Eyebrows went up across the league when it was reported that the Atlanta Hawks had come to terms on a one-year minimum contract with Vince Carter, who will play his 21st season in the NBA in 2018-19. Still in the early days of a multi-year rebuild, all of the Hawks’ previous business had been focused on injecting as much youth into the club as possible and setting themselves up for sustainable success down the road. From three first-round draft picks in 2018 to established veterans Kent Bazemore, Jeremy Lin, and Dewayne Dedmon all with eight or fewer years in the league, it struck many as odd that Atlanta wanted to bring in Carter, who has more years in the league than any three of his teammates combined.
Answers arrived quickly, as Carter was transparent with his motivations behind the move to Atlanta. An aspiring broadcaster, he’s made the rounds on ESPN, Fox Sports, and NBATV, the last of which has their home studio mere blocks from State Farm Arena. Playing out what is almost certainly his final year in the league with the Hawks will afford Carter many opportunities to do segments with Grant Hill, one of the team’s minority owners and a close Carter confidant, as well as the rest of the NBATV family.
However, if Carter’s sole focus was his television career, he could have called it quits after his 20th season and written his ticket to any network in the country. Rather, he’ll come in to the Hawks and provide a voice of leadership perhaps unequaled throughout the league to Atlanta’s youth movement.
Even in the informal pre-camp workouts over the past few weeks, it’s clear that Carter’s role this year is almost that of the hybrid player-coach of a bygone era – he’ll provide far more value to the organization off the court than he will with his play on it. That’s not to say he won’t get out there and give the team quality minutes when they need him, but from his comments at Media Day to the words we’ve heard from general manager Travis Schlenk and head coach Lloyd Pierce all summer, it’s clear there’s a larger purpose to Carter’s presence on the roster than his ability to space the floor and wow the crowd with 360s and windmills (both of which he says he’ll try to do in a game this season).
Leadership was the word du jour at Media Day as it related to Carter, who didn’t mince words when asked to explain his job with the Hawks: “I’ve taken it as my responsibility. I know who I am, I know what I bring to the table, I know why teams are bringing me on outside of basketball, as far as sharing my knowledge and helping these guys grow and succeed in their new positions as professional players. As long as the guys are open and willing to allow me to get in their ear and get on their nerves, it’s gonna happen.”
A handful of other players were also asked about what Carter brings to the table, though perhaps the strongest endorsement came from rookie big man Omari Spellman. When asked about what it will be like to grow together with a young roster, Spellman brought up Carter’s name unprompted.
“It’s almost more helpful to have a guy like Vince here that I can go talk to and pick his brain whenever there’s something I don’t understand or I’m struggling with,” Spellman said. That’s what I’m most appreciative of.”
If you didn’t know any better, you’d assume from that quote that Carter was an assistant coach in whom the younger players can confide, but he’s one step closer to those players as a fellow member of the roster.
The effects of Carter’s leadership on and off the court may not be seen this year, but they’ll remain with these Hawks long after he’s moved on to a full-time broadcasting career. Kent Bazemore, who is famously active in the business surrounding the basketball world through Under Armour, mentioned that his conversations with Carter this season won’t center around his game and what happens on the floor as much as post-retirement careers and managing the immense wealth of money and time with which players find themselves upon retiring from the game that’s consumed their every waking moment for so long.
“Vince has been around for a very long time and has had a very successful career,” Bazemore said. “He’s a great guy, a man of great principles. He’s teaching me about the ins and outs and making the transition from playing to not playing. Those are some of the talks we’ll have throughout the season. Obviously, I still have a ways to go, but it’s never too early to start thinking about that stuff. That’s one thing I’m looking forward to sitting down and chatting about.”
In all likelihood, there will be nights this season when Carter doesn’t see the floor or perhaps isn’t even a member of the 13-man active roster, but both player and organization believe that his effect on the team will be steady throughout his time in Atlanta. Leadership on and off the court, advice to the young players just coming up through their first few years in the league, and words of wisdom about how to handle the fame that comes with being a worldwide superstar will resonate with the roster for 2018-19 and years to come.
Carter hasn’t been a member of the Atlanta Hawks for long and his time with the organization will be nothing more than a footnote on his Hall of Fame resume, but for the players looking to him for his leadership this season, it will be an unforgettable journey.