Vince Carter, stardom behind him, still proud, still contributing in NBA at age 38

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BOSTON – Vince Carter is explaining why he signed with the Grizzlies last summer, and he cites the vague “opportunity.”

Opportunity to win his first championship? Opportunity to play?

“To play,” Carter says. “I didn’t have anybody else wanting me.”

Did he think he could play more in Memphis than anywhere else?

At this point, Carter can tell I’m not getting it.

“I didn’t have anybody else who wanted me,” he says.

Dumbfounded, I ask why – after his successful season with the Mavericks – teams wouldn’t line up to offer a minimum contract.

“So why would I get a minimum contract?” Carter said. “…I didn’t think I played that bad.

“I don’t think I played bad enough to even entertain it.”

Carter has made plenty of concessions since his heyday – but only as many as necessary.

Eight years after his last All-Star appearance and 11 years since he last led the league in All-Star votes, Carter is still in the NBA.

His numbers, including 16.4 minutes and 5.9 points per game, are mostly career lows. But  at age 38, Carter seems happy.

And why shouldn’t he be?

He’s the fourth-oldest player in the NBA behind only Andre Miller, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett. Carter loves basketball, and he’s continuing to play it – on his terms, which is just fine for Memphis.

“He doesn’t take advantage of any of his celebrity as far as big-timing people or anything like that,” Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger said. “He’s one of the nicest, down-to-earth guys. He loves coming to the gym every day. He loves working with younger guys, older guys, sitting around after practice, after games, just talking hoops. He’s the kind of guy who doesn’t have to do that, right? He’s set, and he’s had a great career, and hopefully, he goes to the Hall of Fame. But he just love it.”

Carter indicates he set his parameters – salary and not wanting to join a rebuilding team – last offseason and then let his agent handle the rest. So, though teams might have offered a minimum contract, he didn’t consider those viable offers.

Memphis came through with a three-year, $12,264,057 contract (though just $2 million of the final season is guaranteed). That makes Carter the only of the NBA’s 10-oldest players with a contract that runs through 2017:

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The league’s 11th-oldest player, Dirk Nowitzki, also has a three-year contract.

Carter says he’s taking it year to year, but he hopes to at least finish this deal before retiring.

“I still have the love and the desire to play, and my body feels good,” Carter said. “So, god willing.”

Carter, an eight-time All-Star, is one season from claiming a record all to himself.

Among players with at least five All-Star selections, Carter is tied with Grant Hill and Bob McAdoo for most seasons since the last All-Star appearance (eight). It’s rare for five-time All-Stars to hang on so long after they begin to fall off. Here’s how many All-Star-less seasons every five-time All-Star has played since his last All-Star season:

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Carter has made a second career as a 3-and-D specialist, someone who spots up offensively and gets to the right spots defensively.

His shooting percentage has fallen this season, though he’s shooting 38 percent from beyond the arc in 17 games since a foot injury. His defense has slipped with his athleticism since even last season, but he has fared much better when playing with Memphis’ top players – Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Mike Conley, Jeff Green, Courtney Lee and Tony Allen – rather than other reserves.

Simply, don’t ask too much of Carter and he can still deliver.

Carter shifted to this limited role during three seasons in Dallas. Was the adjustment easy?

“No,” Carter said. “It’s never easy.

“That first year of marriage, it’s tough. It’s the same thing. It’s just patience, patience. I have some patience, too.”

Carter also has plenty of knowledge. He studies the game more than ever, and he enjoys sharing his wisdom with his Memphis teammates.

At times, though, he has worried he’s overstepping his bounds. He might have perspective like a coach, but he’s not a coach, and he doesn’t want to step on the staff’s toes.

Told of Joerger’s glowing endorsement, Carter looks relieved.

“They just trust what I say, and other guys trust me, too,” Carter said. “I guess I’ve been around long enough.”