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2018-19 Season Review: Vince Carter

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Atlanta Hawks Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

What is there to say about Vince Carter that hasn’t been said already?

Everything that needs to be said about Carter has been said — he’s a future Hall of Famer, he’s one of the greatest dunkers the game has ever seen, he’s a great scorer, but not only that, he’s a great character that any team would be delighted to have on their team.

His legacy as a professional basketball player is pretty much set in stone.

With all that said, Carter is still playing and this season marked his 21st in the league — and he showed no sign of slowing down. In fact, with the Atlanta Hawks, Carter enjoyed his best season in a number of years.

But before all of that, there was a little bit of uncertainty heading into the season.

Vince Carter may be timeless but you still had to consider the fact he was 41 and heading into his 21st NBA season — those are two variables you can’t really ignore, and he had just come off of a season where he played 58 games and averaged a season-low 5.4 points per game in 17 minutes per game with the Sacramento Kings.

We’ve seen this song and dance with players like Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett — they’re future Hall of Famers but once the decline starts it’s unlikely to reverse, once their decline started it didn’t stop.

But Carter, as it turned out, had no such issues and enjoyed a resurgent season this year, posting his best season since the 2013-14 season in Dallas.

Carter averaged 7.4 points per game on 42% shooting from the field and 39% from three — all of which represent improvements, pretty much, all across the board since that 2013-14 season but in an average of seven less minutes per game.

Carter, as many figured before the season began, played often at power forward, especially in the absence of John Collins to begin the season with Carter averaging 21 minutes per game in October.

Carter was approaching a hugely significant milestone heading into this season, and in November he had the opportunity to accomplish it — 25,000 career points.

Specifically, on Nov. 22, he had an opportunity to hit that milestone against, fittingly, the Toronto Raptors — Carter’s former club and the club that drafted him. In an impending loss, it was getting late and Carter need a basket to crack 25,000 and it looked like it would have to wait another night. But right at the death, Carter broke through for the milestone in the only fitting way — with a dunk:

This looks great and all now looking back, but at the time it was quite a forced exercise — the Hawks were really pushing Carter to reach 25K that night, anointing the evening as ‘Vince Carter Night’ and the veteran attempted 15 field goals on the night (the most he had attempted in a game in several seasons), partly just to get it over and done with.

“It got to a point where I was pressing because I just wanted to get it over with. It’s a special moment, I definitely knew about it,” said Carter after the game.

“Like I said, I cheated,” said Pierce in his opening statement after the game. “I didn’t want to do that, but I had to do it. We had to keep Vince out there to get that milestone, and I feel a lot better for doing it. What a night for Vince, what a night for the NBA - to see a guy (with) 21 years in the NBA is a long time. 25,000 points is a lot of points, and he just reflected in there… just wow. All I can say is wow. To be here, to reach that number, to play this long, we’re all thankful and we are all in a good spot to have witnessed that.”

With the influx of young players all sharing similar positions to Carter — power forward, where he played the majority of the season (with a few cameos at small forward as the season went on) — you would’ve thought that Carter’s minutes would begin to decrease now that Carter’s major milestone had been reached.

But no.

In December, Carter averaged 18 minutes per game but saw a sharp decline in minutes for the month of January, just 11 minutes per game and 4.6 points per game, but was still shooting the ball well from distance despite the more limited time.

It was in the month of February where Carter got going again, averaging 7.7 points per game and a remarkable 53% from three and Carter would continue this fine form in March, shooting 41% from three.

While Carter did not enjoy a shortened month of April (shooting 18% from three), he had shown signs of rejuvenation in Atlanta, especially from three-point territory — the old man still has it.

Though, for Carter himself it’s not about the points he scores but the success of his team and the effectiveness of ‘his unit’ — the second unit.

“It’s not about the points for me, more so the success of the team. I gauge my year off of, when I’m in the game...when my unit, the second unit is on the floor, are we effective?” said Carter during the Hawks’ exit interviews. “...Early in the season, we tried to build that relationship and that mentality, so the success of our second unit is what really excited me...”

In the end, Carter ended up contributing more to the Hawks on the court than, I think, many would’ve anticipated heading into the season — on both ends of the floor — and was a rotation figure for pretty much the entire season, resting a few games here and there.

“...I pride myself, above anything, on being available for 82 games,” said Carter. “It’s kind of a big deal to me, more so than anything, because we play the whole, ‘He’s 42, are you going to not play back-to-backs?’ or whatever the case may be. I wish they would ask me that. Yeah right, I’m playing. It was a struggle, and I enjoyed doing the telecast, but it was a struggle. We had a nice little argument back there to sit out because I prepare for it. I prepare to play 82 games, so I was like, ‘Nah, I’m good’. I went home and thought about it and was like, fine, TV is pretty good, it’s fun, I need some practice at that too. It was a great opportunity to do that and I enjoy that just as much, but I prepare for 82 and to be available...I don’t even say this that much, but when I go home, it’s not really looking at stats, more so than how many games was I available for. That’s a big deal, I think. Being available in your late 30s and 40s, which is not many of us, that’s where I pride myself and I feel good about the season individually. That’s my Rookie of the Year. That’s my MVP. There aren’t many guys doing it and I want to set the tone for that next 40-plus-year-old. If you’re going to do it, can you do it like that?”

Carter, astonishingly, during the Hawks’ four overtime gauntlet played 45 age 42 — he was someone Coach Lloyd Pierce could depend upon not only to be a leader but to come in and still hit shots.

“I was just trying to keep him at 20 (minutes per game) all year,” said Pierce after the game. “I’ve said it: I don’t know if Vince is getting younger, or what. He’s had unbelievable games this year, quarters, games... He gets another major dunk tonight... There’s just a lot to be said about Vince. At 42 years old, he’s playing 45 minutes, he’s having big games, he’s still dunking on guys, he’s still making timely and big threes, he takes a charge in overtime to give us an opportunity — what else can you say about the guy? He’s just a remarkable example of what our young guys should be and see, about how to respect the game, how to respect the journey and to have high character.”

Much is obviously made of Carter being 42 years old (as it should, what he’s still doing at this stage of his career — given his last few seasons — is incredible but it’s something that does irritate Carter, not so much towards himself but basketball as a whole.

“...That’s the frustrating thing for me and basketball,” said Carter. “We look at the age instead of what that player can do. If you didn’t know my age, you’d judge me off of my performance...”

Money quote: “If you didn’t know my age, you’d judge me off of my performance...”

People look at Carter through the lens of ‘He’s XX years old’ but when you takeaway that lens, his season still stands tall.

Carter’s on-court production certainly helped the Hawks this season but as did his experience and leadership off of the court, key reasons he was brought to Atlanta — and it’s a role he embraces.

“...I’ve gotten the opportunity to learn about some guys that I didn’t know that’s been around the league for a while,” said Carter. “Baze, Dedmon. Different approaches. I got the opportunity to help some young guys out. I knew John from watching him and Taurean from playing him, but it’s another thing sitting in between the two of them and having a lot of conversations all year and just seeing the growth in the questions they ask off the court as well as on the court. It’s been fun and I’ve learned a lot.

“We take things for granted sometimes. What we know, what others don’t know. It’s been fun to be able to be an open door for these guys at any time they come in just to chat. Whether I know the answer or not, I can give my opinion and they trust that and that’s a great position to be in. It’s a great feeling when you can leave a conversation and sometimes we double back on those conversations just to catch up sometimes. It’s just been a great year all around, on and off the court.”

When you become a teammate of Vince Carter’s, that line of communication is open to you, no matter who you are and what your future with the team looks like.

“...Isaac (Humphries), we exchanged numbers and I told him, any point in time, whether I’m here next year or whether he’s here or not, he’s a teammate, he’s a brother, we’ve gone out there and just gone to war together, so he’s appreciated,” said Carter. “He’s a young guy. His first start, and I hate to put him on blast, he didn’t know me that well. He’s like, “just give me some advice on approaching my first start and how do I handle it?’ and we talked about it and he was settled. He went out there and handled his business and played well for the minutes he was given. That’s who I want to be. Comforting, like almost a father figure type [laughs].”

And for every bit Vince has embraced his teammates, his teammates have embraced him doubly so — a constant theme during the exit interviews were the compliments of Carter.

“I think I latched onto Vince more than anybody,” said Kent Bazemore. “Obviously with our podcast, the Wingin’ It Podcast, I get to spend a lot of time with him off the court. We hang out, we sit beside each other on the planes -- so we spend a ton of time together. Just picking his brain, asking him questions and just to try to soak as much information as I can from a guy who’s done it for 21 years. That’s a mountain of knowledge.

“Anytime he speaks, I’m all ears. I just love his approach to the game -- 21 seasons, to see how he carried himself in the training room, getting up those extra shots, kicking my butt in shooting games, it makes you better. I’m just grateful and thankful to have the opportunity to be under his wing, I don’t know if he knew it or not, but I definitely put myself under his wing this season. It’s going to make me better down the road. That’s definitely the highlight of my year.”

Leadership takes many forms and actions speak louder than words.

“...A lot of the stuff you learn from Vince is just from watching him,” said Dewayne Dedmon. “Just the professionalism. He’s 42. He’s still out here and Trae’s 20. He’s out here with these little kids and still getting it done. It’s phenomenal.”

As Bazemore eluded to with the Wingin’ It Podcast (which Carter joined Bazemore on this season), Carter dipped his toes further in the world of the NBA media, of which its center is Atlanta. It’s not something completely new for Carter — he was involved in some media related activities since his time in Memphis — and made appearances on a number of different platforms including NBATV, Turner Sports and even an appearance on Fox Sport Southeast, joining Bob Rathbun and Dominique Wilkins in the commentary booth.

As for Carter’s future, he’s been non-committal on whether or not this would be his final NBA season — a stance he has taken all season long. Heading into the season, however, he seemed to be leaning towards the fact that this season could be his last.

Speaking to ESPN in August, Carter ‘was 90% sure’ that the 2018-19 season would be his last.

“It’s a love. It’s tough to walk away. Obviously when it’s time, it’s time,” he said. “But I’m still passionate about it.”

Carter added that he’s ‘90-something percent’ sure that he will retire after the 2018-19 season. He averaged 5.4 points per game in a limited role for the Sacramento Kings last season. An eight-time All-Star, Carter will play for his eighth team this year in Atlanta.

Carter said he plans to pursue a broadcasting career after he retires. He will serve as a game analyst during the Jr. NBA World Championships, which begin next week at Disney in Orlando.

I think the success of Carter this season forced him to reposition his stance somewhat, with Carter admitting later on in the season he would like to play another year (always a nice way to finagle your way out of the countless ‘Are you playing next season?’ questions).

“I think I could stretch it out one more,” Carter told ESPN’s ‘Pardon the Interruption’ in March. “At the end of the year, I assess from top to bottom to see how I’m feeling, and obviously opportunity, when the phone rings and a team shows interest, that’s a good thing. I think I can give it another year so why not? We’ll see what happens.”

There’ll be a team that will give Carter a call, either for his experience or for what he can still produce on the court (maybe both) but what team will that be? It remains to be seen as Carter enters free agency.

While free agency is uncertain, what is certain is that Carter’s coach and his teammates would love to see Carter return to Atlanta next season.

“I’ll always say that I hope what’s best for them occurs,” said Pierce of the Hawks’ impending free agents. “Obviously Vince, a million times, has been unbelievable for us. Can’t say it enough. As any great player who’s at the near end of his career, he’s going to go through and make the best decision for him at the end of the summer and whatever that is, we love him here, I’d love to have him here. It’s not an easy decision of how that all comes together. He’s going to do and should do and deserves to do what’s best for him...”

“Hell yes,” said John Collins on if he wants to see Carter return. “He’s been tremendous. Whenever you come in here, you always see him and I working on my footwork for jumpers. He’s helped me out a lot out on the perimeter being able to shoot, trying to become a sniper out there. He’s been able to turn his game into being an athletic freak and now he’s knockdown dead-eye, so I’m trying to learn from him, take tips from him, and try to implement those things into my game now.”

When Carter is performing well in the NBA, the entire NBA is happy and the Hawks got to enjoy a resurgent version of the future Hall of Famer in his 21st season.

Whether he returns to the Hawks — or the NBA, period — or not is another topic for another day, but Hawks fans will always have this season and will be able to say a legend of the game came to their city and performed.

Vince Carter is timeless — half-man, half-amazing.