Vince Carter has had a lengthy career, but the well-traveled forward still wants a shot at a title.
By CHRIS TOMASSONFS Florida
Vince Carter winds down his career, he’s become an NBA vagabond. He’s been with four teams over the past five seasons, and more could be coming.
But when all is through, will Carter make one more basketball stop in Springfield, Mass.?
Whether the Dallas Mavericks forward will be a Hall of Famer is a question some of his current and former teammates grapple with. But it’s something that Carter certainly seeks.
“Of course, that’s a goal,’’ Carter, a Daytona Beach native who returns to his home state Sunday to face the Orlando Magic, one of his former teams. “You hope [Carter’s career is] good enough. It would be a definite honor to go down into history with the greatest. I would love to be considered for the Hall of Fame … but I’m still trying to finish my career.’’
Carter, who turns 36 next Saturday, is in his 15th season, having reached a goal he once set for longevity. Carter, who has a team option on his contract next season for $3.18 million, didn’t want to speculate on how many more seasons he would like to play but said he definitely plans to be around for 2013-14.
“I just go year-to-year, contract-to-contract,’’ said Carter, who is averaging 12.3 points to drop his career average to 21.1. “My ultimate goal coming into the NBA was to play 15 years, so here I am, Now, we’ll see what happens.’’
So Carter will be eligible for the Hall of Fame around the start of the next decade. Will he join Artis Gilmore and David Robinson, who was born in Key West before moving as a child, as just the third Florida native to make it?
“That’s a tough call,’’ said Dallas center Chris Kaman. “I lean toward yes, but then again, you never know. … The cons are he never won a ring, but the pros are he had some great seasons where he really played well, went to All-Star Games, and with the amount of points he’s scored.’’
ProBasketballReference.com, which has a Hall of Fame monitor, lists Carter’s chances of being enshrined at 78.6 percent. But that’s down from 79.1 at the start of this month, and likely will continue to fall as Carter’s stats drop.
Using history as a gauge, Carter probably will make it to Springfield. He’s made eight NBA All-Star Games. The only eligible player to have that many selections without a Hall of Fame call is Larry Foust, a center who played from 1950 to 1962 and averaged 13.7 points and 9.8 rebounds.
Carter does come up short when it comes to All-NBA teams. He made the third team in 1999-2000 and the second team in 2000-01, and that’s it.
Carter, dubbed "Air Canada" and "Half Man/Half Amazing" during his glory days with Toronto from 1998 to 2004, has to get some consideration for being one of the NBA's most exciting players ever. When he was the NBA's premier high flyer, he won the 2000 All-Star dunk contest in dramatic fashion. But he dismayed many shortly after his Toronto departure by saying in an interview with TNT he hadn't always tried his hardest with the Raptors.
Carter is 30th in NBA history with 21,638 points. His scoring average average of 21.1 ranks 34th, but, at his current pace, Carter would fall to 40th at the end of the season.
Despite Carter’s gaudy average, it should be noted Bernard King still can’t get into the Hall of Fame with a 22.5 career average and four appearances on All-NBA teams. And it took Adrian Dantley until his 12th year of eligibility to get in despite a 24.3 average and two scoring titles.
Like fellow high-scoring small forwards King and Dantley, Carter has been thought of by some as more of an individual player whose talents didn’t always make his teams better. Carter never has played in the NBA Finals and only once has gotten past the second round, that being Orlando’s 4-2 loss to Boston in the 2010 Eastern Conference finals.
“I think it would be a little tough because he hasn’t won a championship and he hasn’t been to the Finals,’’ Miami Heat forward Rashard Lewis, Carter’s teammate on that Magic team, said of Carter's being a borderline candidate for the Hall. “I think they'll (voters) look at that and use that against him that he didn’t really compete for a championship.’’
Carter has a 27-33 career record in the playoffs while having been to the postseason in just seven of his previous 14 seasons. But he did join a fourth-year Toronto team in 1998 that hardly was championship caliber.
Still, the Raptors did come within one game of the East finals in 2001. But they soon fell off as a team.
“It will probably be tough for him to get in on the first ballot because you just got to be head and shoulders above (other candidates),’’ said Heat forward Chris Bosh, who played with Carter in Toronto in 2003-04 and the first part of the next season and said he would give the nod to Carter if he ever had a vote. “It could go (by the voters), ‘Yeah, you’re an individual player’ … but he put the Toronto Raptors on the map. If he hadn’t been there, people wouldn’t know who the Toronto Raptors were.’’
After being traded by the Raptors to New Jersey in December 2004, Carter developed a rap, some of it unfair, of not being able to make teams better. The Nets had been to the Finals in 2002 and 2003 and lost in Game 7 of an East semifinal in 2004 before falling off with Carter.
Carter arrived in Orlando in summer 2009 after the Magic had made the NBA Finals. But they couldn’t get back there the next season after the Florida native had come home.
Carter was dealt in December 2010 to Phoenix, which had made the West finals the previous season but then failed to make the playoffs. But that had more to do with forward Amar’e Stoudemire's having bolted as a free agent to New York in summer 2010.
Carter signed as a free agent before last season with the Mavericks, the defending champions who then were swept out of the first round. But that had more to do with the Dallas not bringing back the title team intact, most specifically center Tyson Chandler.
Now, the Mavericks limp into Orlando with a 17-24 mark in what has become even more of a rebuilding situation. Carter can figure on a warm greeting from Magic guards Jameer Nelson and J.J. Redick, former teammates who both believe Carter one day should and will be a Hall of Famer.
“At the end of the day, I think he’s done enough for his career to create a legacy for himself and become a Hall of Famer,’’ Nelson said.
Redick said Carter’s overall stats make him deserving of the Hall. But, even if his numbers have fallen off, Redick said Carter deserves props for how he has transitioned from his high-flying days.
“He’s handled it well,’’ Redick said. “Not every NBA superstar can handle that transition. You see guys that aren’t willing to accept a lesser role and then they’re out of the league. He’s still a really good NBA player, and kudos to him for kind of figuring that out.’’
While Carter isn’t the scorer he once was, those on the Mavericks say he's become more savvy and has improved his defense. While his 4.0 rebounding average over 24.9 minutes might not jump out, Carter this season actually is is on pace to average a career high in boards per minute.
“I still feel great, that’s for sure,’’ Carter said.
But with the Mavericks in transition, time is running out for Carter to get to his first Finals. With Carter a candidate to be traded by the Feb. 21 deadline and with there being a reasonable chance his team option won’t be picked up this summer, Carter is likely to at least play for a sixth overall NBA team and fifth since 2008-09.
“That’s something I want to do. I want to play for a championship,’’ Carter said of being willing to hang on as a player to reach that goal.
If that happens, Carter certainly would have something to add to his resume for the Hall of Fame.