DALLAS — He’s made the transition from being an eight-time All-Star to a sixth man look seamless. However, as Dallas Mavericks veteran swingman Vince Carter would tell you, it’s been anything but easy.
Putting aside his pride when he joined the Mavericks, Carter would eventually accept a bench role while shedding his past accolades and All-Star seasons for Toronto and New Jersey. For the betterment of the team, he then took on the role of sixth man entering the 2012-13 season when former Mav Jason Terry migrated to Boston during free agency. Then, after disappointing stops previously in the later stages of his career, Carter would quickly develop into a star for the Mavericks off the bench.
It’s a role the 37-year-old Carter now says he was destined to play.
“It was just a great situation and opportunity,” Carter explained while reminiscing back to unsuccessful stops in Orlando and Phoenix prior to coming to Dallas. “I mean, when you get in a great situation, players get in great situations and the best comes out of them. And I just think it didn’t work out or it just wasn’t the right situation.”
Just a season after joining the Mavs and starting 40 of his 60 appearances, Carter fully embraced a bench role and emerged as one of the NBA’s best reserves, averaging 13.4 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 25.8 minutes of work an outing while playing in 81 games during the ’12-13 campaign. He again played in 81 contests this season, taking the court as the team’s elder statesman and averaging 11.9 points, 3.5 boards and 2.6 assists.
But it was Carter’s game-winning 3-pointer as time expired to clinch a 109-108 Game 3 victory in the first round of the playoffs against the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs that Mavs coach Rick Carlisle says embodied the 16-year veteran’s leadership the most.
“He’s such a pro and always early and just all that kind of stuff,” Carlisle said of Carter following perhaps his signature moment in a Mavericks uniform. “He’s constantly preaching the message of what we are trying to be as a team and things like that. I don’t want to get too hokey with it, but he’s been that good for us. And not just on the floor, but in the locker room and all of that kind of stuff. So, I’m very happy that he knocked that shot in and it’s great.”
“Once I got here and I think understood who Coach [Carlisle] was and what he wanted from his team and from me as a player, we sat down Day 1 and I told him I’m willing to do whatever it takes,” Carter added. “Whether that is a starter, sixth man, seventh man, whatever, I didn’t have a problem with that. I could put pride aside. I mean, I had my moments and I could still have my moments, because what he wanted from me was to keep the same starter’s mentality, a scorer’s mentality, Vince Carter’s mentality … coming off the bench and to elevate our team in different situations. I took that to heart and I sat back and I watched a lot of film. And I really tried to figure out my approach, ‘How do I go about this?’ So, I watched the Jason Terrys and how he worked with his team. I watched the Vinnie Johnsons and guys like that and just how they were always coming in ready to go, coming in shot-ready. You know, as soon as I came in the game, I was shot-ready. Sometimes, I’ll tell you what, I faked it to make it, because sometimes as I was walking in and it was like, ‘I feel terrible.’ But once I stepped on that court it was the mentality, and it wasn’t easy. It wasn’t easy as far as just understanding it and making it work. But, I think once I figured out the offense and just learning how to go about it, it worked out.”
Entering free agency on July 1, Carter hopes to return to Dallas in order to help the Mavs take another step forward after pushing the Spurs to seven games prior to falling in the first round of the playoffs. He’s also committed to keeping his ageless body in great shape this offseason, looking to treat the Mavs’ fans to more theatrics next season.
However, Carter knows he’ll have to continue to step up if he does in fact return to the Mavericks as he continues to chase the elusive championship that has eluded him his entire career.
“Just the right situation is what it’s all about,” Carter said of his thinking as he heads into free agency. “You know, at this point in my career, I just want to play for teams that compete for a championship and I just want that opportunity. So, that’s what I’m looking for.
“I’ll tell you, first of all, it’s hard to believe that it’s been three years already (in Dallas). I guess it’s like they say, ‘Time flies when you’re having fun.’ I mean, I’ve had a great time here. It’s one thing coming in as an opponent and you see the fans, and it’s tough to play here. Now, being on the other side of it, there’s great fans and they’re very loyal. It’s just been fun to go out there and go to work every day. I’m very appreciative. They make it easy to come to work and play hard and do what we do every day, because they appreciate what we do and the product that’s been put out on the court. I mean, I think they see hard work out there and guys are going around laying it on the line. You feel the response. It’s great to come to work here.”