Nobody besides Vince Carter has made it to Season 22 in the NBA, so it’s not surprising that the former Toronto Raptors legend has had some time to reflect on his career.
He’s thought a lot about what could have been had he and Tracy McGrady stayed put in Toronto and it was particularly hard not to flash back to earlier times when he and McGrady were doing some broadcast work back in June when the Raptors beat Golden State to bring the NBA title north of the border for the first time.
After Toronto beat Carter’s Atlanta Hawks in Georgia on Saturday, we asked Carter what it felt like to see the Raptors actually do it. And like so many Raptors fans have said, his answer was it felt extremely surreal.
“I was (in Oakland), so it was crazy. I thought of being drafted there. Coming in. Being a part of the first playoff team (which was swept 3-0 by the New York Knicks),” Carter told Postmedia and the Atlanta media.
“Being a part of the first playoff win (the following season). Being a part of the first playoff series. You think of all these things and the ultimate goal of championships,” Carter said.
“When we won that first series (also against the Knicks) it was like, ‘OK, we’re going to the second round.’ And I miss that shot in Game 7 and it’s like, ‘Oh we could have, you don’t know …,” Carter said, trailing off as he reimagined the possibilities for what must be about the fifth-dozen time since 2001.
“Because obviously the team that we lost to ended up in the Finals that year. The Sixers played the Lakers, so, it was just so close. So to now actually be there, I remember, with about a minute or so left in the game, I turned to Tracy and he turned to me: ‘I can’t believe this is about to happen,’ ” the two Raptors and NBA legends said to each other that June night.
“Like the reality, things that Tracy and I talked about (as Raptors teammates), sitting in hotel rooms arguing about whatever we argued about. Video games at the time we played, about trying to figure it out and it actually happened. So it was pretty cool to actually be there and not have to see it on TV,” Carter said.
NO REGRETS FOR CARTER
As much as the famous missed shot against the Sixers still stings, Carter insists it’s just one part of his journey.
He pointed out that he sees the 22 years as all coming together to form a whole, to get him this far. Interestingly, Carter specifically mentioned his ridiculous, clutch three-pointer from the 2014 playoffs as the Yin to the Yang of the Raptors miss. Though the Mavericks would lose the series to Kawhi Leonard and the eventual NBA champion San Antonio Spurs, with just under two seconds left, Carter had given the Mavericks a 2-1 series lead with his improbable shot which followed Manu Ginobili putting the Spurs up by two.
“(There are) lessons that I’ve learned from each decade that I still cherish. I think sometimes we always want the good, but I think we learn a lot from painful situations,” Carter said.
“So each decade has been good and bad, but it’s all worth it. I’ve had things that I’m very proud of, and there’s times that I wish I could take back that shot that I missed, I wish I could have that back. But in my mind I got redemption playing for Dallas when I made the shot against San Antonio. So it’s so many great things, ups and downs that I’m very thankful of. I wouldn’t change a thing because I think going through it all still has me here today and now,” Carter said.
Carter is slated to make two more appearances in Toronto before he finally calls it quits: On Jan. 28 and on April 10, the fourth-last game of his career.
THE GREEK SCORING FREAK
It was a 50-point effort on Monday for Milwaukee’s NBA MVP favourite Giannis Antetokounmpo. He’s now scored 50 in a game twice in his career, the same total as the likes of Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, Vince Carter, Oscar Robertson, Dirk Nowitzki and Elvin Hayes, amongst others.
The active leader is James Harden, with 19 and counting. Wilt Chamberlain did it 118 times, Michael Jordan 31, Kobe Bryant 25.
Stephen Curry has done it six times, the same as Kevin Durant and Damian Lillard. Russell Westbrook did it four times in Oklahoma City, while the re-activated Carmelo Anthony is one of only 29 players to have scored 50 in at least four games in their careers.
Carter, DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross each did it once while with Toronto.
CANADIANS ARE ROLLING
Much more on this next week, but what a start to the year it has been for the many Canadians in the NBA. Andrew Wiggins, written off by so many (guilty!) has inspired countless ‘Has the light gone on for Wiggins?’ columns with by far the best play of his career. Wiggins is averaging a career-best 25.2 points, with other highs for field goal, effective field goal, and two-field goal percentage, as well as for rebounds, blocks and assists for the surprising Minnesots Timberwolves. He’s also looked better defensively.
The same can be said of Denver’s Jamal Murray, who remains a lethal offensive player, like he was last year, but he’s also added more defensively.
“If you want to be an all-star, if you want to be an all-NBA-type player, you have to impact your game in more than just your scoring, and I think Jamal is doing that more consistently this year than any of the years prior,” Denver head coach Mike Malone told reporters recently.
“You can’t allow your offence to dictate your defence, your rebounding, your playmaking. Because if you do that, now you’re just a specialist.”
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a centrepiece of the Paul George trade, has emerged as the new face of the franchise in Oklahoma City. He’s in the running for the most improved player award.
Rookies RJ Barrett and Brandon Clarke have impressed and veterans like Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph, Kelly Olynyk and Dwight Powell are doing their usual solid work. Sophomore Dillon Brooks has bounced back from last year’s injury issues to play well as a starter in Memphis and other Canucks have been contributing all across the league.
These are heady times for fans of Canadian basketball. The next big step could be getting many of them to report to camp this summer for one last shot at qualifying for the 2020 Olympics.
THEY THE NORTH
A quick look at the top Canadians in the NBA this season:
Andrew Wiggins, Wolves, Has he finally figured it out? Having career year.
Jamal Murray, Nuggets, Game looks more well-rounded in Year 4.
Shae Gilgeous-Alexander, Thunder, Averaging 19.3 points as new king of OKC.
RJ Barrett, Knicks, Averaging 15.1 points as rookie face of New York.
Kelly Olynyk, Heat, Vet playing strong ball for surprising Miami.
Tristan Thompson, Cavs, Huge bounce-back season ahead of new deal.
Cory Joseph, Kings, Helping Kings stay afloat with Fox injured.
Dillon Brooks, Grizzlies, Solid starter shooting nearly 39% from deep.
Brandon Clarke, Grizzlies, Doing a bit of everything in first year.
Dwight Powell, Mavericks ,Shooting 64.5% from the field, 33% from three.
Chris Boucher, Raptors, Energizer has earned minutes even when Ibaka returns.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Pelicans, Rook has wowed at times, struggled at others.
4 – Games with at least 20 points and 20 rebounds already by Detroit’s Andre Drummond. He’s done it 16 times over the past two seasons, nine more than Karl-Anthony Towns. Houston’s Clint Capela has two 20-20 games this year.
8 – Games with at least 12 assists by LeBron James. The most such games he’s had in a single season are 20 in 2017-18 and 17 in 2016-17.
1.14 – Points scored by possession by Minnesota’s Towns, to lead all high-volume players. Portland’s Damian Lillard is next at 1.09, followed by Brandon Ingram, Luka Donic and James Harden.
13– Three-pointers made by Chicago’s Zach LaVine in a recent win. That was only one off of Klay Thompson’s NBA record (Steph Curry has also hit 13 in a game). Donyell Marshall set the then-record of 12 while a Raptor in 2005.
Five surging squads (before Wednesday’s games)
1 L.A. Lakers – Eight straight wins, a rejuvenated LeBron James … These guys are for real.
2 Milwaukee Bucks – Also winners of eight in a row, Giannis is the MVP. Again.
3 Dallas Mavericks– Offence has been off the charts, led by Luka Doncic’s brilliance..
4 L.A. Clippers – Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have teamed up and it’s scary for opponents.
5– Toronto Raptors – They the champs and they’re oozing confidence, even without Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka.
1 Atlanta Hawks– Have surrendered 124.4 points per 100 possessions during six-game losing streak.
2 Cleveland Cavaliers – Have also sprung a defensive leak following encouraging start.
3 New York Knicks – They stink on and off the court, but R.J. Barrett has been solid at least.
4 Charlotte Hornets – Five straight losses, many of them blowouts, an offence that can’t score, a defence that can’t get stops.
5– Golden State Warriors – It feels weird seeing this team here, but, that’s what happens when all your good players get hurt.
CHANGES COMING FOR NBA?
In case you missed it last week, the NBA is eyeing making significant changes in order to beef up interest in its product.
ESPN reported that the NBA, in discussions with its players and broadcast partners, is considering adding an in-season tournament, re-seeding its four conference finalists and a playoffs play-in. The regular season could also be shortened by four games. Changes would go into effect two seasons from now, in 2021-22, if they are approved in potential April voting by the board of governors.
The changes would theoretically improve the quality of the product (fewer games, less travel, more incentives, better teams standing at the end) but it will likely take quite a bit of work to get all of the sides to agree to these significant alterations.
With ratings down though, the NBA is being proactive in looking for ways to draw more eyeballs.
Re-seeding last year would have meant Toronto and Golden State would have met a round earlier, with Milwaukee and Portland facing off in the other semifinal.
It says here that cutting four regular season games would not be nearly enough. There’s little point in scrapping fewer than 10 games from the schedule. Go big, or go home.
The mid-season tournament idea stems from the NBA looking to soccer, where the season is broken into different segments of high-level competition. There would be fewer dog days with something else up for grabs.
The post-season play-in could be fun. It could pit four teams (the 7, 8, 9 and 10 seeds, which can come from either conference) into a short tournament. The winner of 7 vs. 8 would advance to the playoffs, while the 9 vs. 10 winner would take on the 7 vs. 8 loser.
All of this probably freaks out traditionalists, but some of the ideas aren’t bad.