NBA AM: Vince Carter Continues Transition

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Former All-Star Vince Carter was one of the most explosive players in basketball history, but there is a growing segment of NBA fans that never witnessed the guard during his absolute prime years when he ran roughshod on opposing defenses. When the 2016-17 campaign begins Carter will be embarking on his nineteenth NBA season.

Professional sports are filled with egos and those solely seeking individual accolades and fame aren’t hard to spot, but Carter has masterfully made the transition from superstar franchise player to an end-of-the-bench veteran team leader. NBA history is littered with players who couldn’t make the transition from being focal points to niche role players – Carter has been able to shift roles seamlessly, and if he’s bothered by it, no one would know it.

Carter is currently in the final season of his deal with the Memphis Grizzlies. The contract, worth $4.2 million, isn’t fully guaranteed until January 2017 and the franchise currently has a payroll north of $105 million. But the veteran recently stated he’d like to finish out next season and pursue a twentieth campaign once he becomes a free agent next summer.

“I just love to play,” Carter recently told ESPN. “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.

“Not right now. We know (season) number 19 is definitely going to go down. I’m shooting for 20, and we’ll go from there after that.”

Carter averaged 6.6 points per game in 60 appearances last season with Memphis. The output was the second-lowest of his career, but an uptick over his 5.8 point per game average the previous season. However, Carter’s role in Memphis isn’t about padding the box score. The Grizzlies are a veteran-laden team built on mental toughness with their eyes on contending for a title.

The elusive championship is about the only accolade that has eluded Carter during his playing career up until this point. College All-American, All-NBA selections, All-Star appearances and an Olympic Gold Medal populate Carter’s mantle, but will the Hall of Fame eventually come calling?

Let’s take a look:

According to Basketball Reference, Carter has a Hall of Fame probability of 95 percent. That ranks him eleventh among active players behind LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Paul, Paul Pierce, Chris Bosh, Kevin Durant and Dwight Howard. On this list, Paul, Durant and Howard are the only players without a ring.

Carter currently ranks 24th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list with 23,969 points. If Carter duplicated last year’s scoring production (6.6 points / 60 games), he could surpass Hall of Fame guard Allen Iverson for 23rd on the list.

While the Basketball Hall of Fame may eventually call Carter’s name, the earliest that may occur is 2023 if the veteran guard’s body can hold up to make a run for season number 20.

Winslow Ready to Leap?

One of the wild cards entering the 2016-17 season are the Miami HEAT. The franchise has so many question marks heading into training camp that it’s very tough to slot a true expectation. How will they adjust to life after All-Star guard Dwyane Wade? How will emerging center Hassan Whiteside continue to develop after locking in a near-$100 million deal this summer? Will future Hall of Fame forward Chris Bosh be able to overcome his medical issues and return to the court? How will the team adjust to losing steady veteran contributors Luol Deng and Joe Johnson in free agency?

Those questions are just a sample of what the HEAT will have to address after coming within one game of reaching the Eastern Conference Finals this past season.

But another question the team faces is whether forward Justise Winslow is ready to take a significant leap in year two and emerge as the team’s starting small forward. The need for Winslow to thrive this season has been magnified due to the departures of Deng and Johnson.

According to numerous reports, HEAT team president Pat Riley believes Winslow has the goods to do so.

“Even before he said that, I kind of had that in my mind… I’m expecting a huge leap in my performance,” Winslow said according to the Miami Herald.

Winslow averaged 8.1 points and 6.5 rebounds as a rookie in 78 contests (eight starts). The talent is clearly there, but he will need to improve his outside shot (42 percent from the floor in 2015-16, and just 28 percent from three).

But the 2017 season will also be one where more leadership is needed from Winslow as Miami begins a potential transition.

In a recent podcast, Winslow told fellow former Duke University guard Jon Scheyer: “Unfortunately for me, [Dwyane] Wade was a guy I Iooked up to. He’s gone. Joe [Johnson] is gone. Lu [Deng] is gone. It’s my turn. Embrace the opportunity. Try to make this a year to make the front office feel confident in building around me for the future. I’m looking forward to the green light. My role is going to be so much bigger. I have to learn how to step up vocally.”

The former lottery pick will have every opportunity to take on a much larger share in the franchise hierarchy moving forward.