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Vince Carter – half mentor, still half amazing

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Vince Carter was signed by the Kings to be a mentor, but is still contributing on the floor at 41 years old

Kimani Okearah

Vince Carter checks into the game and hits a spinning hook shot off a dump-off pass.

He crashes into lane after a behind-the-back dribble for an up-and-under reverse layup.

He posts up and spins around his defender for a layup.

He posts up and spins into another layup.

He pulls up from 35 feet to drain a three. He hits another three. And another three at the buzzer at the end of the third quarter.

And another three.

This wasn’t December 2000, it was Dec. 27, 2017.

Carter’s performance in a win against the Cleveland Cavaliers, in which he finished with 24 points on 10-12 from the floor, dazzled the fans inside Golden 1 Center. In case you didn’t know, he is 41 years old (40 at the time of that game.) This performance came after he passed Michael Jordan in the 2016-17 season as the oldest player to score 20 points off the bench. Carter may be a long way from the days of his high-flying dunk contest performance, or his third NBA season when he averaged 27 points a game, but there is still some amazing left in “half-man, half-amazing.”

After that Cavs game, Kings head coach Dave Joerger said Carter is a lot stronger than most people think so he can get moved to the power forward spot in today’s NBA, which he did against the Cavs. He doesn’t get backed down very easy in the post.

Carter has been touted for his leadership abilities all season, and it was a main reason the Kings signed him to a one-year deal as a mentor to the many young players on the roster. What gets lost in that conversation, and the debate about what this team is going to look like in the future though, is that Carter is still productive on an NBA basketball floor. Maybe he isn’t 24-points per game productive, and maybe he puts up an unnecessary three-pointer from time to time, but when he is on the floor, he brings a physical presence. He can pass, shoot and rebound, all while being one of the most vocal players on the floor, which is a trait that needs to be passed on to this young nucleus.

“He can still play, he really shoots the ball well, strong defensively, can rebound and for us, it’s just a lot of talking. It’s a lot of little things that he has us doing,” said Kings rookie De’Aaron Fox. “There was once I actually forgot the play, and he let me know what I needed to do and actually, he got a three, so that is one thing that he really helps us with.”

Helping is all that Carter cares about, not the points. At the end of a game in which he gets playing time, he asks himself if he helped the team. He doesn’t get caught up in the box score. Every night he prepares himself to play, but on the nights that he doesn’t make it onto the floor, it is still difficult for him accept. Not playing, even though at this point in his career he understands what his role is, is a tough pill for him to swallow.

“I want to play. I’m a competitor, and they know that. I understand what’s going on, it’s just tough to sit there and not play and be that close,” Carter said after a night he got a DNP. “It is difficult when you know you can go out there and contribute, and I can’t contribute, it is what it is. Then, it’s one of those things where you talk about being thankful to just still be on a roster.”

The passion for the game is still very much alive.

“Sometimes, I have to keep myself back from not going on the court from getting technicals. Just want to help these guys, just want to see us grow and do well,” said Carter, who has had a handful of impressive dunks this season, after which, he pretends to be riding a motorcycle, with his hands propped up as if he is holding handle bars as he runs back up the floor to get on defense.

Carter sees it that if a guy isn’t happy if he didn’t play, it is a good thing because it means he cares and loves the game.

“I love to play the game, it’s when I don’t love playing, or enjoy coming to work and putting the work in, I’ll walk away. Because I don’t want to disrespect this game, it’s been too good to me. It’s given me the opportunity to go a lot of places, meet a lot of people, cool people, and do a lot of things for different people,” said Carter, who has made in the range of $180 million over his career just from his team contracts. “So, to finally get near the end and play just to be playing when I shouldn’t be, or get caught up in playing for the money, then I’ll walk away.”

Carter, who is averaging 5.5 points (40 percent from the field), 2.5 rebounds and 1.2 assists in 17 minutes per game, hopes to still play beyond this season, but has plans of entering the broadcast booth when he hangs up his jersey for the last time. His goal is to land with TNT or ESPN. In recent seasons, he has been working to establish himself in the broadcasting world. He has had broadcast training through the NBA Players Association and has done some announcing work in the last three NBA Summer Leagues.

In the meantime, Carter will continue to surprise Kings fans with his abilities, as well as his teammates.

“I wonder how he still does it,” said Skal Labissiere. “I just hope I can move that well when I’m 41 – to still be dunking and doing what he does, it is impressive … I remember one time at practice, he reverse-dunked and I was just like, ‘some guys my age can’t even do that.’”

Kings rookie Justin Jackson referred to Carter as a “physical example” for the team because he displays the things he preaches to the young players.

“He’s usually the loudest guy on defense, he’s trying to help us young guys as much as possible so it’s definitely good when we’re on defense and maybe he calls out a coverage that we might not see at the time,” Jackson said. “Every once and awhile, he’ll do something that a 41-year-old should not be doing.”

Carter turned 41 on Jan. 26. Two days later, he dropped 21 points on the San Antonio Spurs.

Though the Kings are the seventh team Carter has played for, he enjoys the history of the franchise, the fans and remembers what it was like in the early 2000s, having to use hand signals for plays because of the noise.

On that Dec. 27 night in which he scored 24 on the Cavs, he recalled looking out into the crowd and seeing quite a few Cavs jerseys at the beginning of the game. At the end of the game, as he walked toward the Cavs bench to chat with former teammates of his, the crowd was a sea of purple, which he enjoyed.

Joerger enjoyed the evening of Vinsanity.

“It just made me smile, that was before he even made all the threes at the end,” Joerger said. “What can you say? That was awesome.”

Watching a future hall-of-famer still produce the way he is at the age of 41 should make us all smile, because it is awesome.