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Scott Howard-Cooper

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Vince Carter has seen how playing in Phoenix has benefitted Steve Nash's health.
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

Former high-flyer Carter not fretting career flight pattern


Posted Feb 10 2011 9:28AM

We're down to, what, seven-eighths man, one-eighth amazing?

Vince Carter is still capable of Vince Carter moments, only minus guide wires and the ability to pull it off with any consistency. Of course, it's also without the same aching as before, so the tradeoff isn't all bad as he concedes his fast-changing basketball world.

Carter is 34 now and the junior member of the Suns backcourt, alongside 37-year-old Steve Nash, in the latest incarnation of a career played out under bright lights. The Vinsanity days are gone, replaced by a former eight-time All-Star trying to show he is something more than a journeyman in the making.

"For what?" he said. "The past is the past. I don't ever look back. I look forward. I can honestly say I'm a better player now than I was then, regardless of highlights and all that. I'm a better player better now."

OK, then, looking forward it is.

Carter is about to become a free agent in a constricting economic climate that will get worse with the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, whenever that comes. He is facing the real possibility of being on three teams between the start of 2010-11 to the start of 2011-12. He is getting older and scoring less.

You mean that kind of looking forward?

Barring sudden developments, Carter won't be this summer's version of Tracy McGrady -- a former gifted talent, electric offensive threat and fan favorite that just wants to latch on somewhere to show he can still play. He isn't Allen Iverson, unwilling to take a supporting role and therefore unable to generate interest.

But he is facing a financial step off a cliff and an unusually uncertain future after years of gaudy contracts. Carter is making $17.5 million this season. He is on the books for $18.3 million next season, but the Suns will buy out that final campaign for $4 million, making him a free agent. This is the end of the mega-paydays.

"I don't think that way," he said of pending free agency in a tight market. "It doesn't matter what you ask about that. I don't think about contracts. That's where a lot of guys tend to make a mistake. You go out there and play your game, do what you're capable of doing, and I think the rest of that will take care of itself. I've seen it happen to a lot of guys -- 'Oh, my contract. My contract.' And you play yourself out of one because you're so worried about it.

"I've tried my best not to worry about that for years. They know what you can do. Sometimes it's all about situation, but I think I'm in a great situation here, first and foremost. Second of all, I'm just going to come here and do what I need to do as a player, keep getting stronger, keep getting healthier, and learn from these guys here as far as the medical side. I think that will take care of itself."

Phoenix is a good place to be in a lot of ways. Actually, despite the 24-25 record and with the Suns fighting just to reach the playoffs after a dash to the Western Conference finals last season, it might be the best place. That's where the Fountain of Youth is stashed, right?

Nash just turned 37 and is averaging 16.7 points and 11.1 assists while shooting 52.3 percent overall and 40.3 on threes. Grant Hill is 38 and has morphed from historically brittle to missing three games the last 2 seasons. And, he's making 50 percent of his field goals this season. Shaquille O'Neal was rejuvenated into an All-Star in 2008-09, his one full season on Planet Orange.

Coach Alvin Gentry, among others, absolutely pointed this out to Carter shortly after the Dec. 18 Magic-Suns deal that sent Carter, Marcin Gortat, Mickael Pietrus and a first-round pick to Phoenix for Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson and Earl Clark.

Carter arrived with a strained tendon, a minor enough injury, and having heard all about the healing powers of the Suns' medical staff. Then he heard more from Gentry about the success of older players there. He missed the first two games because of the leg injury, but none since.

There were good moments immediately, with him averaging 18.9 points per game in his first 10 games. The scoring chart has been jagged since -- two points to 33 points to 10, and so on. His 15.6 ppg in 20 games with the Suns is a slight increase from the 15.1 in 22 appearances with the Magic, although his accuracy has dropped from 47 percent to 42.6.

"I think Vince knows that he's a heck of a player," Gentry said. "He's going to be playing either with us or somewhere else next year, and that's the way it is. I don't think he looks at that as any threat or anything to his career because I think he has enough confidence to understand that he's a very capable guy."

It has crossed Carter's mind that others -- in what should have been the final days of their career -- have instead gotten a boost from being in Phoenix. How could it not. There's no choice when everyone brings it up.

He just doesn't know yet what it means for the rest of his career, and Carter feels like he has a lot of career left. Not the previous Carter, the one with the offensive pyrotechnics. This one, the guy who calls himself a better player now.

Looking forward it is.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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