One minute Carter is going through the motions in Toronto – turning in uninspired performances like Travolta's in "Angel" – and the next minute his star is shining again with the Nets as he finds new life – like Travolta did as a hired assassin in "Pulp Fiction."
To say Carter left Toronto on bad terms is like saying the Cubs are due for a championship. He admitted to the press that he hadn't always given his best effort as a Raptor. He clashed openly with Sam Mitchell. He felt that he had been unfairly blamed for the Raptors' failures and instead pointed the finger at Toronto management.
But after the Raptors traded him to the Nets, Carter found new life and discovered a chance to reinvent himself. His energy and effort returned, as did his penchant for highlight-reel plays around the rim. And Raptor fans were understandably incensed that his play could turn around so quickly, wondering why he hadn't competed hard in Toronto.
As a player, sometimes the best motivation is a fresh start. Shaquille O'Neal lost 30 pounds before arriving in Miami last fall, inspired by his new surroundings and his ugly parting with the Lakers. Shaq will probably win the MVP this season. Carter may receive a few votes himself with his rejuvenation in New Jersey. He has been phenomenal.
Lawrence Frank scrapped much of the Nets' Princeton offense when Carter arrived in December, deciding to run the majority of the Nets' plays through Carter, either on the perimeter or on the low block, depending on matchups.
Carter had become a fadeaway jumpshooter in Toronto, but soon began to return to his awe-inspiring athletic ways, driving to the basket and forcing the action. He quickly began drawing double teams, which opened up perimeter looks for his teammates, and started getting to the free-throw line. Carter's play, along with that of his backcourt mate Jason Kidd, jump-started a New Jersey club that looked dead in the water before the trade, and the Nets have gradually worked their way back into the playoff race.
With four games left in the season and a two-game deficit behind both Philadelphia and Cleveland for the East's final two playoff spots, New Jersey probably has to sweep its remaining games to have a chance at the postseason. But with a head-to-head matchup against the Sixers on Sunday, the Nets are in position to make things very interesting (New Jersey would own the tiebreaker edge over Philly in case of a tie). The Cavaliers, meanwhile, are staggering toward the finish line and have difficult games remaining at Washington and Detroit, and at home against Boston.
Toronto fans, meanwhile, would like nothing more than to see Carter's new team miss the playoffs. Ironically, the Raptors could go a long way towards making that happen with a victory over the Nets in Carter's return to the Air Canada Centre on Friday night. Carter will undoubtedly "hear it from the crowd," as Marv Albert likes to say, since Raptors fans won't soon forget Carter's uninspired effort in a Toronto jersey early this season.
The question is whether Carter's admission to not playing hard in Toronto will lead to bad karma against the Raptors. The basketball gods could pay him back with a crushing defeat in the city he shunned. But then again, Carter might just do what Travolta did in "Pulp Fiction" – take matters into his own hands and get the job done.