Vince Carter will play in Toronto on Wednesday, for the 22nd (including playoffs) time as a member of a visiting team. The Dallas Mavericks swingman suited up as a Raptor 418 times between 1999 and 2004, in a wildly divisive turn that will inspire both boo-birds and adoring hoots of approval during Wednesday’s otherwise anonymous January NBA game between two teams with above average records.
This is why, in a move that was curious to some, SportsNet has put together a documentary breaking down Carter’s time in Toronto, and the ever-evolving legacy. This isn’t even an anniversary or last-ditch tribute – Carter told reporters on Wednesday morning that he had no intentions of retiring once his contract with the Mavericks expires last year, and the 10-year mark for his trade to the then-New Jersey Nets doesn’t hit until this December. It’s just a look at Carter as a Toronto Raptor, an idea that remains endlessly fascinating to many NBA fans both in and out of Canada.
In talking with reporters from Dallas, VC looked back on his up and down turn:
“I remember when Vinsanity started, from an article [in the newspaper],” Carter said. “I remember when Half-Man, Half-Amazing started.
“I remember making the first basket here in history [at Air Canada Centre]. You can’t change that. Winning rookie of the year here, you can’t change that. Winning that dunk contest and putting Toronto on the [basketball] map, you can’t change that. Those are all historical to me. I put all three of those as one.”
The problem with these significant hallmarks, and the memory they create, is what happened in three and a half years following Carter’s missed jumper in Game 7 of the 2001 Eastern Conference semis.
There was genuine fear that VC was going to leave Toronto as a free agent heading into 2000-01, but the team’s trip to the second round changed all that – which allowed the Raptors to not only retain Carter, but re-sign Antonio Davis (who had been offered a maximum contract with the Orlando Magic) and Alvin Williams, alongside signing Hakeem Olajuwon as a free agent.
Carter appeared to spend more time on the perimeter during his injury-docked 2001-02 turn, and the Raptors played far better with him off the court than on. He returned to relative health the following season, but he had backed off his MVP level-stylings from 2000-01 to that of a mere All-Star, content with shooting the long two-point jumpers that he could get at any time.
By the time 2004-05 hit, Carter had reportedly issued a trade demand after a blown summer that saw the team draft Rafael Araujo with a lottery pick, and hand Rafer Alston a six-year deal at age 28. What followed was something that would set the internets a-blazin’ were it to take place in 2013-14, what with the current ubiquity of League Pass, Twitter, and the heaps of increased and exacting NBA coverage.
Carter floated. He jogged his way through sets and seemed to alternate between sabotaging his team (by now featuring Chris Bosh, in his second season) and showing glimpses of what made him so great – and ultimately so frustrating. According to teammates, he both got in a fight with his coach, and informed opponents about a last second play in a game against Seattle.
His Player Efficiency Rating was a middling 17 during his month and a half stint with the Raptors, down from 25 just a few years before – a mark that he would then approximate after being dealt to the Nets in what was one of the most one-sided (that is to say, “Toronto general manager Rob Babcock blew it”) deals involving a superstar in recent NBA history. If all time.
Toronto received Alonzo Mourning and role players Eric Williams and Aaron Williams in the deal. Eric and Aaron went on to play two mostly injury-plagued years in Toronto, and 99 combined games total. Mourning refused to report and was eventually paid by the team, in a shocking kowtow, to leave. The two draft picks the team received resulted in the drafting of swingman Joey Graham, while the other was sent to New York the following year in a needless move when the teams traded the expiring deals of Antonio Davis and Jalen Rose.
Carter went on to three more All-Star games, and a well-respected turn as an NBA elder statesman.
It was less than a decade ago, but the difference between eras means all the world in how that era will be remembered. Because while everyone saw that Slam Dunk Contest or the 2001 work in the playoffs, not everyone was hunkering down with League Pass back then.
I had a column back then that allowed me to write whatever I wanted during that season, with SI.com, but vetting “whatever I wanted” wasn’t as easy in those days. You just didn’t toss out that a player had flat out quit on his team, and outside of referring to Carter’s “passive” play both that year and the prior one, the vitriol leaving my mouth while watching Vince sleepwalk through Raptor sets in front of my TV never made it to the page.
Things are different now. Not so much because a different generation is allowed easier chances to either jump the gun in praising or pillorying a player, but because most have the resources to follow up on sportswriter bluster. Every team has several dedicated blogs working to document game-to-game work, and all feature at least one scribe with quick access to not only League Pass, but other video-based scouting sites. These sorts of things just weren’t in the offing in 2004-05 – remember, we couldn’t even upload instances of his work to YouTube back then. It’s not as if eBaumsworld would be interested in clips of Vince Carter half-heartedly showing up for possessions.
It’s true that Vince’s work in Toronto – from his earth-shaking rookie year to his “what is he capable of next?”-second season to that third year that saw his Raptors (and his last second jumper) fall just inches short of the Eastern Conference finals – cannot be taken away from him.
His legacy in leaving the team, however, is just as secure. It’s just not as well-documented.
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