Raptor fans are no strangers to disappointment. This comes with the territory when following a team that has made the playoffs just 5 times in 18 years, and only once making the second round. Although the letdowns are numerous, one certainly stands out as the greatest in team history and that is trade of former face of the franchise Vince Carter.
Picking the most disappointing moment in Raptors history is by no means an easy task. Despite having such a relatively short existence, the franchise has suffered an alarmingly high number of franchise altering disappointments.
Having said that, it would be difficult to argue that the Vince Carter trade—including all of the events that lead up to it—was not the most disappointing moment in franchise history—this is something that, based upon the results Sunday’s poll, readers generally agree with.
Granted, by the time the trade actually took place, most Raptor fans were simply relieved to have that drama over with; but the aftermath of that deal is something that the franchise, in many ways, is still recovering from to this day.
Vince Carter was a player that was largely responsible for some of the brightest years in franchise history, as well as some of the darkest. And for that, his trade must be the most disappointing thing to happen to the Raptors in the history of the franchise.
To properly convey the utter disappointment over this trade, it is necessary to establish just how important Vince Carter was not only to the Toronto Raptors team, but also to the fans the city and even the county.
Carter’s career started in rather favorable fashion for the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors were coming off of three consecutive seasons in which the team failed to win at least 30 games. These three seasons were also their first three seasons as a part of the NBA.
The team had some talented players on their roster—most notably Tracy McGrady and Doug Christie—but certainly none that were going to lead the team to any significant leap into contention. The team was still very much looking for a face of the franchise.
Fast forward to June 24th 1998, the night of the NBA draft. That night Vince Carter was acquired in what may have been the franchise’s greatest trade; one that saw the Raptors select Antawn Jamison with the fourth pick and then flip Jamison for Vince, some extra cash and a little extra financial flexibility.
The move paid immediate dividends for the Dinos as Carter went on to win Rookie of the Year, averaging a team-best 18.3 points per game and leading the Raptors to 23 wins despite the lockout shortened schedule—at the time that represented a franchise-best winning percentage.
His second season was more of the same, as his spectacular play even resulted in some—vastly premature—comparisons to another North Carolina alum Michael Jordan.
Carter upped his scoring average to 25.7 points per game that season and lead an improved roster to their first ever playoff berth in franchise history. That season also marked the first time the Raptors appeared in a nationally televised game, a feat that was crucial to the visibility of the franchise.
That very same season Carter furthered his status as one of the league’s rising stars with perhaps the all-time greatest performance in Slam Dunk contest history. Carter blew the competition away with an array of never-seen-before dunks and dazzled the crowd who hung on every moment of that performance.
The following season would mark perhaps the pinnacle of not only Vince Carter’s career, but also the pinnacle of the Raptors as a franchise. Once again, the team set a franchise record—which still stands—of 47 wins and reached the Eastern Conference Semi Finals for the first and only time in team history—although it was there that another all-time disappointing moment took place when Carter missed a potential series winning shot at the buzzer—which featured an epic scoring battle between two of the leagues top scorers in Vince Carter and Allen Iverson.
Armed with a legitimate superstar, the Raptors were seen as a contender in the East. This is something that the other players on the team clearly believed in as many of the team’s key players –Alvin Williams, Antonio Davis and Jerome Williams—opted to keep the team together and resign with the club. The Raptors also brought in future Hall-Of-Famer Hakeem Olajuwan to help the squad take the next step.
Unfortunately, things wouldn’t quite work out as planned for the Dinos. The team got off to a great start, and Vince Carter was again voted an All-Star as the league’s top vote getter, but after suffering an injury to his knee, Carter would miss the All-Star game and subsequently the rest of the season.
In his absence the team rallied to make the playoffs, but was bounced in the first round after dropping a tough fifth and deciding game against the rising Detroit Pistons.
This was the beginning of the end for the Vince Carter era in Toronto. The next season Carter would again sit out a large number of contests due to injury and the team would finish 34 games under five hundred. As a result the Dinos would receive the fourth pick in the 2003 NBA Draft—a pick that would cause rift between Carter and Raptors management.
Carter was reportedly pushing for the team to trade the pick and acquire immediate veteran help, however the team went the other direction, selecting the young big man Chris Bosh with that pick.
At this point Carter was beginning to express his discontent with the direction of the team as he continued to battle through injuries during the 2003-2004 season. The following season was when things finally came to a head.
Carter spent the first portion of the 2004-2005 season seemingly content to just go through the motions, exhibiting play that was of a caliber much lower than that which fans had grown accustomed to seeing from the 6’6 guard.
During this time, Carter was famously quoted as saying that he didn’t "want to dunk anymore" when asked about his apparent reluctance to attack the basket. Although he would later claim this was a joke, it was a moment that perfectly encapsulates his state of mind during the end of his time in Toronto.
It was 20 games into this season that Carter was mercifully traded to the New Jersey Nets for role players Aaron Williams, Eric Williams, two mid-first round picks and Alonzo Mourning who would never report in Toronto.
In those 20 games Carter averaged a career-worst in points per game (15), free throw percentage (69%), three-point percentage (32%) and field goal percentage (41%). The worst part: Carter went on to average significantly better numbers in the 57 games with the Nets to close that season, including a near career-high 27.5 points per game and a career-high 42% from beyond the arc.
It was at this point that it became clear that Carter had simply given up in Toronto—he later gave an interview with John Thompson where he declared that much. The Nets now had the perennial All-Star and the Raptors were left with a couple of middling draft picks and role players that would never really contribute for the team.
This is why, to this day, every time Vince Carter visits his former stomping grounds, he receives a chorus of boos from fans that used to cheer their former superstar.
Despite the fact that the booing has become entirely too excessive considering that it has been almost a decade since Carter spurned the Raptors, the fact that fans do choose to boo Carter is the most basic expression of just how disappointing the whole Vince Carter saga was for Raptor fans.
In Vince Carter Toronto had their savoir, a player that had the skills and talent to be one of the best players of his generation and a player that was capable of lifting a team on his shoulders and carrying them to victory on any given night.In his prime, Carter was one of the best players in the league and a player that most franchises would love to build around.
During his time here, the fans had hope. Hope for their superstar and hope for their team. Since his departure, things haven’t gone particularly well in Toronto and it is as though the day Carter left, he took all of that hope with him.
The franchise has produced a couple of winning teams since—including one team that was unceremoniously eliminated from the playoffs by Vince Carter’s New Jersey Nets—but none had the promise of those early 2000 Raptor squads. One of the main reasons for that is that the franchise simply has not had another player as talented as Vince Carter was since he left.
Of course, he is not entirely to blame. Players around him underperformed, and management failed to compliment him with enough key pieces later on in his tenure with the team, but at the end of the day it still remains immensely disappointing that a player with such talent, and a team with such promise, would come crashing down so quickly, effectively crippling the franchise for a number of years.
Even now, some eight years after the trade, it is difficult to look back on Carter's time with the team and not wonder "what if he stayed?" or "what if things worked out between him and the Raptors?" clearly, these are things that we will never find out and being robbed of that is why his departure from the team is the biggest disappointment in Raptors history.