When a player reaches his 40th birthday, as Vince Carter did recently, the chances that we won’t be seeing him again increases. Carter may say he wants to play beyond this season, but statements like that fall easily into the “who knows?” bin.
And so, Monday night, you have to believe that Carter will be playing one of, if not the final game against the Nets, a team he revived in December 2004. He won’t be playing for New Jersey, at IZOD where he played five seasons for the Nets. He’ll be playing at Barclays Center. And only one of the Nets players, Brook Lopez, was his teammate, back in 2008-09, the season before he was traded to Orlando.
A lot was made of his recent trip to Toronto, where Carter started his career and became famous across Canada for his dramatic above-the-rim play. He was after all, Air Canada. But little, unfortunately, is made of his career in New Jersey with the Nets. A case, a good case, can be made that he was a great player in East Rutherford than in Toronto.
Take a look at the numbers. Carter played 403 games with the Raptors, 374 with the Nets and in virtually every category, his stats were better. He averaged 23.6 points in New Jersey, 23.4 in Toronto. His assists, rebounds, overall shooting, free throw shooting were all better with the Nets. Only his three point shooting in Toronto outpaced what he did in New Jersey but he made nearly 300 more with the Nets than he did with the Raptors.
More importantly, Carter was far, far more durable in New Jersey. He arrived in December of 2004 with a reputation as a bit of a malingerer, missing games for the slightest reason. In all, he missed 75 games in seven seasons north of the border. Sam Mitchell, the Raptors head coach, had played him sparingly. There was even some speculation that he didn’t love the game enough. That all changed that Friday night in December.
Before the trade, he was averaging 15.9 points in only 30 minutes a game. Afterwards, he exploded.
As Dave D’Alessandro of the Star-Ledger wrote, no one in the NBA played better than VC did the rest of the way that season. He averaged 27.5 points in 57 games for the Nets, shooting 42.5 percent from three, handing out nearly five assists a game ... while playing next to Jason Kidd. And he missed only one game while playing 38.9 minutes in the rest of them. In fact, over the next five years, he missed only 11 games, and each one of them wound up as an “L.” The Nets never won a game Vince Carter missed.
So dominant was Carter that a fan could put together a video of his FIFTY best dunks of that season... and still miss some!
Over the next five years, there were the Vince Carter moments every Nets fan from that era remembers.
The return to Toronto in January 2006 when he tore Toronto’s heart out and got Jason Kidd to show emotion...
Or the dunk that made Alonzo Mourning die a little...
Or near the end of his and the Nets time in New Jersey, the arrogant buzzer beater vs. Atlanta in OT...
The era of the Big Three was over too soon. Records be damned, Jason Kidd, Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson could explode any night into a highlight reel that would send you home shaking your head, clutching that game’s ticket as a souvenir. First Kidd went to Dallas, then VC to Orlando and RJ to Milwaukee.
A few weeks back, the Raptors, sensing the clock ticking, paid tribute to the player they once loved but booed mercilessly EVERY time he returned to as a Net. There won’t be a farewell to No. 15 Monday night at Barclays Center. There should be.
If JKidd was the heart of the Nets in those years, VC was its wink, its smile, its unabashed love of the game. He made us all better fans of the game, of the team and we are forever grateful.