The Mavs' Five Chapters Of Vince Carter
Vince Carter's 16th year in the NBA has been so eventful that it feels like five different years – or, at least, five different chapters.
"It is a business and I understand that,'' Carter told me last summer before he knew his return to Dallas was secured. "No hard feelings. You have to understand that. But I've said (to Dallas Mavericks management), ‘Hey, this is where I want to be. (Rick) Carlisle and Mark Cuban all about their team winning. Stats are great. But winning is everything. So I told them, 'I want you guys to understand, I'm happy here.'''
Carter, working on a rejuvenation of his stellar career, did return to the Mavs this season with the unselfish attitude reflected in that quote and with a two-year, $6 million contract that now looks like one of the NBA's greatest bargains.
At the end of rhe season, with the Mavs making their come-from-nowhere push for the playoffs, Carter was a Sixth Man of the Year candidate with numbers that, entering the final days of the campaign, mirrored those of former Sixth Man winner Jason Terry and what the ex-Mavs hero was doing in Boston. To wit:
Jet was playing 27.9 minutes per game, had a 12.8 PER, was shooting 44 percent and 37 percent from the arc, and his 36-minute numbers were 13.4 points, 2.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists.
And Carter, sliding into Terry's old rotation slot in Dallas? Vince was playing 25.1 minutes, had a 17.7 PER, was shooting 43 percent and 41 percent from the arc, and his 36-minute numbers were 18.8 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.1 assists.
"He's been a great player in this league and he still has the ability to have stretches where he can be that kind of great player in terms of his high impact with streaks of shot-making, some of the playmaking things that he's able to do," said coach Rick Carlisle. "It'd be hard to tell you how important he is to our team. He's still a special player."
Vince has been special … and we'll try to tell this year's story in five chapters:
Chapter 1: Early failure as a go-to guy
As of Nov. 18, only 35 NBA players had taken more shots in the season than Vince Carter. All 35 of them had a higher scoring average than Carter. All 35 of them were starters on their respective teams. Only six of them were shooting a lower percentage. The Mavs had themselves a 'Vince Carter Dilemma' as we thought he was being Peter Principled, being asked to do to much.
Of course, at the time, Dallas was playing without the then-injured Dirk Nowitzki. So maybe the Mavs had no other choice.
"Vince has really done a great job,'' Mavs owner Mark Cuban said at the time, not overreacting to the struggles. "Vince deserves a lot of credit. He's really been a calming influence and tried to do a lot on the court, and has taken charges -- the whole nine yards. ...''
He wasn't really doing "the whole nine yards'' at the time. But he was about to ...
Chapter 2: Beating Bird
In a mid-February blowout home win over the Kings, Carter passed the all-time scoring level of none other than Larry Bird.
"There were a couple of times, I was wide open, and I was like, ‘Well, they left me open so I'm going to shoot it,' said Carter, who finished with 26 points. "And they ended up going in so it was just a great feeling.''
Carter's total in that game was the second most he's scored as a Mav. He was 9-of-15 on field goals and 6-of-9 on 3-pointers (those six makes a season-high), with five rebounds and two steals. The veteran was at his best when he took over the third quarter, scoring 17 points by hitting 6-of-9 shots, including 5-of-7 behind the arc.
In that third quarter, with 27.9 seconds to play, Carter drained the second of what would be three straight 3-pointers, giving him 21 points for the game … and more importantly, tying him with Bird for the 29th most career points in NBA history.
With 2.9 seconds to play in the third, he nailed another three and moved into sole possession of the 29th spot on the NBA's all-time scoring list. Carter finished the game with 21,796 points, five more than Bird and 17 points shy of tying Gary Payton at the 28th spot.
"The rim,'' Carter said, "looked like a lake.''
That night marked the continuation of a statistical turnaround for Vince. It was Game 11 of a streak during which Carter's averages were: 17 points, 48.8 field-goal percentage, 54.4 3-point percentage, 3.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.4 steals and only 0.9 turnovers.
But it held big-picture importance, too; Vince in a class with Bird? It speaks to longevity, of course. but 21,796 (and counting) points do not lie.
Chapter 3: The no-trade ‘promise'
As the trade deadline approached, Carter's name was featured in rumors. His play made him attractive, as does his contract: He makes just $3.09 million this year, a bargain in comparison to his production. He's due $3.18 next season. Again, performance and leadership taken into consideration, a bargain.
But not bargain enough to guarantee he won't be shipped away for a better bargain, a better talent -- even though that story was floated in a way that may have fortified Vince's confidence.
There was a discrepancy between what NBA.com says Vince has been told by coach Rick Carlisle … or between what Vince thinks he was actually told … or the timeframe of whatever discussion they had. … or maybe because other media member are misreading the story.
But that conversation (or at least the interpretation of is) is vastly different from what I know about how Vince had been informed.
I'm told the respect for Carter goes all the way to the top of the Mavs organization, and that it's not just Carlisle who visited with the veteran on the subject of job security, but Cuban as well.
What the organization actually told Vince: He's valued to the point that Dallas wouldn't include him in a "change-for-the-sake-of-change'' swap. But believe me, Vince also knows that if a no-brainer deal would've been proposed, and it helped the Mavs in any substantial way – on the court this year or as part of Plan Powder for the future – Vince Carter would've been packing his bags.
Nevertheless, it was during that time when Carter reportedly engaged Carlisle in conversation, Vince claiming to NBA.com:
"A couple days later he pulled me aside and said all the trade rumors, because I didn't know much about it, he said it's not going to happen.''
Let me assure you again: Vince Carter was not untouchable. But if he felt that way? Maybe that's helped him perform that way.
Chapter 4: The Sixth-Man streak
The Mavs entered the final stretch of the season chasing the eighth spot in the Western Conference playoff race.
And Vince Carter was as large a reason as any.
Since Jan. 18 and dating to the middle of the next-to-last week of the season, Carter played 22 games. Including his 23-point outburst in last Tuesday win at the Bucks, during that time he was averaging 15.9 points, 48.5 percent from the field, 50.4 percent from the arc, four rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.2 steals.
''I felt in the groove,'' said Carter after the Bucks game. "The basket just seemed extremely big, and I felt comfortable with my shot. I was just in the flow of the game. A couple of shots, once I let them go, I happened to look down and see the 3-point line was up there. Oops. I know if I don't make them, Coach is going to yell. But I was just prepared. I had my feet set, in rhythm, just in attack mode.''
Added teammate Mike James, reaching back to another old "Vinsanity'-era nickname: ''He was definitely Half-Man, Half-Amazing.''
This is not necessarily the sky-walking Vince Carter from his glory days in Toronto and New Jersey. But it's glorious nevertheless, another fascinating chapter in his career – and really, four chapters in this season alone.
"Four chapters,'' anyway, until a Thursday in San Antonio.
Chapter 5: The failure of 'Fearless' Vince
Dallas lost at San Antonio on Thursday, 92-91, when the Mavs failed to score on a final possession. Is it unreasonable to hope for something better than Carter receiving the ball with 5.6 seconds on the clock, finding Tiago Splitter defending him, and settling for a contested 3-pointer released with just north of two seconds on the clock?
"It looked good and felt good,'' said Carter of that shot. "We're playing for so much, I need it to go in."
This year, Vince has been that guy. ... that guy who is relied upon to take these shots. Hard truths:
As terrific as he's been, it seems noteworthy that in those "clutch situations,'' Vince hasn't been all that "clutch.'' Following the Spurs game, we did our math. With one minute or less remaining in a game within three points either way:
OJ Mayo had hit 6-of-9 attempts (66.7 percent).
Dirk was 5-of-10 (50 percent).
Darren Collison was 3-of-9 (33.3 percent).
And Carter? He had hit 3-of-11 shots (27.3 percent).
The Mavericks ran a pick-and-roll with Nowitzki and Carter in SA, but Nowitzki didn't much roll. So it was left to Vince -- as Carlisle said, "the one guy we have who can get that separation.''
Vince has done it for 16 years. Even with the lackluster clutch numbers above, in so many cases Dallas wouldn't be in close games in the final minute had Vince not been so helpful in the previous 47.
And wanting to take that shot is part of the battle.
"I pride myself on being fearless and not being afraid to take the big shot,'' Carter said. "I'm going to hold my head up high, regardless, but it's never set well with me. I feel like that's my job."
And now onto the next chapter. There will be talk of "stretch provisions'' and "Vince as trade bait'' and Cuban talking about how he'd like Carter to retire a Mav. Maybe his final numbers -- 13.4 points, 4.10 rebounds and 2.4 assists -- represent something for Dallas to build on. But I would caution the organization to not fall in love here, to be comfortable with the next chapter include Carter's departure. ... especially when our David Lord juggles the big calculator to tell us that if the cap is around $58.5 million and, say, Dwight Howard wants to come here, the Mavs would most likely clear the room by moving Carter, either to another team for a pick or to the Lakers in a simplified sign-and-trade. That one move would allow Howard to be signed with a cap of $58,470,067 or higher.
It's simple math and it might be a clean break.
Chapter Six is coming.
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