December 18, 2011 Leave a Comment
Vince Carter arrives in Dallas this season facing both the largest and smallest set of expectations he’s ever faced. Paradoxical? Not really.
The high expectations are reserved for his new squad, the defending NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks. The smaller set of expectations surrounds the individual play of Vince Carter personally. This larger than life character is finally transitioning into a role player on a great team rather than demanding to be a centerpiece of a mediocre team.
This shift in personal attitudes for Vinsanity has allowed Donnie Nelson to become the first GM to sign Carter to a sane contract. His mini mid-level exception contract is so modest and flexible that the Mavs are still able to go after two top-level free agents next summer (Deron Williams and Dwight Howard), while remaining a title contender this season. In other words, Vince Carter fits perfectly into the win-now/win-later strategy of Mark Cuban.
At $3 million a year with only one year guaranteed, Vince’s three-year deal with the Mavs can’t be about the money for him. Coming into this season, Vince ranked number 19 on the list all-time of top earners in NBA history (purely salary, no endorsements or personal revenue) with just under $135 million.
Clearly the man has made enough money to retire several times over. Unlike many players, Carter’s not known to have financial problems or lavish spending habits like his former teammate Gilbert Arenas. Phoenix just paid him more money ($4 million) to go away than the Mavericks are paying him this season to play basketball.
Carter came to Dallas understanding that if he wants to win it all, he has to expect less for himself in terms of minutes by playing on the most competitive roster available to him. By choosing Dallas over fellow suitor Chicago, he chose a championship pedigree over more minutes and more shot opportunities.
Though VC undoubtedly begins the season as the Mavericks starter at Shooting Guard, everyone knows that Jason Terry plays SG for Dallas in crunch time. This is not expected to change in Dallas this season. The change is more related to VC himself. Vince Carter for the first time in his career will not be over-paid, over-played, or over-hyped. Half-Man, Half-Amazing is now Half-Starter, Half-Benchwarmer. This is unchartered territory for Vince Carter and I expect him to thrive in this new reduced role.
Carter likely will play the least of all the Mavericks starters this season, given the aforementioned Jason Terry situation going on in the fourth quarter. Besides Terry, Lamar Odom also figures to get a lot of minutes off the bench. Though Vince ranks higher in the depth chart than Roddy Beaubois, Delonte West, and Dominique Jones, it’ s not by much.
Assuming that he’ll probably rank 7th or lower on the team in minutes this season, Carter will be hitting 7th in my baseball lineup analogy. By my scorekeeping, Vince was asked to bat high in the lineup everywhere he’s ever played, including Phoenix last season. He may have played second fiddle to Dwight Howard in Orlando or Steve Nash on the Suns, but VC was still featured heavily in both rotations as no worse than the third player on the team.
Though still a liability on defense, I expect Vince to surprise us with a few 25 point games and maybe even a 30 or 40 point game if we’re lucky. Those games featuring flashes of pure brilliance will be the aberration. My guess is that VC averages around 12 PPG in 22 minutes or less. If he can deliver that kind of production in limited minutes, he’ll play a sizable role on a contending team for the first time rather than Vince versa (see what I did there?).
We can look forward to a healthy amount of dunks from the 2000 Slam Dunk Champion. He’ll frequently land on “Top 10 Plays” this season, converting lob after lob from PG Jason Kidd into two points at a time. The Mavs are counting on the reunion of former running mates Carter and Kidd to go smoothly. Carter and Kidd first played together on the New Jersey Nets from 2004-08, before Kidd was traded back to the Mavs.
Despite the mesmerizing effect of monster dunks on the fans, Carter’s true contribution will come in his excellent low post game. At 6’6″, Carter is a formidable threat with his back to the basket no matter who is guarding him. His problem has always been settling for the fade-away jumpers. If Vince plays his #7 role properly, he’ll know to pass up those types of shots to the better shooters on the team and focus on high percentage shots for himself.
If Vince can settle into his role and embrace the team approach the Mavericks perfected last post-season, Vince could have the most efficient season of his career. A deep guard-heavy roster will limit his minutes, which is why the 2011-12 season will demand that Vince Carter do more with less. He already took less money and presumably less minutes, now the question becomes: can VC help bring Dallas one more NBA title?
I don’t know about y’all, but I’m excited to see the artist formerly known as Air Canada in his debut at American Airlines Center on Christmas Day.