Carter begins transition from reliable veteran to future coach
Backup point guard provides defense, leadership in Billups' absence
It would be appropriate if the folks in charge of NBA apparel included special instructions inside the warmups of Nuggets point guard Anthony Carter.
Machine wash, cold.
Tumble dry, low.
Remove in case of emergency.
Sitting near the end of the Nuggets bench, Carter can go weeks without appearing in a game, yet he must be ready to perform at a moment’s notice.
“He’s a Boy Scout,” Nuggets assistant coach Melvin Hunt said. “He’s prepared.”
Carter, a 35-year-old veteran in his 12th NBA season, has played in four of Denver’s first 25 games of 2010-11. All four appearances have come with starting point guard Chauncey Billups sidelined by a sprained right wrist.
While Carter’s statistics – 1.8 points and 2.8 assists per game – don’t jump off the page, his contributions as a leader and crafty defender are indispensible to Nuggets coach George Karl when second-year point guard Ty Lawson needs a rest and Denver needs an in-game energy boost.
“A.C.’s a winner,” Karl said. “There are a lot of fans out there that are somewhat critical of A.C. but the kid knows how to win basketball games.”
Part of that know-how is a byproduct of Carter’s work ethic.
He is routinely the first person in the gym after dropping his kids off at school in the morning. On weekends and holidays, he’ll still arrive early with his sons Joshua and Devin occasionally in tow.
“That’s what it’s all about: being a professional,” Carter said. “Coming in early, 8:30, 9 o’clock in the morning, do your conditioning, do your shooting, do your weight lifting. I do all the little things that keep me ready.”
If Carter were 10 or 12 years younger, he might be considered an understudy, analyzing the game and waiting for an opportunity to contribute. Instead, he’s preparing to make the transition to a coaching career.
Carter said he is going to start sitting in on coaches meetings to get a feel for what goes into daily preparation for practices and games. During games, he frequently talks to his teammates about defensive adjustments that need to be made.
“I believe he wants to be a coach. It’s in his DNA,” Hunt said. “I think he’s going to make a really good coach.”
Part of that process is accepting that his prime playing days are behind him. That proved difficult last season when Lawson made an immediate impact as a rookie following an NCAA-title run at the University of North Carolina.
After playing 78 games as Billups’ primary backup in 2008-09, Carter appeared in just 54 games and saw his minutes drop from 22.9 per game to 15.9.
“I did cop a little attitude,” Carter admitted.
To avoid a repeat in 2010-11, Carter and Karl sat down during the offseason and had an honest discussion about how the point-guard hierarchy would look. Billups remained the incumbent starter, Lawson the change-of-pace backup, and Carter the dependable veteran who could come off the bench and produce on short notice.
“We just took it from there,” Carter said. “I was like, ‘Okay, now I know my role and I’m going to stay in shape and be ready and I’m not going to get an attitude.’ I embraced it. Whenever my time comes, I’ll always be ready.”
With plenty of other things on his plate, the last thing Karl needed was a disgruntled veteran in the locker room. He empathized with Carter’s frustration from a season earlier.
“I thought Ty earned his opportunity but A.C. probably didn’t earn his demotion,” Karl said. “A.C. earned more respect from the game, but the game has a way of sometimes kicking you. I thought A.C got dealt a bad hand last year, but he never really let it affect the team.”
Carter also didn't harbor bitterness toward Lawson, instead choosing to serve as a mentor to the 23-year-old guard.
“With A.C., there was never any awkwardness,” Lawson said. “He’s a great teammate and he’s been helping me out a lot.”
That comes as no surprise to San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who had Carter on his roster briefly at the beginning of the 2003-04 season.
“Anthony just keeps on ticking, running a team, knocking down a shot when you don’t think he’s going to make the shot, making a pass and being a pain on defense,” Popovich said. “He does the same thing year after year. It’s kind of nice to see because he’s a great guy, as we all know.”
Two future Hall of Fame coaches certainly endorse Carter. Not a bad sign for a coach-in-waiting.