There are still crushed anklebones and shattered rims in most of the basketball arenas in which Vince Carter has played. The aerial artist that brought the NBA slam dunk contest — thought long gone since the days of Jordan and Wilkins — to a summit; who brought us “le dunk de la mort” en route to a gold medal in Sydney; who brought Vinsanity to every home in the country—is entering the final period of his career.
In some ways, the 37-year-old’s decline has been evident: Ceding the lane to others in New Jersey, misreading pick-and-pop opportunities in Orlando, playing languid ball in Phoenix. His first year in Dallas was the most irrelevant season he had since entering the NBA: 10.1 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 2.3 assists. It felt like much less.
The Daytona Beach product wasn’t going to go quietly, though.
It wasn’t just this turnaround, buzzer-beating three-pointer in Game 3 of Dallas’s first-round matchup with San Antonio that saved him another contract. And it’s not like Carter wants to be a free agent testing the waters.
“I know my role, and I know the system, it’s second nature to me now,” Carter said. “I know the city very well. I’m very comfortable here. I like the guys. I like the nucleus we have. With my role and the way I play and the way I go about things, it really helps guys here. And they like that. Hopefully, that’s enough so that they can still have trust in me enough to play significant minutes and help the other guys out.”
Carter has reinvented himself into a desirable role player in the last two seasons; a two-way player that hasn’t been the defensive sieve most in his age bracket become. Rick Carlisle used him at both the shooting guard and small forward positions, and the pick-and-roll sage can still manicure the court and find the open man. Although he attempted just 14.8 field goals last season, his aptitude for facilitating teammates has miraculously improved considering his former infatuation with one-on-one isolation scoring in his hay-days with Toronto.
“I can’t say anything but great things about [Carter],” Mavs owner Mark Cuban said in 2012. “He brings it every night. He will take on any role coach asks of him. He is even taking a charge now and then.”
Carter was effective at the right corner-three, shooting 48 percent. His 6-foot-6, 220-pound build allows him to attack the basket while remaining malleable in the paint.
He isn’t one of the top guards on the free agent market, but he can claim to be one of just five remaining players in the league from the 1998 NBA draft — a clear-cut Hall-of-Famer. His 20.0 career PER average is higher than Hall-of-Famer guards Sam Jones and Pete Maravich. Entering his 15th season, he still can provide substantial minutes with any team’s second unit.
While Carter played just 24.4 minutes per game last season—the lowest of his career—it had more to do with his role than his knees. He can’t leap out of the gym in the way he created his identity, but he was certainly an integral component of Dallas’s playoff run this year. In the 2014 postseason, Carter averaged 27.1 minutes per game, and his timely shot creation, spot-up three-pointers, and support on the defensive end were critical.
As the seconds ticked away and Carter hoisted the desperation game-winner against San Antonio, you could feel him re-entering his old body, the steel-plated courage that made him a household name all those years ago. Under all the weight of empirical evidence he showed us he could still play; he can still win.
Carter will no longer be a marquee player on either end of the court, but his late-career evolution deserves another installment. We deserve to see the final curtain.
Josh Planos has had his work featured at Rivals, Bleacher Report, Denver Post, CBS Sports Radio, Fox Sports Radio, and ESPN Radio, and is currently a columnist for the ESPN TrueHoop Network, FanSided and The Pick and Roll. He loves interacting with readers via Twitter (@JPlanos).