By Dave D'Alessandro
The games, for all intents, no longer matter.
Any minute now, management and coaches will put their heads to¬gether and make the decision to take a longer look at the younger guys, and formulate their long-range plans.
Yet there was Vince Carter last night, in uniform even though there were things rattling around in his right ankle, back at work in spite of all the evidence that he'll probably be on a surgeon's table in about a month or so.
Makes no sense.
Unless you are trying to deliver a message to your teammates — and those who have reached the conclusion that the final days cannot produce anything meaningful.
"That's fine. I appreciate that, believe it or not," Carter said as he came off the floor after a pregame workout in preparation for last night's meeting against Toronto. .
"But I refuse to quit on the sea¬son, or quit on this team. Because we're playing for more than that. We're playing for next year now. It's about getting the new guys comfortable — guys like Sean (Williams), making him understand what's expected here. It's been an up and down season, I don't know what his mentality is about.
"So for him to see Richard (Jefferson) and me finish out the year strong — regardless of what happens — is important for this franchise."
That settles that.
Carter said he could have played Friday at Auburn Hills — he sat out the Pistons' 106-87 party — but athletic trainer Tim Walsh gave him a choice: Play Friday, but don't expect to play against the Raptors. Upon some reflection, Carter saw the light. Besides, he added, "It was pretty ugly. ... So I thought about it, and all in all, it was the smart thing to wait."
Actually, it may be smarter still to just rest it. The Nets entered the weekend four games behind Atlanta, and Carter's presence won't change that reality.
In fact, he is in the midst of one of his finest 10-game stretches of his Nets career — averaging 28.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 5.0 assists--and the Nets have won only four
of those 10 games.
To repeat: What's the point?
"If you've seen his ankle, many would say — now that our playoff chances are slimmer and slimmer— they'd say, 'Eh, shut it down,'" coach Lawrence Frank said. "But Vince is determined to play as much as he can, until the ankle limits him from not playing. That reflects upon his character."
Or, as Nets executive Kiki Vandeweghe put it the other day, "Vince has played his guts out. You have to be really impressed with the leadership he's shown."
There are nights when Carter can barely lift himself up off the chair in the interview room after games, and last week he even asked a Nets staffer to just let him sit for a while.
"But that's after the game. When you're out there," Carter said, nodding toward the court, "you tend not to worry about it."
Then here's something to worry about: He concedes that hell probably need surgery on the ankle when the season is over.
"They've mentioned it a few times, yeah," he said of the medical staff. "I just figure I'll wait until the end of the year, meet with everybody and see what they say, before deciding if it's the best thing, the right thing to do.
"But I told them, 'Look, I don't want to talk about it,' because then it gets into that mentality, like, 'Aw, it hurts now, it's affecting me.' And I don't want any of that now. I just want to do what I need to do and go from there."
In the meantime, he'll play and not think about the pain—because he can, he said. But that's not the only thing Carter wants out of the last 10 days of a very difficult 2007-08 season.
"Effort," he said instantaneously, when asked about what he is looking for from his team at large. "The expectation to play at a high level, each and every game — regardless if we're on a winning streak, a losing streak, if a guy is out or not.
"When the better teams have someone out they still play at a high level, that's what I want to see accomplished in these last couple games, a sustained effort."