Following the end of the lockout in 2011, the Mavericks quickly assembled a strange roster in order to mount some semblance of a title defense. At the time, local fans were focused on the sign-and-trade which sent Tyson Chandler to the New York Knicks in exchange for a trade exception which became Lamar Odom. Letting a core member of a championship squad walk was nearly unheard of, so the signing of a 34 year old swing man in Vince Carter went largely unnoticed in the hubbub.
Despite being an 8-time All Star, Carter’s prospects had dimmed. He already had a muddied reputation following his departure from the Raptors years prior, and a trade from the Nets to the Magic in 2009, followed by another trade from Orlando to Phoenix in 2010 hurt the perception of Carter, despite putting up reasonable numbers in both stops. Now he was as a superstar who would not — or could not — age gracefully. The Suns agreed to a buyout on December 9th, 2012 and Carter signed in Dallas via the mini-mid-level exception (3 years, $9 million) just three days later.
The lockout-shortened season proved tough for Carter, as he tied a career low in field goal percentage and posted the lowest points per game average of his career. Carlisle attempted to use him as the primary bench scorer, but the role, in combination with the brutal slate of games, resulted in one of Carter’s worst seasons. Yet instead of continuing his descent into an ugly end-of-career phase, Carter bounced back from rock bottom. The following year (2012-2013), Carter proved to be one of the lone bright spots for a Dallas team that missed the playoffs for the first time in over a decade. He approached his career high from beyond the arc and became the most consistent play maker on a roster devoid of functional guards. Last season Carter took quite a while to get going (he shot 33% in November and 36% in December), but hit his stride as the season moved along, eventually hitting perhaps the biggest shot of the 2014 playoffs for the Mavericks.
As a fan, the emotional connection with Carter is hard to describe. After his terrible 2011-2012 campaign, I predicted Carter would invoke the most fan rage in 2012-2013. Instead, his evolution from former superstar to valued role player during his three years in Dallas is nothing short of remarkable. He became a calming influence off the bench, able to initiate the offense, hit tough shots, and play surprisingly strong defense in spurts. I came to love watching him play, despite how mad he would make me from time to time. Carter’s 3 years, $12.2 million contract from Memphis shows just how valuable his skill set is, even at age 37.
Carter’s role in Memphis will be worth watching. At the moment, he’s probably the best option and probable starter for the Grizzlies at small forward (apologies to Tayshaun Prince and Quincy Pondexter) . However, Carter’s best role at this point in his career is a change-of-pace player. He’s probably capable of playing more than his recent average of 25 minutes per game, but it’s not the best use of his energy, particularly over an 82 game season. I suspect he’ll close the first quarter, open the second quarter, play briefly in the third, and be a key cog in any closing Memphis line up.
As the third or fourth option in a lineup of Mike Conley, Courtney Lee, Carter, Zach Randolph, and Marc Gasol, Carter has a chance to be particularly effective. Though the obvious appeal is Carter getting to work a pick and roll with Gasol (cue basketball twitter drooling), he should be most useful in knocking down outside shots.
Carter is most effective when getting three point opportunities from the wings. With Dirk Nowitizki out or not in form for most of 2012-13, Carter saw looks from both sides of the floor. In 2013-14, most of his chances came from the left wing after ball reversal or kick outs following a Monta Ellis-Dirk Nowitzki pick and roll going to the right.
The threat of Conley driving into the lane paired with both Gasol and Randolph’s scoring abilities inside should result in plenty of chances for Carter to knock down open looks. If Vince is able to hit with the sort of consistency he showed in Dallas, the threat of his shot will open up lanes for Conley and give the big men more space to operate. This particular feedback loop could be very beneficial for a Memphis offense that really bogged down in spots last season.
Carter revived his career and mended his reputation some during his short stint in Texas. The Vince Carter Revival tour stands a decent chance of continuing in Tennessee if the coaching staff can figure out a reasonable rotation.