According to a report from Michael Grange on Thursday night after the NBA’s trade deadline, the Raptors are talking internally about acquiring Vince Carter. This is a sentence I never thought I’d write in 2018, but here we are.
Toronto was relatively quiet on yesterday’s trade front, with only a small deal (in terms of actual on-court impact) involving Bruno Caboclo and the Kings. While there are emotional justifications for the deal, the Raptors definitely made it so they’d have a bit more money available when it came time to enter the buyout market. And make no mistake: with that 15th roster spot open, and Toronto looking to head to the Finals, the team is undoubtedly a buyer.
But we’re getting way, way, way ahead of ourselves right now. The first step in figuring out who the Raptors can actually pick up, is seeing who gets bought out prior to March 1st. We’ve identified a bunch of options already — Marco Belinelli and Joe Johnson (if only so he doesn’t go to a Toronto rival) prime among them — but of course, we keep turning our minds back to Carter.
As Grange reports, Carter already believes something will eventually happen between himself and Toronto.
“Whether it’s (a) one day (contract) or something, it’ll happen,” Carter said then about the potential of a Raptors reunion in some shape or form. “It’s supposed to happen I think. I can say that now. I’ve had a lot of people say it’s supposed to happen, so now I guess I have to believe it.”
Unfortunately, even with the best wishes of Toronto, and Carter’s belief, the Kings may not be willing to play ball. Don’t forget, this is the (very stable and smart) team that will have to decide whether or not to keep Carter around. The initial readings are not good:
Early read in Sacramento per league sources: Joe Johnson will definitely get his buyout, but the Kings would love for Vince Carter to stay through the season— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) February 9, 2018
This comes as a double gut-punch: Johnson will be free to roam the countryside like a dangerous ronin just waiting to plunge his sword into the hearts of Raptors fans, and Carter will remained locked in Sacramento as a prisoner on a hopeless team (the Kings are 17-36). Is he having fun there? Sure, maybe, but it can’t be the best way to spend the twilight years of a career.
For the season, Carter has appeared in 34 games for the Kings, and started in four. He’s averaging 16.6 minutes a game, which is wild considering he is 41 years old. In the process, Carter is putting up 5.0 points per game, 2.1 rebounds, 1.1 assists, and almost one steal per game. He’s also shooting 39 percent from the field, and a not bad 37 percent from three. If he were to come to Toronto it’s easy to see how he’d fit as a veteran shooter and play-maker. He’s still viewed as an on-court threat — even if only in the mind’s eye.
Naturally, there’s more to this idea than just the on-court outcome. The buyout market is a way for contenders to shore up their rotation and address modest weaknesses before making the long march through the playoffs. In the Raptors case, they could probably use a little more shooting off the bench, and a little more veteran know-how. (It’s why we’ve been talking about Belinelli, Johnson, and Carter in the first place.) At the small forward position, the team relies on rookie OG Anunoby, the shooting of C.J. Miles, and the up-and-down play (and presence) of Norman Powell. Does Carter’s addition to that bunch (and the broader, extremely successful Raptors bench) swing a playoff series for Toronto? Does he push them over the top and into the Finals? Probably not on his own — that will still fall on the shoulders of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. But it’s hard to discount the narrative here.
Carter, the man formerly known as Air Canada Carter, having a place — even just a seat on the bench — on the best version of the Raptors of all-time. Carter, the man who missed the shot that would have sent the Raptors to their first ever Conference Final, being present as Toronto makes a legitimate push to the Finals. Carter, the man who has spent almost two decades in the NBA, now returning to the city that saw him become a star. Carter, the man who became basketball public enemy number one, who sought to leave the city that provided him his first platform for excellence, who has moved up and on in his way, and now has the small window of a chance to write the unlikely storybook ending.
Yeah, I’d say that’s worth $515,000 in buyout money, or the bi-annual exception. In fact, I’d say it’d be a steal.