So it looks like Vince Carter has conned the New Jersey (or maybe-soon-to-be-Brooklyn) Nets into breaking the bank and signing him to a 4-year, $61.8 million contract.
If $15+ million a year sounds like a lot money to dole out for a 30-year-old swingman who has a history of tanking on his own teams, you're probably right. But in a sense, the Nets are justified in their decision to resign Carter even though the deal is going to send them soaring wildly over the salary cap. See, Vince very quietly put together a career year last season.
Seriously. Most of his stats went up every-so-slightly. Points, rebounds, and assists were all up. In fact, he posted career-highs in rebounds and assists. It was only the second time in his career -- and the first time since the 1999-2000 season -- that he played in all 82 games. He matched his career high in minutes played. He attempted more shots than he had since the 2000-01 season. He had his second-best-ever year in freethrow attempts, and set a career-high in three-point shot attempts. Finally, he had his third-best field goal percentage year, and his best overall shooting season since 2002-03.
Of all these numbers, the games, minutes played, free-throw attempts, and rebounding numbers are all the most telling. Playing through all the little nicks and scrapes of the NBA season, crashing the boards, taking it strong to the hoop, those are signs of increased effort. Effort from a player, it should be noted, whose heart and desire has been regularly -- and justifiably -- questioned on and off over the years.
So is it just an amazing coincidence that this is the best overall effort Vince has put forth since, well, the last time he was eligible for a new contract (after the 2000-01 season)? Suuuuure, it is. This last season was a textbook example of the Contract Year Phenomenon in action. He was playing for the money, plain and simple. I promise you that most of his numbers are going to drop next season, particularly games played, rebounds, freethrow attempts, and field goal percentage…because when those numbers drop, it's usually a telltale sign that a player has lost focus (assuming he's not injured).
It's also worth noting that, despite Carter's gunning (or maybe because of it), the Nets didn't do much in the way of winning last season. The team spent most of the season below .500 and didn't claw there way there until the final day of a regular season that saw them go 41-41. Mind you, this happened in the horrific Eastern Conference, where it has been proven you can make it to the NBA Finals with one fantastic player and a bunch of scrubs. The Nets had three (or maybe 2.5) fantastic players and spent months spinning their wheels. That's significant, I think. So unless I'm way wrong here, and that's medically impossible, the Nets are going to regret offering up this contract in a couple years.