Memphis Grizzlies wing Vince Carter, otherwise known as “the hoppiest 40-year-old NBA player in league history,” is not ready to join fellow 1998 draftee Paul Pierce in retirement. Not even close.
Prior to this season, his 19th since being drafted fifth overall by the Toronto Raptors, Carter said he had at least two more years left in him, telling ESPN from the sidelines of a college football game, “We know [season] No. 19 is definitely going down, and I’m shooting for 20. We’ll go from there after that.”
Nineteen went down in fine fashion, with Carter averaging 33 minutes as a playoff starter for the Grizz, who gave the San Antonio Spurs all they could handle in the first round. Afterwards, the eight-time All-Star told RealGM.com, “I could play three more rounds of basketball right now,” and doubled down:
“I said to myself, ‘I want to play 15 years.’ I don’t know where I got that from,” Carter told the website. “And then I got to 15 years and I kept going. I never capped it, but at the same time I’ve had a lot of players remind me of things I’ve said. I’m still saying ‘two more years and I’m done.'”
That would take him roughly three months beyond his 42nd birthday, making him the fifth-oldest NBA player ever, behind the immortal Nat Hickey of those classic 1947-48 Providence Steam Rollers, Kevin Willis, Robert Parish and Dikembe Mutombo. As he stands now, Carter has played more games than all but 12 players in league history, and two more seasons would most likely move him into the top five.
Carter also ranks 22nd on the all-time scoring list, and a couple more years in Memphis, where he’s averaged 6.9 points over the past three seasons, could make him the 20th player ever to score 25,000 points in a career. These are milestones Carter should not require to make his Hall of Fame case.
One thing Carter does not have on his résumé, though, is an NBA championship, but that also doesn’t appear to be the motivation for his return next year and beyond. Via the Memphis Commercial Appeal:
“I hear people say all the time, ‘Go chase the ring.’ That word ‘chase’ is tough for me,” Carter said. “I’m comfortable here, my family is comfortable here, we’re building something exciting and great and I enjoy going to work with these guys every day.”
The Grizzlies won’t be out of contention in 2017-18, not with Mike Conley and Marc Gasol at the helm, and especially not if they can finally get healthy. But Carter’s return to Memphis seems predicated on the same thing he told ESPN about coming back for another couple years last summer: “The love for the game. Nothing else. I just love to play, and it’s not out of me yet. When I don’t want to play and don’t want to put the work in, that’s when I step away from the game, but right now I still love it.”
Carter was a productive reserve for the Grizzlies this season, averaging 25 minutes off the bench over 73 games, and then replaced an injured Tony Allen in their playoff starting lineup, producing 9.2 points (40 percent 3-point shooting), 3.3 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game in six meetings with the Spurs.
Of course, his desire to play two more years requires a team to pay him for those services. Carter is an unrestricted free agent, and Memphis would be wise to offer him the veteran minimum next season, which would represent a step down from the $4.3 million salary he took home in 2016-17 — the final season of a three-year deal. There’s also the possibility he could play in a sixth NBA city next year.
Should Carter sign on somewhere for 2017-18, he will likely join Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki as the last remaining members of the 1998 NBA Draft class, now that Pierce has called it quits. The 38-year-old Nowitzki said he would play out the final year of the two-year, $50 million deal he signed last summer, barring “drastic changes” preventing him from playing in 2017-18, “which I don’t anticipate.”
With the futures of 1999 draftees Ron Artest, Manu Ginobili and Jason Terry all still up in the air, the list of players still active from the 20th century is down to a handful and maybe fewer come 2017-18.
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