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NBA PM: Ageless Vince Carter Still A Game-Changer

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Father Time is undefeated, but Vince Carter is giving him a run for his money.

After the Memphis Grizzlies were eliminated from the playoffs by the San Antonio Spurs, head coach David Fizdale was giving his postgame interview as blaring music could be heard from the room over.

“Just so you know, the music is Vince Carter lifting weights right now,” Fizdale said. “So, when I say he’s invaluable, God, what a wonderful, wonderful human being to coach.”

As one of the last-standing members from an era of superstars that generally didn’t, couldn’t or refused to age well, Carter is still making important contributions at the age of 40. Now finished with his 19th NBA season, Carter is an unrestricted free agent and can control his destiny before riding off into a Hall of Fame-worthy sunset.

Carter hasn’t said much on the topic lately, but back in September, he noted that he’d chase season No. 20 — and perhaps beyond — saying that he wasn’t quite ready to leave the game he loves so dearly.

“I just love to play. It’s not out of me yet. When I don’t want to play and don’t want to put the work in, that’s when I step away from the game, but right now I still love it.”

And the game loves him back as well.

Over his career, Carter has certainly earned his rich legacy and that incredible Half-Man, Half-Amazing nickname. From dunking on (or over!) anything that moved and revitalizing a young Toronto Raptors franchise alongside his cousin, Tracy McGrady, Carter immediately entered the league as a star. After a notching a solid 18.3 points per game during his rookie season in 1998-99, Carter would average 20 or more for 10 straight seasons, a streak that only ended once the New Jersey Nets traded him in 2009.

Running through a list of the former era’s superstars, there are few that have aged as well as Carter has, with either injuries or ego pushing them out of the spotlight unceremoniously. And while the league lost both Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant at the end of last season, two bonafide first ballot Hall of Famers, Carter is still cruising along as the league’s oldest player, hitting big-time shots and then the weight room after being eliminated.

His 12 points in Game 6 was the fourth time he notched double-figures in the series after he averaged just 8.6 in 2016-17. Additionally, Carter played more than 30 minutes in five of the six games, reaching as high as 36 in the Game 3 stunner and capping out with 28 in Game 2. Of course, Carter only played about 24 minutes per game during the regular season, but this what he does now — defying expectations at every corner.

Carter is an eight-time All-Star, a former Rookie of the Year, and is now the 22nd-highest scoring player in NBA history (all 21 ahead of him are or will be in the Hall of Fame), but there’s one thing that’s eluded Carter after nearly two decades in the league: A championship.

Now in what must be considered the twilight of his career, Carter will have an interesting choice this summer — should he finally chase a ring? After successful stints with both the Dallas Mavericks and Grizzlies, trips that came up short in the playoffs against powerhouses like the Golden State Warriors, Oklahoma City Thunder and, of course, the Spurs, Carter could be a useful piece for many other contenders.

The Boston Celtics, for example, could effortlessly replace Gerald Green in the rotation and likely come out better for it. In Brad Stevens’ tricky, complex offense, surely the Celtics could find plenty of wide-open three-pointers for a career 37 percent shooter from deep. Or if a reunion isn’t out of the question, Carter could go out with a contender in Toronto, all while healing the last remaining wounds of Raptors fans who never truly forgave him for leaving the first time around.

Either way, perhaps Carter would do well to finally leave the Western Conference behind — something that his former Nets teammate Richard Jefferson finally did in 2015, and promptly won a ring with the Cleveland Cavaliers that year.

Carter is no longer dunking ruthlessly on his opponents, more or less turning him into a spot-up shooter, but he can still take advantage of mismatches by destroying smaller players in the paint. Many feared that Carter would fade quickly as his athleticism did, but instead he has aged like a fine wine — sure, you drink less of it, but when you uncork that bottle, it’s still something truly special.

Last season, Carter received the Twyman-Stokes Teammate of the Year Award, an honor that is given out for “selfless play, on- and off-court leadership as a mentor and role model to other NBA players, and commitment and dedication to team.” Other winners of this relatively new award include Chauncey Billups, Shane Battier and Tim Duncan — but the sentiment speaks volumes about Carter’s character and role within the locker room, even as his abilities begin to dwindle.

Fizdale described Carter to Ronald Tillery of The Commercial Appeal just before his 40th birthday in January, and the first-year coach narrowed it down to just one word: Class.

“Stan Van Gundy said it best: ‘He puts everyone before himself.'” Fizdale said. “It’s a real compliment to him for how long he’s been able to last, change and evolve from superstar to role player. And he’s done it all with class.”

In Memphis, Carter is loved by all and the fans revel in his not-quite-a-dunk-anymore finger rolls or when he dusts off that celebratory motorcycle for another ride upcourt. It remains to be seen if his attachment to the Grizzlies — and his contributions that almost helped the seventh-seed overcome the perennially great Spurs — will keep him down south this summer.

Should he take his show on the road one more time, Carter will have suitors if he wants them. He hasn’t formally announced that he’ll return for his 20th season in the NBA yet, but if his post-loss weight-lifting session is any indication, we haven’t seen the last of Vinsanity quite yet.

Before the Spurs’ series against the Grizzlies, Manu Ginobili was excited to go against Carter, telling Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News that it’d be nice not to be the old man in the gym for once. In a battle between the league’s two oldest players, Ginobili and his team would ultimately win out but the Argentine is still in awe of Carter’s skill.

“Vince really is one-of-a-kind,” Ginobili said. “He can still go play 30 minutes, with dunks and blocks. Less than he used to, but it’s remarkable.

“I think he’s going to be 70 and still be dunking.”

Again, Father Time has never lost, but Carter, the ageless wonder, has become a fighter worth rooting for until the very end.

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About Benny Nadeau

Benny Nadeau

Benny Nadeau is a Boston-based writer in his first year with Basketball Insiders. For the last five seasons, he covered the Brooklyn Nets for The Brooklyn Game.