When Toronto plays Dallas tonight, the Raptors will face an opponent who has more to do with Toronto’s franchise than any of the current members. Vince Carter scored the first bucket at the Air Canada Center, led the team on its deepest playoff run in the 2001 Eastern Conference Playoffs, and even not quite eight seasons after leaving, still is the player most associated with Toronto. Today he said he wouldn’t mind revisiting the first stop in his career. Here’s why it would be a good and bad move, all in one.
Carter got nostalgic talking about his six seasons and change when previewing tonight’s game.
“Winning the Rookie of the Year, winning the dunk contest, winning the first playoff game (for the Raptors), winning the first playoff series, you can’t take that back,” Carter said. “And that’s where it all started for me.
“Whatever I accomplish from here, it had to all start from somewhere. Just like we all started from somewhere, we all remember our first.”
“If the opportunity presents itself,” the 35-year old Carter said. “You talk about playing basketball, I would love to play there.
“I know the court, I know my way around, so I’d feel comfortable, for sure.”
If the opportunity presents itself, and by opportunity I don’t mean a trade, he could arrive in Ontario in 2014 at the soonest. His three-year deal with Dallas will expire that summer, even if his skills bailed on him in Phoenix and his energy lags. The last time he averaged more than 20 points per 36 minutes was 2009, and only once in the past five seasons has he shot above his career average (.444) from the field. If Toronto wanted to bring VC back, I doubt they would have much competition for the player who will be 37 when free agency rolls around. Unlike the free agency bonanza older players such as Grant Hill, Steve Nash, Chauncey Billups and even Marcus Camby were welcomed with in July, Carter’s foundational talent, his leaping, isn’t transferrable as he ages.
There’s also this to contend with: “Air Canada” was as despised when he was traded in 2004 to New Jersey to the level he was loved only three seasons earlier. Not long after he demanded a trade, his scorched earth campaign wrapped up his teammates, too, when Toronto management publicly said he tipped off the Sonics to a play the Raptors were about to run during a 2004 game. It wasn’t a clean break, either, because of his constant run-ins with his former team while playing in New Jersey, when, maybe most annoyingly, he made fun of “Chris Bosh for MVP” signs during one game. Bygones weren’t exactly bygones.
The Raptors, clearly, would be devoting a roster spot to nostalgia if this were to happen. Still – what memories they are. Toronto was fourth – fourth! – in attendance in 2001-02, the season after the ECF trip (after being sixth the season before). The team stayed in the top ten for attendance through 2004, but then immediately after Carter left in 2005, they fell to 16th. They haven’t been back in the top ten since.
Bringing Carter back won’t spike the attendance and if he is being honest, he sounds like he has more reasons to want the Raptors than they would have to want him. However if this could work, it would be a perfect capstone to his career, one he quite literally launched while a Raptor. The 2000 Dunk Contest wasn’t just the best moment in Toronto history (sad for Toronto that its best moment wasn’t even in a counting game), but it was one of the most replayed moments in all of the NBA. Maybe it’s not worth much – kind of like Carter’s potential as a 37-year-old swingman – but it would be nice for the memories.
What do you think the chances are he returns?
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