DALLAS — Despite his age and 15 years of the wear and tear that the NBA can dole out to a player’s body, eight-time All-Star Vince Carter showed during the 2012-13 season that he still has plenty left in the tank.
Carter, who missed just one outing this season on the Dallas Mavericks’ 82-game schedule due to an illness, has seemingly transformed himself throughout his likely Hall of Fame career, going from a high-flying Slam Dunk champion and franchise player in Toronto to accepting a reserve role and becoming a 3-point assassin in his later years. And it’s the latter that provided the Mavericks with a boost off their bench this season, after Carter played the role of sixth man for 78 of his 81 appearances to average 13.4 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists an outing.
“I mean, it was a good year,” a modest 36-year-old Carter said last week during his exit interview with members of the media. “You know, I pride myself on staying healthy. My goal was 82 games, but just missed it. But more than anything, I just tried to remain consistent and just do whatever needed for the team each and every night. That’s just what I wanted to do and what I wanted to take from each and every game. Of course it’s always great when you score a lot of points, but just being productive each and every night for the team is what my goal was and that’s what I set out to do.”
And produce he did.
After struggling by his own standards during his first season in Dallas, Carter recommitted himself to an offseason of training while improving his outside shot. He then returned leaner and in better shape after the lockout-shortened season, taking advantage of a full training camp before connecting on 40.6 percent from behind the 3-point arc, which was his best percentage since matching that number in the 2004-2005 campaign.
Benefiting from a young and athletic Dallas backcourt, Carter saw some of his best success from the perimeter while finishing the season with a made 3-pointer in each of the final 25 games. He also matched his career high for made triples in a single season, draining 162 treys to equal his output in the ‘00-01 campaign.
Now, Carter heads into another offseason hoping to come back even better, looking to provide a lift to a team that missed the playoffs for the first time in 13 years. Alongside fellow veterans Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion, Carter will also be counted on to play a vital role next season for an uncertain roster as the Mavs look to fill holes left by nine expiring contracts.
Yet, with a comfort level in his new role and confidence that he can still compete with the game’s best, Carter sees no signs of slowing down despite turning 37 during next season.
“An atmosphere for me has been created that it’s easy to come and just be who I am and just play my game. I’ve been around a while and I’ve had the opportunity just to make plays. It doesn’t have to be about scoring. … When I got here, I said I wanted to make the game easier for Dirk if possible or for whoever is here, because it’s like he demands double teams. You know, and I’ve been there, but if you can get him some easy shots where he doesn’t have to wait and go one on one or sometimes open shots, why not do so? And they believe in me. They believe in my game and my ability to make plays and pass the ball to the right guy and make the right play, so for me to get that opportunity was gratifying and refreshing,” Carter explained.
“I just want us to get better and I don’t want to be in this position again,” he added. “I want an opportunity to play for a championship. You know, some of these guys around here were fortunate enough to do so, so that’s my goal and that’s what I take into the offseason is preparing myself and making sure I’m ready come training camp. … I’m just going to make sure that my jump shot is ready. You know, I can run up and down the court and my body feels strong. Mentally, I’m confident that I can still compete at a high level against all these young guys who run and jump and do all that other stuff. You know, that’s the motivation. Being a year older than the year before but still being about to play more games than some of these young guys, that’s what I’m looking for, so I’m just going to put my work in and hopefully it’s good enough to get us to the playoffs next year.”
But how long will Carter continue to lace up his sneakers in search of that elusive title? That’s now the question.
Continuing to ascend up the league’s all-time scoring list, Carter passed Clyde Drexler (22,195) for 27th place with his 22-point effort in a 103-97 home defeat at the hands of the Memphis Grizzlies on April 15. But it’s no longer the impressive scoring numbers that drive Carter to continue to compete at a high level, hoping to team with Nowitzki in bringing a championship back to Dallas two seasons removed from the Mavs’ first title in franchise history.
And with hopes of seizing that title within the next few years, Carter will once again concentrate on an offseason of conditioning to return for his 16th season ready to lead the Mavs back to the postseason.
“I’ll say this, I accomplished my goal. Coming in as a young rookie, I said I wanted to play 15 years,” he confessed. “Why I said that? I have no idea. There’s a lot of great players who didn’t play that many years, and I felt like 15 years was one heck of a career. And now that 15 years is over, I woke up this morning like I can still go. You know, I can still play and I feel great.
“We’ll see. Some people are like, ‘Oh, you look like you can play five years.’ I don’t see five years. I don’t see five years, I’ll say that for sure. But I feel like year to year I’ll probably assess myself and see how I’m feeling. But if I feel like this, three or four will be good. Five years, I don’t really see that happening.”