams, and Alonzo Mourning in return for Vince. Mourning refused to report, and for some reason ex-Raptor GM Rob Babcock caved and bought the center out for just about all of his contract, so that he could re-sign with the Miami Heat and win a title a year later.
The Raptors also received some heavily-protected draft picks. One was used on Joey Graham, and the other was sent to New York in order to make Isiah Thomas feel better for taking on Jalen Rose during the 2005-06 season. It wasn't what you'd call "a haul."
Unlike Vince's throwdown, of course. Mitchell probably earned it, and it was a too-brief flash of aggressiveness from a player in Carter who is soon to retire following a very good but ultimately disappointing career. Nobody comes out of this well.
Save for Jalen Rose, hilariously as always.
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