Top 50: Vince Carter, no. 25
The definitive ranking of the NBA’s best players.
by Adam Fleischer
Vince Carter plays with no heart.
Seriously, it’s true. You think so, don’t you?
You hear it a lot. You might believe it, and you’ve probably said it. In the very least, the thought has crossed your mind during the man’s twelve NBA seasons. And who can blame you. We’ve been fed such a theory so often that it’s become widely accepted.
But it’s not true. Really, it’s not.
What’s true is that we just wanted a reason to justify why Vince let us down. Because that’s what he did. Let us down. Fall short of our hopes. Fail to meet the goals we set for him. Whatever you wanna call it.
He came out of North Carolina with boatloads of potential, poised to be one of the game’s next megastars. So we opened out hearts to him. His hops took him beyond the Milky Way—where our expectations similarly soared—and his smile won over channel surfers across the country otherwise disenchanted with the sport. And the Jordan comparisons—in the wake of MJ’s retirement and at the height of the search for an Air Apparent—only served to further illuminate his growing star.
At first, we were anything but disappointed. Nah, matter of fact, VC gave us what we asked for and then some. Rookie of the Year in the shortened lockout season. All-Star, Third Team All-NBA and the architect of the greatest Slam Dunk Contest performance of my lifetime (and probably ever) the next year. Plus, he took Toronto to their first playoff appearance in franchise history. Year three, more of the same. Forty-seven wins for the Raps. Top five in the L in scoring for Vince. It was his time.
Simultaneously as we were taking him for granted, he was being taken away from us in his mid-twenties like he was a rap legend or some shit. But Vince didn’t get capped (although when he put one on for graduation he heard the hate ring out. Hey, let’s criticize one of the few guys in the League that values education and actually finishes his degree! That’s a great message for kids! Basketball over books!). Instead of some quick bullets, though, he was taken away slowly, injury by injury, loss by loss, season by season.
The final days in Toronto weren’t pretty and there’s no two ways about that. But Vince made the Raptors relevant. You didn’t watch them on national TV before, and haven’t since. Those few years of playoff runs were Vince at his most awe inducing and us at our most willing to consume his game, his style, his persona.
His final year(s) above the border truly turned many people off. But New Jersey was supposed to be a new beginning, another shot at doing what we knew he could. In some ways, it was. Teaming with Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson, he helped lead them to a playoff birth his first year in New Jersey and an Atlantic Division title during his first full year in 2005-06.
The years that followed were more of the same: the Nets as an above average team, but never one surfacing as a true threat for a title. Maybe it was because Vince wasn’t able to bring them to that elite status, even when he had legitimate talent around him. It’s also possible that the talent was never elite enough to claim that status. It’s most likely some combination of the two.
Yet, his play has been a constant during that time. Not looking anything like we had once hoped it would, but still, in many ways, performing like we had always imagined. He usually scores in the mid-twenties. He rebounds and dishes out assists at a better rate than he did in T Dot. He logs serious minutes and hits it respectably from the stripe and the field.
The hate, animosity, and relative irrelevancy of the Nets have each helped to often mask this. No longer.
As he prepares to suit up for the Eastern Conference Champs and an actual contender in Orlando, there’s a chance for another life. A third one, a second one, a fifth one. I don’t know. But there’s another shot for us to accept him and for him to give us the right to.
Stan Van Gundy has already admitted that the ball will be in Vince’s hands down the stretch, and that’s something to look forward to. The question isn’t whether or not he’s still got it. Cause he does. It’s not even to what level he’s still got it. The question is how often he’ll show us. What will happen when he’s faced with his first meaningful playoff game in nearly a decade?
I’ll bet that heart’s still got some pitter-patter left in it.
• Rankings are based solely on projected ’09-10 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jake Appleman, Brett Ballantini, Russ Bengtson, Toney Blare, Shannon Booher, Myles Brown, Franklyn Calle, Gregory Dole, Emry DowningHall, Jonathan Evans, Adam Fleischer, Jeff Fox, Sherman Johnson, Aaron Kaplowitz, John Krolik, Holly MacKenzie, Ryne Nelson, Chris O’Leary, Ben Osborne, Alan Paul, Susan Price, Sam Rubenstein, Khalid Salaam, Kye Stephenson, Adam Sweeney, Vincent Thomas, Tzvi Twersky, Justin Walsh, Joey Whelan, Eric Woodyard, and Nima Zarrabi.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.