Vince Carter said he was 90% certain he’d retire after the 2018-19 season. But he got the itch and played for the Hawks this season. As Atlanta finished its game the night the NBA suspended its season due to coronavirus, Carter treated it like a last hurrah. The Hawks are done for the season, one of eight teams not continuing at Disney World.
It’s no “I think.” OK, I’m officially done playing basketball professionally. I’ll play at home.
Carter played a record 22 NBA seasons (with the Raptors, Nets, Magic, Suns, Mavericks, Grizzlies, Kings and Hawks). He is the best dunker of all-time. His stardom shined from the court to commercials at his peak, and he had a long and effective second act as a veteran journeyman.
What a unique and eventual career.
Carter won 1999 Rookie of the Year with Toronto and led the Raptors to their only playoff-series victory in their first 20 years of existence. Toronto fell one game short of the 2001 Eastern Conference finals after Carter infamously attended his graduation at North Carolina the day of Game 7 against the 76ers in the second round. Raptors fans soured on him, especially as his effort slipped.
Carter forced a trade to the Nets in 2004. He rounded out his offensive game and made the last of his eight All-Star games with New Jersey.
The main blemish on Carter’s long career: A lack of playoff success. He won just three playoff series while a star (2001 first round with Toronto, 2006 and 2007 first rounds with the Nets). He reached the conference finals only once (2010 with the Dwight Howard-led Magic). His only other playoff-series victory came as a backup (2015 with Grizzlies).
But Carter is likely headed to the Basketball Hall of Fame. His prime was impressive, and his longevity is unmatched. The 2000 dunk contest was a seminal moment. Carter is well-liked, especially due to his veteran-mentor phase. Even Toronto fans came around.
Such a testament to his endearing qualities and staying power.
Vince Carter on playing with no crowds: ‘You should be focused on the guy in front of you’
If the NBA returns this season, it will do so without fans. The games will be played in a “bubble” — in Las Vegas or Orlando — where players, their families, plus coaches, trainers, and more will live, eat, work, and sleep. The games will be broadcast, but there will be no crowds, no fans in attendance.
“I’ve been dying to answer this question… When you toss that ball up and competition starts, and you’re in battle, how often do you worry about the fans? Yes, you hear them cheering, and booing you, I get that. But you’re in competition, you’re in battle. You should be focused on the guy in front of you, or the task at hand.”
As another coach told me, most of the time players are playing with no fans in the crowd — every practice, every scrimmage, every summer run in the gym at UCLA or in Manhattan. Players are used to this, they will adapt very quickly, the coach said. Carter echoed that same point.
The NBA season is on hiatus. NBC Sports is not – even if we have to venture into fantasy.
We’re holding a mock NBA expansion draft. Keith Smith is setting protected lists for existing teams. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman will run two new teams as this project culminates in an expansion draft.
Current teams can protect up to eight players. Each team must make at least one player available. If selected, restricted free agents become unrestricted free agents. Pending options can be decided before or after the expansion draft at the discretion of the option-holder. Anyone selected in the expansion draft can’t return to his prior team for one year. Players entering unrestricted free agency and players on two-way contracts are essentially ignored.
Analysis: Charlotte’s decisions were fairly easy. Terry Rozier, Devonte’ Graham, Miles Bridges and P.J. Washington are all core pieces. Despite his suspension, Malik Monk still has upside. And the three young forwards (Cody Martin, Caleb Martin and Jalen McDaniels) are locked in on low salaries for a while.
Keeping the three minimum salary forwards meant leaving Dwayne Bacon unprotected. Bacon had been out of the rotation and sent to the G-League, so he’s out of the plans for now. As for Nic Batum or Cody Zeller, the Hornets would welcome getting either big salary off the books.
Analysis: Miami was really helped by having six players ineligible because they are unrestricted free agents this summer. That left just this decision point: Andre Iguodala vs KZ Okpala vs Kelly Olynyk.
Okpala is a minimum salary player, so that means he stays. Iguodala was just added and given an extension. He stays. That means Olynyk and his $13 million salary are left exposed.
Analysis: Orlando had seven fairly easy protections. Their five starters, sixth man, and their promising young big man in Mo Bamba.
That left Khem Birch vs Al-Farouq Aminu vs Wesley Iwundu. Aminu was left unprotected due to salary and coming off a knee injury. It’s unlikely he’ll be selected and the Magic will be happy to have him back. That means it came down to Birch vs Iwundu. It’s more likely Birch will be selected, given his low salary and skill as a big man, so Iwundu was left unprotected.
Analysis: The Wizards are taking a gamble. Most of the protections were pretty easy. Bradley Beal and Thomas Bryant are key players. Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown, Mo Wagner and Jerome Robinson are all on their rookie scale deals.
Then things get interesting. Leaving John Wall unprotected may seem crazy, given he’s a former All-Star. But Wall is coming off two lost seasons due to injury and will be 30 years old at the start of next season. He’s also owed $133 million over the next three seasons. Ish Smith and Admiral Schofield stay and the Wizards throw caution to the wind. It’s unlikely Wall will be selected, but just the chance of clearing that salary off the books is a gamble worth taking for Washington.
Tom Brady ends career in non-Patriot uniform? NBA legends been there, done that.
Here are a few of the NBA legends that didn’t finish their career in the uniform you’d expect (with honorable mention to Tony Parker in Charlotte and Bob Cousy in Cincinnati, which just missed the cut).
The NBA’s greatest and most iconic player had the greatest walk-off play to retire on ever: In Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals, Michael Jordan stripped Karl Malone in the post on one end, brought the ball up, waited until there were less than 10 seconds left, drove hard to the middle of the floor, stopped and crossed back to his left, gave Bryon Russell a little shove, rose up and drained the title-winning jumper with 5.2 seconds remaining. It was an exit fitting a legend.
Then three years later, he came back and played two seasons with the Wizards.
The ultimate competitor could not get his fix working as a team president (and pushing toward ownership, something that happened years later in Charlotte), so he laced them up again. It wasn’t the same. Jordan was still good, averaging more than 20 points a game on some bad teams, and there were flashes of him being his old self.
But, for the most part, we as fans just want to block out those years and remember Jordan stepping off the court as a champion in Chicago.
The center with the best footwork the game had ever seen, the guy who brought two titles to Houston (and the guy drafted in front of Jordan where nobody thinks it was a mistake) ended his career doing the Dream Shake north of the border in Toronto. The Rockets had faded in the West since their championship years (behind a dominant Lakers team at the end) and were looking to move on, while Olajuwon still thought he had a lot to prove, so he eventually agreed to the trade. Houston got the Raptors 2002 first-round pick (Boštjan Nachbar was their pick) and second-rounder (Tito Maddox).
The Dream only played one season with the Raptors, but he was banged up, came off the bench a lot, and averaged just 7.1 points a game for a team led by the high-flying Vince Carter (then just 25). When Olajuwon retired, there was no question he would be pictured in the Hall of Fame as the greatest Rocket ever.
After 15 seasons in New York, leading the team to the NBA finals and dragging Jeff Van Gundy around on his leg, the Knicks icon that was Patrick Ewing was traded to the Seattle Supersonics in a four-team deal. The next summer, he signed as a free agent in Orlando and played there for one season. Father time was winning the race with Ewing those last couple of seasons, he started in Seattle and averaged 9.6 points a game, but was banged up (finger surgery) and coming off the bench in Orlando for 6 points a game. He went on to be an assistant coach for years in the NBA, never getting a shot in the big chair, so he jumped to his alma mater and is now the coach at Georgetown University.
He wasn’t the only Knicks legend shipped out at the end…
WALT “CLYDE” FRAZIER
The best dressed Knick ever and current team color analyst was sent to Cleveland for the final two-plus years of his career (the Knicks had signed Jim Cleamons as a veteran free agent in 1977, and at the time that meant compensation had to go back to Cleveland, and Frazier was the guy). Frazier was not happy with the trade, saying being sent to Cleveland was like “being traded to Siberia.” Injuries and age were catching up with Frazier at that point, and he played in just 66 games across three seasons for the Cavaliers before he left the game, but he averaged 14.6 points a game in those contests. It was not that long before he was rhyming on the broadcasts of Knicks games and cementing himself as a legend in New York. A city that just fits him better than Cleveland.
In 2004, Karl Malone — arguably the greatest Utah Jazz player ever, forever joined at the hip with John Stockton — came to the Shaq/Kobe Lakers to chase a ring, along with Gary Payton. At that point not even the glue of Phil Jackson could keep the dueling egos of the Lakers stars from spilling over, and the team’s role players had aged, but Malone was going to solve those problems, providing depth and a locker room presence. Malone played well that season — 13.2 points and 8.7 rebounds a game — when healthy, but he only played in 42 games that season as injuries caught up with him. Malone was exactly what those Lakers needed in the playoffs, but the injury that had him miss the NBA Finals gave Detroit the opening the Pistons needed to take the 2004 NBA crown. By the next year, Shaq was in Miami and Malone was on his ranch, retired, waiting for the call from the Hall of Fame.
Six lasting scenes from the night coronavirus overtook the NBA
Gobert tested positive for coronavirus shortly before the Jazz were set to play the Thunder in Oklahoma City last night. That led to Thunder lead doctor Donnie Strack running onto the court to alert officials just prior to tip-off, which you can see in the background of this video:
Of course, Gobert’s diagnosis led to the Jazz-Thunder game being postponed. But everything was happening so quickly and amid so much uncertainty, Oklahoma City public-address announcer Mario Nanni – who’s so good as a speaker, he has literally made a living from it – was stumbling over his words in the announcement:
Vince Carter embracing several Knicks, who recently played Gobert and the Jazz
With the Hawks and Knicks finishing their game after the season-suspension announcement, Vince Carter checked in for what might be the end of his NBA career. He made a 3-pointer then embraced several players on both teams:
I know it’s silly to be overly concerned about a few daps, considering these players just spent a full game exchanging far more contact. This might have been a meaningful moment for Carter as he nears (reached?) retirement. I want to focus on his great career.
But watching those players, I couldn’t stop thinking about the spread of coronavirus.
Which is why yesterday will go down as one of the most notable days in NBA history.
A league ostensibly about basketball has become a league about the coronavirus.