Vinsanity in Phoenix comes to an end with a Dud
Vince Carter took the NBA by storm in the late 1990s, starting with his Rookie of the Year campaign in the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season. The acrobatics continued the following season as he wowed onlookers with windmill dunks and aerial displays not seen since Dominique Wilkins.
The 2000 Slam Dunk Contest. The Dunk over Frederic Weis in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. The endorsements. The magazine and video game covers. Half-Man, Half-Amazing could do no wrong.
Fast-forward 10 years, however and the narrative is quite different. No longer the dynamic athlete he was in his younger days, Carter has fallen back to Earth — and violently so at that. So dramatic has his descent been that Jared Dudley, a player who has just seven dunks on the year, has supplanted Carter in Phoenix’s starting lineup.
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For an eight-time All Star who has started 907 of his career 916 games, moving Carter to the bench seems like an egregious lapse in judgment by Suns head coach Alvin Gentry; ask those who have been watching Carter lately, and they likely will ask what took so long.
Carter has been inconsistent since joining Phoenix in December, but his play usually came with big upswings, like the 32 points he posted in a win over Houston Mar. 8. But in the 10 games since then, he has averaged 11 points on 35 percent shooting.
His poor play on offense has gotten him glued to the bench during the fourth quarters of games recently. When he was pressed into service late in a crucial Mar. 22 triple-overtime game against the Los Angeles Lakers after Grant Hill fouled out, Carter missed a critical 3-pointer and played porous defense on Ron Artest, who had done little offensively up to that point but led a surge in the third overtime that ultimately sank the Suns.
Conversely, Dudley has shined in the expanded role he has received in the wake of Carter’s struggles. He has averaged 12.8 points over the last 10 games for Phoenix on 49.5 percent shooting and has played better defense too. His energy is infectious, and while he is not a premier player in the NBA, he has become more than serviceable.
With Carter’s move to the bench, the writing is on the wall — he will not be back with the Phoenix Suns next season. His contract is only guaranteed for $4 million next season if the Suns decline his option, which they surely will. While it was a long shot to begin with that Carter’s option would be picked up by the team before his struggles, there was the real possibility of letting him become a free agent and then re-signing him at a lower price. That scenario seems laughable now.
Unlike Steve Nash, Hill, and Shaquille O’Neal, Carter has not found the Fountain of Youth in the desert. He has struggled to fit in with the system and has fallen into his old bad habits — relying too much on his jump shot and not attacking the basket.
The question now is whether Carter can ever be a consistent player in the NBA again. His athleticism is all but gone, and he never was a very motivated player to begin with. He can still score, but now only when his jump shot is going. His prospects appear slim, and if Carter refuses to accept a bench role with his next team, his chances could drop to zero.
Allen Iverson faced a similar dilemma when he signed with the Memphis Grizzlies a couple years back but ultimately rejected the notion that he was no longer a starter in the NBA. Now he is trying to salvage his career in Turkey. Carter could face the same dilemma: accept a lesser role as a sixth man or role player and extend his career or head to Europe. Carter may even decide that neither option suits him and call it a career.
These are questions all great players must face at some point in their careers, and Carter is no exception. And while Carter must come to a decision at some point in the future, he already has one truth facing him head on — the half of him that used to be amazing is no more.
By: Eric Lorenz
Pro Basketball Fans Staff Writer
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