Vince Carter averaged 23.6 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game in 374 games with the New Jersey Nets (now Brooklyn Nets), but did his overall performance earn him a spot in the Barclays Center rafters?
In desperate need of a spark after losing Kenyon Martin to the Denver Nuggets in the 2004 offseason, then-general manager Rod Thorn and the New Jersey Nets, now Brooklyn Nets, saw an opportunity. He made a deal with the Toronto Raptors in December 2004 to land their disgruntled superstar, Vince Carter; a deal that still is looked at as one of the most lopsided trades in history to this day.
The Nets, who sat at a very disappointing 9-16 record at the time of VC’s debut, would soon reap the benefits of a rejuvenated superstar player. Carter would average 27.5 points to go along with 5.9 rebounds and 4.7 assists in 57 games to help the Nets finish with a 42-40 record—good for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Carter’s best stretch that season came in February; for the month he averaged a whopping 30.2 points per game including a sizzling hot 45.5 percent shooting mark from three-point range, earning him Player of the Month honors.
There was a legitimate case to be made for Vince to be the MVP that season, as he actually won three points in the voting that season. However, his ugly exit from Toronto and the Nets’ record weighed heavily against him despite his great campaign. All things considered, it’s still impressive that he was able to come away with some points in the MVP race.
Some people might hold against him that New Jersey never made it past the second round with Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson being his best teammates. However, when you look closely at those Nets rosters, much like earlier renditions, they didn’t necessarily have bigs that could contain the likes of Shaquille O’Neal or other dominant interior players, or the veteran leadership that was necessary to help the team get over the hump in critical situations.
For example, when you look at the Miami Heat team that took them out in the second round in 2006, they had their superstars in Dwyane Wade and Shaq, but they rounded out their roster with guys like Alonzo Mourning, Jason Williams, Gary Payton, Antoine Walker, James Posey and Udonis Haslem.
The Nets didn’t have anywhere near that same depth to surround Kidd, Carter and Jefferson with, so it’s hard to fully put the blame on Carter for the Nets not living up to postseason expectations; especially when you consider that he averaged 30.2 points per game that series against the eventual champs.
During Carter’s tenure with the Nets, he lit up the Meadowlands on a consistent basis and always found a way to impress fans on a nightly basis and do things that only he can do. He’d throw down some ridiculous dunks, finish some extremely difficult acrobatic layups, launch deep threes, and come up with game-winning plays.
Some vivid memories include his posterizing slam on Mourning, and his game-winning shot in his second game back in Toronto while dealing with the loudest boos any athlete has arguably ever had to deal with.
One of the more impressive feats Carter pulled off during his time in the Garden State was when he and Kidd both registered triple-doubles in the same game against the Washington Wizards on April 7, 2007; something no pair of teammates had done since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen back in 1989. Carter finished with 46 points, 16 rebounds, and 10 assists while Kidd had 10 points, 16 rebounds, and 18 assists.
In addition to his outstanding play on the court, Vince brought in a very likable vibe that sat well with fans and his teammates.
He would always “rev it up” like a motorcycle after an amazing play, and he was always smiling out there on the court which gave off the impression that he was genuinely having fun out there. He made the Nets very fun to watch, and it certainly didn’t hurt that he made everything look easy.
Long-time Net Jason Kidd grew tired of seeing the direction of where the Nets were going and demanded a trade during the 2007-08 season. Kidd got his wish and was traded to the Dallas Mavericks.
That meant Carter had to take over as the main leader in the locker room, and that would be a challenge he would embrace.
Carter refined his game by improving his playmaking and rebounding abilities. His efforts to improve his all-around game helped him finish as one of three players to average at least 21 points, six rebounds and five assists per game that season.
Carter was on the trading block as well, but not once did you hear him request a trade out of New Jersey. Instead, you would hear him say that he wants to stick around for the rebuild and help the Nets get back to their winning ways.
Carter’s selflessness and ability to attract multiple defenders allowed Harris to enjoy a breakout season, as the young point guard averaged 21.3 points per game and 6.9 assists per game, which allowed him to make his first and only All-Star Game.
After that season, the Nets dealt Carter to the Orlando Magic, as it would give him a chance to go back home and compete for a championship.
The Nets, on the other hand, were more concerned with clearing cap space and trying to lure the likes of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to open up their new arena in Brooklyn.
Despite the fact that the Nets never won a championship with Vince in the fold, he still deserves the honor to someday go up in the Barclays Center rafters.
Carter is third on the franchise’s all-time point list, but he very well could’ve been first if he had spent more time with the organization.
The Nets could’ve also won a championship with a backcourt as dynamic as Kidd and Carter if they had just made the right moves to fill out the rest of their roster.
Kyrie Irving recently gave his vote of confidence to put No. 15 up in the rafters one day.
"“Any time you’re a Nets’ legend and give that much of your time (to the organization), and all the ups and downs he stuck through after J-Kidd left, he did all he could so I think he should (have his number retired),” Irving said to Mike Mazzeo of Forbes. “Absolutely.”"
If there’s one opinion that should matter more than most, it’s Irving’s, as Irving grew up a New Jersey Nets fan in West Orange, and is now currently one of the faces of the franchise.
It’s also worth noting that fans all over the Barclays Center during Carter’s final visit on January 12th kept giving him standing ovations when he checked into the game and the Brooklyn Brigade successfully led chants such as “Retire 15!”
"“When you look up in the rafters here and see the group of people that’s up there, if I one day get that opportunity or that honor I’m okay with going up there, be with guys who I looked up to like Dr. J and a great teammate like J-Kidd,” Carter said to Brian Lewis of the New York Post."