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Free Agent Focus: Vince Carter



2013-14 Team and All Previous Teams: Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns, Orlando Magic, New Jersey Nets and Toronto Raptors

Key Stats 2013/14: 11.9 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 40.7 FG%, 39.4 3PT%,

Estimated contract: 2 years, $5-6 million

Matters to No One But Me …

“2001. May 20. Game 7. Yeah. I remember.” – Vince Carter

Those were Vince Carter’s spontaneous words after hitting the game-winning shot in Game 3 of Dallas’ first round series with the San Antonio Spurs this season. I’ve waited 13 years to hear those words expressed with such genuineness and remorse. He still thinks about that date and not because it’s the day he received his diploma. He still remembers the date as regretfully as I do, unveiling a humanity that I’ve never seen from Vince or any other athlete before. Athletes love to tell us that they are “taking it one day at a time” or “only focused on the next game” but in the moment of celebration, Vince revealed vulnerability and reflection far removed from cliches.

“To be honest with you, I thought about that [2001 miss] as we were coming out of the timeout. If i can get the ball, hey, you know, let’s make this one. So, in my my mind, I was ready for it,” said Vince, during the Game 3 post-game press conference.

Vince had thought about the 2001 miss for 13 years and probably mapped out multiple alternate realities where the shot falls, the Raptors play the Milwaukee Bucks in the conference finals and then possibly a showdown with Kobe, Shaq and the Lakers in the 2001 NBA Finals.  In his mind, he played the “what if” game like all fans and by doing so, he became an enigma among athletes who claim to focus solely on the game ahead and not the one 13 years ago that still consumes Raptors fans to this day. Now, it’s comforting to know that Vince has been living in the same time warp as the rest of us.

The game-winning shot versus the Spurs was nearly identical to the one he missed 13 years earlier in the conference semi-finals versus the Philadelphia 76ers. He catches the ball off the inbound on the left wing behind the three-point line, pump fakes to let the defender swing by him in the air, takes off on both feet, fades (as is habit), and launches with a clear vision of the hoop. The result in 2001 broke my heart but the 2014 outcome rekindled my belief in Vinsanity.

Vince’s departure from Toronto during the 2004-05 season was an ugly affair. Like any bad relationship, I can barely recall the details anymore but there persists a cloud of bitterness and angst. Sorry, I’m lying. I remember everything – Vince refusing to dunk, giving away the Raptors plays to the opposing team, the injuries that earned him the nickname Wince Carter, Momma Carter playing armchair general manager and much more – it’s all still fresh. The bitter finish made the positive memories fade, until they all came rushing back this year.

Vince is the reason I fell in love with basketball. I liked the Raptors but didn’t love the game until Vince showed an entire city and country how it’s supposed to be played – aggressively and above the rim. For over a decade, I’ve pretended to hate Vince for the heartbreak that he caused in Toronto but the truth is that I always still loved him. He possesses every trait that I admire in a basketball player and person: moody, grumpy, at times disinterested, supremely talented but only selectively engaged, capable of being one of the greatest of all-time but content with much less. He is still “Half Man, Half Amazing,” “Air Canada” and the greatest dunker of all-time. He’s all those things to a franchise and entire country but it took a game-winner this year for me to see, experience and accept it again. Vinsanity was a global phenomenon that I distanced myself from for years but it all came full circle this year when Vince hit the game-winner versus the Spurs and completed the alternate narrative from 2001. The war is over. There were no winners or losers. Not Vince, not the Raptors and certainly not the fans. Only a haunting common question remains as the lone product of a bitter conflict: what if?

Fits with the Pistons because …

If the Pistons are going to acquire and draft young guards and forwards this off season, they need to fill the roster with veterans who are unassuming about minutes, roles and shot attempts. Vincer can attempt to guide this team in the same way that Chauncey Billups did this past season. It might take Vince, Billups and Stan Van Gundy to get this team right.

Vince played for Van Gundy in Orlando for just over a season from 2009-11. He was brought in to replace Hedo Turkoglu who departed in free agency after the Magic made the NBA Finals in 2009. Vince was on the back end of his career when he arrived in Orlando. Vince used his years in Orlando and Phoenix to transition into the role player that he’s been the past three years in Dallas. He’s improved his three-point shooting and relies more on his strength in the post than the explosiveness that has escaped him.

Most importantly for the Pistons, Vince is a grown up who can contribute on a roster currently filled with youth and immaturity.

Doesn’t fit with the Pistons because …

Vince has only missed two regular season games in the last two years but he will be 38 years old in January. The Pistons held a roster spot for Billups this season but might want to consider giving that spot to a younger project moving forward. Also, if Billups returns next season, there’s little need for two veterans with overlapping roles to take a roster spot and potentially minutes from younger players.

Free Agent is …

… coming home to Toronto. It’s time. The Raptors need a big guard/forward off the bench that can allow them to go small against Miami, Brooklyn and even the New York Knicks. They need versatility but more importantly they need to continue building the team’s winning culture with a familiar face and fallen hero. Come home, Vince. There’s no more time left for hate. It’s ova …

Best known for …

My first heartbreak:

It took me 13 years to fall in love again …