It seemed like Vince Carter had a good thing going in Orlando, as he suited up for the third team in his career in 2009. He was averaging 17 points a game and was the team's third option behind the Dwight Howard-led Magic, standing out from a bevy of three point shooting wing players in Orlando.
When Carter finally signed with the Mavericks in December of 2011, shortly after the end of the lock-out, his arrival was met with an outstanding "meh". Some people saw him as a high risk/high reward kind of player, but many saw yet another shot-happy, soon-to-be-washed-up veteran arriving in Dallas. Anyway, there were other moves that deserved more attention and excitement, like acquiring Lamar Odom for next to nothing!
Fast forward to now, and Carter has earned himself a plethora of new fans in Dallas with his energetic play, work ethic and leadership. One of those fans is Mark Cuban, who had some very strongly-worded compliments to say about Carter before the overtime win against the Nuggets a week ago.
"Let me just say that right now, Vince is a warrior. All these things I heard about him being soft, not playing hard, fuck that. That dude comes out to deliver every fucking night. Even when a game got out of hand, he was busting people for not doing what they were suppose to do, he was cheerleading on the bench."
Whoa. That sweaty pre-game treadmill media session for Cuban is always a loose atmosphere -- he'll drop some f-bombs, take playful shots at the beat writers assembled, and expects them to do the same. But this mini-rant was passion-fueled, more so than usual.
And he wasn't done.
"I feel worse for Vince than I do for Dirk. Vince hasn't been there [and won a title] and he's had two great seasons for us. He's been a first class guy every fucking game."
Big words -- but then, someone tell me he's wrong.
Since arriving, Carter has changed as a player. There's no ego in his game, no entitlement -- he's reinvented himself. The man known for taking inefficient long 2's has stepped out to hit 162 three pointers this season, tying his 2000-01 career high in made triples -- in 892 fewer minutes. With an undersized, injured Mavericks front court that struggled on the glass, Carter posted the highest defensive rebound percentage of his career. He doesn't have the ball enough to rack up high assist numbers, but he's a solid, reliable passer in the pick-and-roll. And he's playing defense! He's not perfect, but the defensive effort and alertness is definitely there -- as Cuban put it, "he's fucking taking charges!"
Sure, there's times where he relapses to the old Vince, losing focus on defense or dominating the ball just to take a wild, contested shot. But as a whole, Carter has responded to his new situation in Dallas like no one could have expected. Carter had this to say in reaction to Cuban's statements:
"Like I told him from jump, I was willing to do whatever, play whatever position. Come off the bench, start, whatever I need to do. One thing I told him was that, in regards to how the season goes, was that I'm just going to play through it and let it all hang out. Me, I've prided myself in being one of the older guys who wanted to play every game, if possible, and go harder than any of the guys out there. I wanted to compete at the level of the younger guys, and set an example. ... It's a great feeling that it's appreciated."
Maturity is a strange thing -- a few players have it from the moment they step onto a basketball court, some earn it on draft day, many develop it over the first few years of their careers. Vince Carter might be a bit of a late bloomer, but he's matured into a veteran leader here in Dallas and the rest of his team has noticed.
"He's a vocal leader, and he leads by example also," Mike James said. "He's so valuable to this team."
"He's always one of our top players," O.J. Mayo said.
The coming off-season is full of questions for the Mavericks, but Vince is something Dallas can rely on as he heads into the third and final year of his nine million dollar contract. If everything goes right, the Mavericks would like to rely on Vince beyond next year.
"I'm proud that he's on the Mavs, and he's one of the guys I want to retire," Cuban said. Does that mean multiple years? "I hope so. The current trend is that as guys get older, they lose a little bit of weight. Vince is athletic enough and smart enough and competitively gifted enough that he goes on that same Steve Nash, Dirk, Tim Duncan path...he can play for more than a year, easily. He'll be cranking up those motorcycle handles for a while."
Vince played in 81 games this season, and 61 of the lockout-shortened 66 last year. He's been remarkable healthy -- if you exclude the two lockout shortened seasons (he played all 50 games in 1998-99), he's only played fewer than 70 games in two seasons.
"You guys talk about doing it for Dirk? Doing it for Vince is just as important," Cuban said.
It'll take some creativity and guile, but the Mavericks would like to give the two future Hall of Famers another shot to make something happen in the playoffs. Vinsanity deserves it.
The best thing was his reaction to Cuban's comments that he'd like to make him a Maverick beyond next year. He paused for moment, letting it process, then smiled.
"That's why he's my guy."