Nuggets happy to welcome back Mr. Carter
Anthony Carter’s NBA career was nearly pronounced dead three years ago.
After two months playing in Italy, the point guard returned to the United States with a newfound appreciation for the league and a renewed sense of urgency to succeed.
That’s when the Denver Nuggets sent him a lifeline.
A three-week audition in Denver at the end of the 2007 season has turned into an extended stay that Carter never could have imagined when his career hit a crossroad while playing in unfamiliar arenas of the Italian League.
“When I went over to Italy, it changed my whole mindset of not taking the NBA for granted,” Carter said after working out at the Pepsi Center this week. “Being over there in the situation that I was in, it made me come back and work a lot harder than what I was doing before (instead) of cheating the game and cheating myself.
“From that point on, when I got back to the Nuggets, I was like, ‘I’m not going to take it for granted,’ because it’s a privilege just to be in the NBA and it’s not guaranteed.”
In what has become a summer tradition, Carter signed a one-year contract with the Nuggets on July 15. The annual deal comes with the peace of mind of knowing that he doesn’t have to move his wife Cassie and their two sons, Joshua (15) and Devin (8), from their adopted year-round home.
“Family’s No. 1,” Carter said. “This is my job, and if I had a choice between other teams I would’ve stayed here because I wouldn’t want to move the kids. It’s not about the money. It’s about keeping the kids in one spot, so it was an easy decision when the Nuggets wanted me to come back.”
The feeling was mutual after coach George Karl sat down with Carter in early July and discussed what kind of role he would have on the team.
With five-time All-Star Chauncey Billups entrenched as the starting point guard and rising star Ty Lawson penciled in as the primary backup, minutes could be sporadic for Carter. For some players, that might be a problem. For Carter, it’s an accepted part of the job description.
“I ain’t never worried about the spotlight,” he said. “I’ve always been the type of player that just wants to win. At this time in my career, I know I can help these guys. A lot of these guys in the locker room listen to me because I’m older and they respect the way I play the game.”
Carter, 35, certainly has the respect of his coach, who will turn to him on those inevitable nights when the team is in need of a defensive spark in the dog days of an 82-game season.
“I think A.C.’s always been important to our team in a very intangible way, and a chemistry way – a winning way,” Karl said. “I love his competitive heart. I love it in practice, I love it in pre-practice, I love it in shootarounds. He has a karma of winning that not many fans can appreciate, but I do.”
Carter has averaged five points, four assists and one steal per game in his NBA career, but his overall value can be seen in the coaches who employ him.
He played for Pat Riley in Miami, Gregg Popovich in San Antonio and Karl in Denver. They appreciate his professionalism, his defensive mindset and his commitment to playing the right way.
Having played for some of the greatest coaches in NBA history, Carter would be a natural to follow in their footsteps once his career is finished.
For now, he will serve as a teammate and mentor to young players such as the 22-year-old Lawson, who was in middle school when Carter played his first NBA game. Lawson learned punctuality and professionalism from Billups and Carter as a rookie in 2009-10 and the lessons will continue in the fall.
“A.C.'s a great influence for the younger guys,” Cassie Carter said. “He's already been there, done that and been through the highs and lows of a professional athlete. He's very focused and always committed to everything he does. Hopefully that will encourage them and help them in their careers as well.”
Given Carter's commitment to his team and community, there are few better role models.
Contact Aaron J. Lopez at email@example.com