With summer dragging on and on and on before the NBA tips off, we’ve decided to initiate a multipart series that will be the definitive look at the best players in the NBA today.

Over lunch at the Outback Steakhouse (word to Steve Irwin), your crack SLAMonline.com staff sat down and ranked the 50 best players in the NBA today. We realize that’s kind of ambiguous, but that’s how basketball is and that’s how we like it. Basically, though, we tried to list the 50 guys we think have the most value to their teams, right now, at this moment. This doesn’t mean they’ll never be traded, and it doesn’t mean they’re due tremendous contract extensions, but it does mean — since value is king in the NBA — that over the next month or so we’ll run down the 50 guys that we think are the 50 best players, right here, right now.

Before long it’ll be time for our annual NBA team previews. Right now it’s time for some law and order…

19. Vince Carter

By Jake Appleman

It’s hard to fathom now because he’s the most important player on my favorite team, but it wasn’t even two years ago when Vince Carter received an angry letter from an old friend on The Links.

(December ’04) Dear Vince,

I know you don’t have very much appreciation for me. I’ve always wanted to chill, but you remain at a distance, scoping out the scene from the perimeter. We’ve had our moments, but haven’t recently built the bond that you need to sustain true superstardom in this league. I hope you consider me in your future basketball related endeavors, even though they probably won’t be in the T Dot. The best things in life are free, but you must first make sacrifices.

Sincerely,

Contact

P.S. – Just to dispel any hatorade conspiracy theories regarding this letter, Austin Croshere has been to the line more than you this season.

Vince went from averaging 3.6 free throw attempts a game before the trade to 6.8 attempts after the trade, to 7.6 attempts last season. I’m not telling you he desperately wanted out and stopped trying on purpose, I’m just saying…

Just saying aside, Vince Carter’s recent career trajectory provides us with an appropriate gravity-related analogy. What jumps up must come down. More importantly, what comes down must elevate again in order to reach its potential.

Since his arrival in the Swamp, VC has done just that: re-launch. As the focal point of Lil’ Lawrence Frank’s offense, Carter has excelled for most of his brief tenure in Jersey, teaming with Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson to place the Nets back on their proper perch atop the lost division of Atlantis.

When he’s on his game, Carter is among the most talented 1 on 1 forces in the NBA, a perfect mix of style and substance. He boasts the ability to rise up and nail any jumper from any spot on the floor over anyone at his position at any degree of fade. He dances past defenders into the lane with remarkable ease and still jumps out of the building.

A few other things to consider:

  • “HE JUMPED OVER HIS HEAD.”
  • “That’s why we don’t feed the dog people food.”
  • If you are from Canada, all forms of hating are understandable.
  • If the Nets get to the finals this year, the full transformation from malcontent to postseason superstar will be VC’s most impressive 180.

All that said, Vince Carter is in a contract year.

You should probably just get the hell out of the way.