It didn’t sink in for Michelle Carter-Scott that her son had finally landed a job near home until the first time he showed up on her couch without notice.
Vince Carter doesn’t always call ahead.
“They’re all pop-ins,” she joked. “He just comes in and acts like he lives there.”
The blockbuster NBA trade this summer in which the Orlando Magic acquired the eight-time All-Star from the New Jersey Nets has had major ramifications for the Carter family, a long-awaited homecoming realized.
All the hoopla – family, friends and a franchise expecting him to be the missing piece to a championship – has made for a frenzied build up in anticipation of Carter’s regular season debut.
Carter, 32, is back where it all began. He played at Mainland High School in Daytona Beach before starring North Carolina.
“I have to make sure all my friends, family and all the people who are excited about me being home understand that as exciting as it is, I still have to go to work and do what I have to do,” he said. “But I have an appreciation for after games and stuff, when everybody can come over to my house.”
Carter has spent most of career dreaming of being in this position.
He has lived for years in Orlando, about a 45-minute drive from his hometown of Daytona Beach. He even used to drop by the Magic’s practice facility during the offseason for pickup games, mingling with players who are now his teammates.
Being back full-time has its perks.
The home-cooked meals. The short commute. Not to mention curling up in his own bed at the end of a long day.
“It never gets old,” Carter said.
The Magic reserve a section in the arena for all of Carter’s ticket requests. Friends and family are always calling, and don’t think mom isn’t stepping up her parenting now that her son is closer.
“I tell him he has to be careful, be smart about where he goes. I sound like he’s 12 now,” she said. “Things have really come full circle.”
It just took time.
In seven seasons in Toronto, Carter became known as Air Canada for his high-flying dunks. But his popularity dwindled near the end as the Raptors struggled and Carter eventually asked for a trade, which was granted in 2004 when he was sent to New Jersey.
With the Nets in full rebuilding mode, Carter was traded to the Magic for guards Courtney Lee and Rafer Alston and power forward Tony Battie. Orlando also received forward Ryan Anderson in the deal.
The phone calls poured in immediately.
“I called Vince right away. Vince couldn’t have sounded happier,” Anderson said. “This is where he’s always wanted to be. He wanted to come home. Plus, I saw his amazing, huge mansion last summer and couldn’t imagine he wouldn’t want to go back there. I mean, we practiced in his house.”
Even with all his accomplishments Carter has never been past the second round of the playoffs. Expectations in Orlando are dramatically different.
Not only are the Magic entering this season with a title-or-bust mentality, they’re leaning on Carter to get the franchise’s first championship. Carter is filling the spot vacated by Hedo Turkoglu, a fan favorite who led the team in scoring in the NBA finals last season.
Turkoglu is now in Toronto. Carter is wearing Turkoglu’s No. 15 jersey, the same he has worn most of his career. And the ball will be in Carter’s hands when it counts most, the same position in which the Magic used to turn to Turkoglu.
“My guess going into the season is that at the end of the game, he’s the guy you go to most of the time because of his ability to create a shot either for himself or for the team,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said of Carter.
Carter has tried to distance any connection between himself and Turkoglu. But the comparisons and pressure are inevitable for Carter.
“When it’s crunch time, I’ve never been afraid to take the big shot,” said Carter, who has averaged 23.5 points in his NBA career. “I don’t mind the pressure.”
Finding his stroke has been a struggle in the preseason.
Carter has been shooting less than 30 percent from 3-point range and a little more than 40 percent from the field. The Magic have preached patience, and if the exhibition season has shown anything, it will likely take time for Carter to find his groove in Orlando.
The family adjustment has been a little smoother.
After his first preseason home game in a Magic uniform, a 90-86 win over the Miami Heat, Carter got his first taste of what life will be like with Orlando. His mother was in the stands, making the short drive down Interstate 4 from her home in the Daytona Beach suburb of Port Orange.
“I asked her if she was going to stick around outside and wait for me,” Carter said at his locker. “She said, ‘No. I’ll see you at home.”‘