It’s a sad time for fans of freakish athletes from UNC with unreasonably long careers in professional sports. First, Julius Peppers announced his retirement from the NFL after a two-year homecoming stint with the Carolina Panthers. Now, Vince Carter has announced, after first making it clear that he will return for another year in the NBA, that the 2019-2020 season will be his last as a professional basketball player, provided somebody signs him as an unrestricted free agent:
Vince Carter just announced on The Jump that this upcoming year will be his final year playing in the NBA pic.twitter.com/XFQGFJ14WK— Chris Montano (@gswchris) June 5, 2019
This announcement isn’t a complete shock; Carter had previously hinted that this past season, his 21st, would likely be his last (as alluded to in the video) but throughout the year, as his body held up probably better than he expected it to and he enjoyed a bit of a resurgence after his numbers had been dropping the previous few years, it became clear that there was still a little Vinsanity left in the tank. In his year with the Atlanta Hawks, Carter shot 42% from the field and 39% from three-point range, his best rates since 2013 and 2014 respectively. His 7.5 points per game in 17.5 minutes were his best efficiency in several years (per-36 minutes, that’s his best average since 2014), and he capably led the second unit of an extremely young and burgeoning team. And near the end of the season, in March, he told ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption that he could see himself playing another year and that he felt he was still performing at a level that would draw interest for him in free agency. In May, he told fans of his podcast that he wasn’t done yet.
One of the cooler stories of late in the NBA has been Carter’s turn towards mentor and all-around beloved guy within the league. He’s made a point of playing his last few years not for teams expected to be near-ish title contention, as a lot of aging stars without rings do, but for development-minded teams with young talent that he feels he can help acclimate to the NBA. He knows his experience is invaluable both as somebody who’s been in the league for just about their entire lives and somebody who’s had to remodel his game from being based on pure athleticism to becoming a fairly deadly shooter and picking his spots, from pure wing to small-ball power forward. He works not just with guys close to his position group, but even with a young big man like John Collins, who vehemently argued that the Hawks should bring him back:
“Hell yes,” said John Collins on if he wants to see Carter return. “He’s been tremendous. Whenever you come in here, you always see him and I working on my footwork for jumpers. He’s helped me out a lot out on the perimeter being able to shoot, trying to become a sniper out there. He’s been able to turn his game into being an athletic freak and now he’s knockdown dead-eye, so I’m trying to learn from him, take tips from him, and try to implement those things into my game now.”
(check out that whole article for a great Hawks fan perspective on Carter’s year)
Once the Finals are over, there will be speculation as to where Carter will finish his career. Will he return to Atlanta, a young and talented team that’s rapidly cohering and on the rise thanks in part to his leadership? Will he return to Toronto, the place where it all started professionally and any hatchets seem to be buried? Or might he find a new NBA home with a young core? Perhaps a return to North Carolina and the Charlotte Hornets, who just reaped the benefits of a legend’s last year in the league, could be in the cards: rising NBA 2nd-year guy Miles Bridges bears at least a few similarities to a young Carter. Seeing Vince in the Tar Heel State for another year would be pretty incredible, especially if they decide to do another exhibition at the Dean Dome. And there is a host of other possibilities: Phoenix, home state Orlando, perhaps Dallas, who’s just said goodbye to one legend. Whatever team he’s playing for next year will no doubt benefit greatly. And the entire NBA community will get to see another year of Vinsanity, which is always a bonus. Like I said, it’s hard to find anybody, even old Toronto fans, who dislike him at this point, and his latest dunk is always good for some nostalgia feels.
This past season put him in a 5-way tie for longest NBA tenure with Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki, Robert Parish, and Kevin Willis. He’ll break that in 2020, adding to an incredible list of honors and records as a member of the Association. It will make him the last player drafted in the 1990’s to play in the league, as well as the first NBA player to play in 4 different decades: the 90’s, the 00’s, the 10’s, and he’ll finish his career in 2020 (some misinformed pedants will tell you a decade doesn’t start until the 1 year, but as long as we’re talking about popular culture, they’re wrong) He won’t be the oldest player to ever play; Willis was 44 at his retirement and Carter is on the young end of 42. I highly doubt, however, that Willis could have done this in game gear, let alone business clothes:
Half Man, Half Amazing indeed. If this is indeed going to be his last year playing basketball, I, for one, am going to treasure it no matter where he goes. And hopefully, wherever that is, he gets to return to North Carolina at least once, for old times’ sake.