<note: this is all under the assumption we take Oden. Obviously if we take Durant he starts at 3>
First, I know this is pretty long, but I did put a lot of work into it, so if people want to criticize my thought process, I would appreciate if you at least skimmed the whole thing instead looking at the headline, glancing at how long it is, then just firing off "Carter sucks" as a response. Its what I would do (that is, not read then post something snarky and dismissive), but I expect better from you guys. So at least pretend to have read it before tearing it/me up.
Living in Brooklyn I get to watch a lot of Nets games. The few games I've been able to see in person the last couple of years have been in Jersey. The basic premise of my argument for getting Carter is that while he is far from the greatest wing player of his generation, he is still really, really good, and he can make our team better, and our young players better. He fills a huge need for us as a small forward who can also play the 2, and as a high-volume scorer. His weaknesses, or what fans and media call his weaknesses, would not be a problem on the Blazers. Furthermore, he is seeking a 3-year deal, a time period during which all of our other stars will be under rookie contracts. When its time for them to re-sign, Carter's contract will be up. First I want to talk about Carter, then I want to talk about the Blazers and how he would fit with them, and finally what I think it would take to get him.
(all after the jump)
Vince Carter's game and his reputation have seemingly never been in sync, at any point in his career. Because he was a UNC guard who could dunk and had a good jump-shot, he was immediately seen by many as the (latest) next coming of Michael Jordan, despite all evidence to the contrary. And despite the fact that better players like Jordan (and later on Kobe Bryant) weren't able to turn bad teams into champions without real help, Carter at the time was expected to. He didn't, and this disappointment along with his seemingly perpetual disgruntlement with the Raptors (ending with the unseemly way he forced his way out of Toronto) has colored many people's view of his game.
While at the beginning of his career many basketball fans thought he was more than he was, now a lot of fans underestimate how good he is, many wrongly thinking his skills have been in rapid decline the last few years. Some also have an unfairly dismal view of his character (the bad ending in Toronto notwithstanding). Sheep that they are, sports writers increasingly throw insults and snide remarks at him despite a seemingly bottomless pit of more despicable characters in the sports world. While discussing a Kidd-to-LA trade rumor, one writer recently said something along the lines of, "Kidd makes everybody on his team better... except Vince Carter." It was clearly an insult, despite Carter's stellar numbers and the fact that he's obviously Kidd's favorite teammate.
For the season, Carter pulled down a career high 6 rebounds per game and tied his career high with 4.8 assists per game. His 25.2 points per game were 4th highest of his 9-year career. He shot 45% (higher than his career average) from the floor, mostly as a jump shooter. His 3 pt. shot has been relatively off the last couple years, but on a team with other offensive options (not to mention Aldridge and Oden sucking defenders into the paint), it should go up again. While a lot of people remember him flailing on a couple of last-second plays against the Cavs in the second round, they should also keep in mind in the same playoffs he put a tripple double on the Wizards (who were banged up bad) with 46 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists (2nd highest triple-double total of all-time,and highest in 30 years - http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/recap?gameId=270407017). [edit: I have no idea why I thought this was a playoff game; it wasn't. oops!] While he isn't the dunker he used to be, the fact is he made the transition to being a jump shooter years ago, making his shooting percent (again, 45%) all that more impressive. Also, while he's had some history of injuries, he's missed only 8 games in the past 3 years, including starting every single game last year. There are a number of fair criticism of his game. Despite his tremendous talent, he rarely takes over a game, and despite putting up lots of points with a high percentage shot, you probably would prefer someone else shooting a potential game-winner. He passes when he should shoot. That he does not like the expectations that come with being a superstar (not star or All-Star, but a superstar) is probably the only thing that kept him from becoming one. And while his stat line has been consistent for his career, would it have dipped without playing with Jason Kidd the last two years?
The Trail Blazers
The Blazers have a floor leader and clutch player in Brandon Roy. This is his team, and will be for years to come. We'll have an exciting and powerful front line with LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Oden, and good young point guards in Jarrett Jack and Sergio Rodriguez. What Portland is lacking (and will be especially if Randolph is gone) is someone besides Roy who can score points.
One of the things I'm worried about with the Trail Blazers is that they'll lose. A lot. It's not that I will be disappointed if they don't make the playoffs this year. Its that this team will be stuffed with very young talent, very little explosive offense, and piling up losses could be devastating for their confidence and development. The flip side is, winning accelerates and boosts confidence and development. Putting in a guy like Carter who can consistently bring 20-25 points means a lot more wins, a better feeling in the locker room. A Trail Blazers team that includes a player like Carter is a lock for at least the 8th seed, and a team capable of making a deep run in the playoffs as they gel late. Giving the young guys an early taste of winning will make them better. I still think, for example, if Joey Harrington had gone to a winning team he would have developed into a good QB, and that if Tom Brady has been drafted by the Arizona Cardinals most of us would never have heard from him again. These are more extreme examples than what the Blazers are looking at, but winning and losing affects young players dramatically, especially coming from high school and college programs where thats all they did. I would expect our guys to blossom much faster if we are winning right away, and someone like Carter can go a long way to provide for that.
The point of signing Vince Carter is not to sign "Vinsanity" or Air-whatever. We're not looking for a face for our franchise, or a savior, or someone to sell tickets. We're not looking for our clutch player or leader. What we're looking for is a veteran who can play the the 3 and score points, and play adequate defense (he's not a great defender, but he's decent, much better than his reputation), and help push us past Denver, Golden State and the L.A. teams and into the playoffs. The knock that he is 'too unselfish' is great for the Blazers. Our young guys need the ball, but Carter can still get 20-25 points a game without forcing or hogging. Also, the small studio I work for does work for Nike, and we did a project with him a few years back. He's genuinely a nice guy. He's popular with his team and the fans in this area, and has matured alot since the infamous interview where he admitted he didn't always try that hard in the early years of his career with Toronto. He's laid back and trouble-free, and the 2007 version of Vince Carter would be a good fit in Portland, and with the culture Kevin Pritchard is trying to build with the Blazers.
In two years, the Nets are going to be relocating to Brooklyn. In two years, Vince Carter will be 32 years old, and Jason kid 36. Everyone in New York and New Jersey knows they need to blow this thing up right now so they can have a good young team come 2010. There is a good chance the Nets ship Kidd to the Lakers for Bynum, some cotracts, and draft picks. Carter can be had by anyone willing to give him $60 million dollars over three years, and give the Nets some young players to build around.
To match salaries, we need to get to $15 million (75% of Carter's $20m). Randolph will make $13.3m, so we'd have to throw in probably Martell Webster, who wouldn't get much time with Carter around anyway. It might also take a conditional first rounder; next year's or 2009's. I think we could get him just for Randolph and Webster, since he's going to want to get out and there aren't many teams with both the desire and ability to get him. But worse case is Randolph, Webster, and a conditional pick for Vince Carter. Teamed with Bynum and Richard Jefferson, and with all the picks they're accumulating, Jersey will still stay competitive while building for the future.
Let me say I agree that $20 million a year for Carter is overpaying by a healthy margin. But the fact is, it doesn't really matter. Being over the cap, we're only going to be able to land ONE player who makes more than the MLE via a Randolph trade; it doesn't make one bit of difference (except maybe to Allen, though I doubt he cares that much) how much he makes per season. Once Randolph is gone, we have no way of acquiring any high paid veteran, so its not like overpaying Carter for the next three years affects who else we can sign later.
Also, in two years Carter would become VERY valuable trade material as an expiring contract, because in 2010 LaBron James can opt out of his contract. Any team that wants to make a run at him will need to clear cap room. Aside from the James race, an expiring contract of that size is still valuable.
And it expires just in time for Portland if we decide to hold onto it ourselves, because it coincides with the end of the rookie contracts for both Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, and comes a year before the end of Oden's rookie contract.
I'll finish by saying I think getting Carter is the best offseason move Portland can make (aside from drafting Oden). Unlike a lot of the other stars like Rashard Lewis, Carter is asking for a short contract. If Lewis was a bust on our team for whatever reason, we'd be stuck with his contract the six years; with Carter, only 3, and it becomes a valuable trade asset after only 2 years regardless of how he is playing. He can carry the offensive load while the young guys develop, and the Blazers would instantly become a major player in the West. As Carter's skills enter twilight, the skills of Roy, Aldridge, and Oden will be emerging, theoretically making Portland competitive immediately, and smoothly transitioning into dominance in 2 or 3 years.