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.”

Drymond Green praises Devin Booker’s play “but get my man out of Phoenix”

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When there are fans again in NBA buildings, Suns fans are going to let Draymond Green have it.

The outspoken Green was on Inside the NBA on TNT this Thursday — he’s got the time, the Warriors weren’t invited to the restart — and the topic of Devin Booker‘s play in the bubble came up. Green had nothing but praise for the All-Star guard who has led the Suns to a 4-0 record at the restart, then he said the thing that is going to get him booed in Phoenix.

“It’s great to see Book playing well and Phoenix playing well, but get my man out of Phoenix It’s not good for him, it’s not good for his career. Sorry Chuck, but they’ve gotta get Book out of Phoenix. I need my man to go somewhere that he can play great basketball all of the time and win, because he’s that kind of player.” r

Is that tampering? Ernie Johnson asked, Green laughed and said, “maybe.”

The league rarely enforces player tampering, and beyond that Green didn’t try to get Booker to come to Golden State directly, he just said Booker needs to be in a better situation.

On a more practical note, Booker has four years left after this one on his max contract extension. The Suns are building around him and Deandre Ayton — and right now it looks like it’s working (coach Monty Williams should get a lot of credit for that). No way the Suns are trading Booker for the foreseeable future.

This is not the first time Green has taken shots at the Suns. When former Sun Marquese Chriss, who went on to have a career year with the Warriors this season, Green said, “He’s been in some pretty tough situations. No one ever blames the situation, though. It’s always the kid. No one ever blames these s**** franchises.”

The Suns deserve some credit for developing Booker — and they are not getting rid of their All-Star anytime soon. Now they have to carry this momentum over to next season.

Report: Heat guard Kendrick Nunn leaves bubble, expected back by playoffs

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Kendrick Nunn joined the Heat late in the bubble after testing positive for coronavirus.

Now, he’s stepping away early.

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:

Heat guard Kendrick Nunn will miss Saturday’s game against Phoenix for personal reasons and has left the NBA bubble, according to multiple sources.

Nunn – who previously confirmed he tested positive for COVID-19 in June – has left the bubble for reasons unrelated to COVID-19, according to a source.

Nunn is expected to have access to testing while he’s away.

The expectation is Nunn would be back in uniform for the start of the NBA playoffs on Aug. 16 or 17 – or potentially sooner.

Hopefully, everything is alright with Nunn.

He must quarantine in his hotel room upon return. Among the key ways to minimize the quarantine length? Testing negative daily while away. Apparently, Nunn is set to get tested while gone. As someone who already recovered from coronavirus, he likely has resistance to re-contracting the virus. But the outside world presents plenty of potential pitfalls that could increase a player’s quarantine length.

The Heat didn’t publicly disclose this. But the league is pretty selective in mandating transparency.

Miami is shorthanded on the perimeter. Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic are banged up. Now, Nunn – a talented rookie who already starts – is out.

The Heat are fourth in the East, one game up on the Pacers and 76ers. It’s unclear where Miami would prefer to finish in that 4-5-6 race. A first-round matchup with Indiana or even Philadelphia in the 4-5 series would likely be easier than facing the probable-third-seeded Celtics. However, winning the 4-5 series would mean facing the powerful Bucks – rather than the Raptors or Celtics – in the second round.

With four seeding games left – including two against the Pacers – the Heat have plenty of variance in how their season finishes.

Playoffs statement? Boston builds 40-point lead, routs Toronto

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — The way the NBA standings look right now, there’s a reasonable chance that the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors could be slotted to see each other in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

And Celtics coach Brad Stevens is already making it clear — if that happens, a blowout win over the Raptors now won’t mean anything then.

Jaylen Brown scored 20 points, Jayson Tatum added 18 and the Celtics never trailed on the way to an emphatic 122-100 win over the Raptors on Friday night. Kemba Walker scored 17 points in 23 minutes for the Celtics, who led by 40 at one point and kept slim hope alive of catching the Raptors for the No. 2 spot in the East race.

“This game will mean nothing if we get that opportunity again,” Stevens said. “They’re a really good team. I thought they missed a lot of open looks and it just wasn’t their night. Our guys played well, but it won’t mean anything in a couple weeks.”

Boston also won the season series against Toronto, taking three of the four meetings. The Celtics also won back-to-back games for the first time in the bubble.

“We’re enjoying each other and building chemistry,” Tatum said.

Fred VanVleet scored 13 for Toronto, which got 11 from Kyle Lowry and 11 more from Pascal Siakam. The Raptors’ starters — VanVleet, Lowry, Siakam, Marc Gasol and OG Anunoby — combined to shoot 16 for 45 (36%) from the field, 3 for 19 (16%) from 3-point range.

“One thing about this team, we always bounce back and we always stick together,” Toronto’s Norman Powell said. “I’m not too worried.”

Toronto’s biggest deficit in its first three games in the bubble was six points against the Los Angeles Lakers. The Raptors trailed Miami by three, then didn’t trail Orlando at any point in their game on Wednesday.

But only five minutes into this one, the Raptors were down eight.

And it would only get worse from there for the reigning champions.

The biggest deficit Toronto had faced this season was a 30-point hole against Dallas on Dec. 22, a game where the Raptors rallied to win. The Celtics didn’t allow anything close to a rally on Friday — after the Raptors closed within 10 early in the third, Boston went on a 36-12 run over the final 9:39 of the quarter.

It was 91-57 entering the fourth, and the Raptors went with subs the rest of the way. Making the night even worse for Toronto: forward Serge Ibaka left early in the fourth after getting hit in the face on a drive by Boston’s Gordon Hayward.

“I hate to say it, but there’s nothing really I learned,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “The only thing I probably did learn is we’ve got to get a couple of our guys playing a little better.”

Nets, Magic lock up playoff spots in East; Grizzlies help own cause in West

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — The NBA playoff picture is getting a little clearer, and the Eastern Conference field of qualifiers is now set.

Brooklyn and Orlando clinched the last two remaining East spots Friday, meaning no play-in series — a new wrinkle added to the rules of the NBA’s season restart at Walt Disney World — will be needed on that half of the bracket.

Brooklyn secured its trip by defeating Sacramento 119-106. Orlando’s spot was clinched when Washington lost to New Orleans 118-107 later Friday, eliminating the Wizards from contention.

The Nets and Magic will be No. 7 and No. 8, in some order, in the East playoffs. The No. 8 seed will face the Milwaukee Bucks in the opening round of the playoffs, which begin Aug. 17. The No. 7 seed could meet the reigning NBA champion Toronto Raptors, who currently hold — but have not secured — the East’s No. 2 spot.

For the Nets, the clinching comes as something to savor in a topsy-turvy season.

Kevin Durant couldn’t play at all because of his recovery from Achilles surgery — yet still got a $1 million contract bonus because Brooklyn made the postseason. Kyrie Irving missed much of the year because of injury, the Nets had several regulars opt out of participating in the restart, changed coaches in March and have used 24 players so far this season.

“It’s great to punch our own ticket into the playoffs,” Nets coach Jacque Vaughn said. “I joked with the guys: I like my laundry being done, but nothing like doing your own laundry.”

Orlando could have clinched with a win Friday, but lost to Philadelphia 108-101. The Wizards lost about an hour later, falling to 0-5 in the bubble. Washington was one of nine teams from the East who qualified for the restart, but has since fallen behind Charlotte into 10th place in the conference.

Philadelphia’s win tightened the race for No. 4 in the East. The 76ers (42-27) are tied with Indiana for the fifth-best record in that conference, one game behind fourth-place Miami (43-26).

The race for the last unclaimed playoff spot in the Western Conference remains close, with teams vying to grab the No. 8 spot and play the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round. If the eighth- and ninth-place teams are within four games of one another when the seeding game schedule ends next week, there will be a two-game series to determine who gets the last playoff spot.

Should that series take place, the ninth-place team would have to go 2-0 in a best-of-two series to advance.

Memphis remained alone in eighth out West, after the Grizzlies snapped a four-game bubble losing streak by beating Oklahoma City on Friday 121-92. The Grizzlies are one game ahead of Portland in the West standings.

“We channeled what we’ve done all season long,” Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said. “We played Grizzlies basketball. Grizzlies basketball equals Grizzlies wins, more often than not. We hadn’t done that in the first four games.”

San Antonio leaped idle Phoenix into 10th in the West by beating Utah 119-111, with the Spurs improving to 3-2 in the bubble. The Spurs (30-38) are one game behind Portland in the standings.

“At the end of the day, we can’t control what they’re doing,” Spurs center Jakob Poeltl said. “We can only control what we’re doing. We’re going to take every game as it comes. We’re going to try to win every game.”

Phoenix, Sacramento and New Orleans remain in the mix for a West play-in series spot. The Suns, who are 4-0 at Disney, play Miami on Saturday.