After going 0-for-2 with my NCAA championship picks (really 0-for-3, if we’re counting my pre-Thanksgiving call that Georgetown would take the whole thing), my basketball prognostication skills have come into question.
So allow me to highlight one thing I did get right:
With Vince (Carter) entering the second year of a four-year, $62 million deal and any realistic chance the New Jersey Nets had of winning a championship flying the coop when Jason Kidd was traded last February, the detractors assume Vince will mail it in this season. His supporters know better.
I wrote that “Vince Carter will give a damn” piece back in October, in Dime #45 for our NBA preview. And nobody has been paying attention — because, like I said, the Nets aren’t relevant right now — but VC has done everything I said he would do.
Vince is on his way to playing 81 games (he missed one back in February with an elbow injury) of All-Star caliber basketball, and has been New Jersey’s leader and most consistent player. His 20.9 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game put him just below last season’s 20-5-5 averages, when he was one of just four players in the NBA to accomplish that feat; next to Kobe, LeBron and T-Mac. (This year the 20-5-5 club consists of LeBron, D-Wade, Chris Paul and Stephen Jackson.)
Despite the fact that his team will end up in the Lottery, Vince has been busting his ass all year. In last night’s meaningless game at Boston — which the Nets learned beforehand they’d been mathematically knocked out of the playoff picture — he put up 33 points on an efficient 11-for-18, grabbed 12 boards, handed out five assists, and went to the line eight times. To translate the numbers into words, he’s not lazily gunning shots, he’s getting after it in the paint going for rebounds, he’s still creating shots for his teammates, and he’s not just settling for jumpers.
The Nets lost by two, and although Vince missed a three-pointer with eight seconds left that could have tied it, he was the one who kept his team in the game in the first place. Doc Rivers had to bring some starters back in off the bench late in the fourth after Vince led New Jersey on a rally to cut into the Celtics’ seemingly safe lead. Vince knew the game didn’t make a difference when they walked out of the tunnel, yet he played it like NJ’s playoff hopes were on the line.
In this morning’s Newark Star-Ledger, Carter said:
“I don’t know if people realize it, but we were close — a few games here, and few games there. It comes down to learning how to sustain effort over the course of time. We’d be down too far and we just needed two more minutes in the game — somewhere — to possibly get us over the top. We’d play better over the course of the game and we’d just come up short.”
“We were a team that was learning and feeling our way through it. I’m just proud of the guys because we refused to make that an excuse,” Carter said. “We come up short and it’s happened to us all year. I’m proud of the guys. We still showed fight.”
Does that sound like the soft quitter that Vince’s haters want to make him out to be? To me that sounds like a leader, a guy who plays hard every night, and somebody who for once deserves a little credit for it.