Article Written by Cory Knibutat (@SuperKnibs)
If you’re a long-time Raptors fan, you’re not thinking of a plane when you read that, but you are thinking of flight.
Six and a half seasons doesn’t sound like a lot but what Vince Carter accomplished over those years in Toronto were spectacular, jaw-dropping, adjective-inspiring feats of basketball that laid the foundation for a shaky franchise to grow from and inspired several generations of fans to love the Raptors and basketball as they grew up.
Because we loved and idolized Vince so much at the time, it was that much more painful to witness the steady degradation of the relationship between him and the team. Carter’s attitude soured, and in turn a lot of the fans soured on him, not understanding what was happening until he was shipped out.
The divorce was ugly.
The gross incompetence on behalf of then GM, Rob Babcock, has been well documented – not nearly as much as the narrative of Carter quitting on the team – which most fans have come around on as they learned more about what went on with management.
It was tough to see Carter rejuvenated and playing his best statistical basketball in New Jersey; a sight that was not lost on Raptors’ faithful when Carter ripped our hearts out at least once a season with monster performances against the Raptors. Not to mention a playoff exit at the hands of the Nets in 2007.
I think the pill got easier to swallow for Raptors fans after Carter’s jersey changed a couple more times. It wasn’t such a slap in the face when he came into town with Dwight or Dirk in tow; not to mention the steady decline of his skills and role on opposing teams this past decade.
It made him likeable again. No longer was he perceived as solely responsible for the misery of the perpetually underachieving Raptors franchise. We also happened to be putting the pieces of the franchise together from the ashes of Carter’s exit.
I lived in Alberta at the time and missed ever seeing Carter in person in his athletic prime. After moving to southern Ontario a couple years ago, I was lucky enough to be in the building for what might be Carter’s last trip to the ACC in December as a member of the Sacramento Kings.
Surprisingly, Carter was in the starting lineup that night, and I got to hear his name introduced to the warmest cheers he’s received in over a 14 years in Toronto. He even hit his first shot and I had flashbacks to those mid-season Nets eviscerations, thinking that I might be witness to a hot tub time machine performance for the ages.
Yeah, not so much.
Carter finished with 4 points, a rebound, and 2 assists on a 2 of 5 shooting in 25 minutes. I understand his role is a mentor and steadying bench veteran but watching him shuffle around with his fossilized knees trying to keep up with his team – let alone ours - was humbling and insightful.
I just enjoyed Carter for what he was: the league’s oldest player, playing for the love of the game on one of the worst teams in the league - a team he chose over contending teams - including the Raptors and Warriors, in favour of playing impactful minutes.
I believe he would still prefer to stay on the Kings for the remainder of this season for that same reason. However, because Toronto is where he started and he’s said many times over the years how much this city means to him, I wouldn’t be shocked if he decided to come back.
I would be surprised if the Raptors invited him.
It’s been a slow build for Masai Ujiri and his staff, building this team around the Terminator-like relentlessness of DeMar DeRozan’s work ethic, brilliantly patient G-League development of draft assets into the new Bench Mob, and carefully timed trades – or lack thereof in Lowry’s case – that have set this team up for the chance at accomplishing something special.
All of that in only five seasons. It really seems longer but as it so often happens in this league, franchises change seemingly out of nowhere. Which is why it would go against all the hard work and years of development to insert the franchise’s most important and divisive player back into the fold, for what feels mostly like a publicity stunt.
Carter is no longer anything to fear; he’s fools gold.
That sounds harsh, but in strictly basketball context he’s a shadow of what he was and an echo of what you hope him to be.
I wouldn’t be worried about Carter being a locker room distraction or disruptive to chemistry – all insights from Carter’s coaches and teammates from the last few teams he’s been on have lauded him for the steadying force he brings to the team he’s on and the leadership he provides.
That’s exactly what we would need if this were the 2012 Raptors - a team without any clear identity, searching desperately for a way to become relevant again after the Bosh era.
I love you Vince, but we don’t need you. We want you. My teenage brain wants to witness the head-shaking athleticism I missed out on all those years ago.
My adult brain knows that Air Canada isn’t walking into the ACC ever again and the Raptors don’t need him to.
Toronto is going to be just fine. They have the chance to be great with the pieces carefully in place as is, and have an opportunity to outshine any one star from the past – even it’s brightest - and inspire many more generations of fans to come.
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