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Blockbuster Coming In San Antonio?

A Daily Babble Production

It's hard to remember the last time I heard a Vince Carter trade rumor that didn't engender some degree of pity for the proposed recipient of Carter's services.  But we've got just one such trade wind to mull over today.

The San Antonio Express-News' Jeff McDonald reported Saturday that there is some buzz around the league about a San Antonio-New Jersey deal that would send Carter to the Spurs for some combination of Roger Mason, George Hill, Fabricio Oberto and Bruce Bowen.  As McDonald explains, cap restrictions prevent the Spurs and Nets from making a four-for-one including all of those players, but something similar might be arranged.

As I've made clear in this space before, I'm not a VC fan.  He behaved deplorably at the end of his tenure in Toronto, and watching the Nets over the past few years hasn't always led me to believe that Carter was that interested in what was happening on the court.  As ultra-talented as he is, he has done more than his share of loafing in his NBA career, and he also occasionally goes into the mode where he decides he is breaking every play to force up contested off-balance flings from deep.  That act gets tiring in a hurry. 

All that in mind, it's often hard to like him or to envision the player that VC has been for much of his career as the right guy for a defense, teamwork and effort-oriented team like the Spurs.  But for a good portion of the time since Jason Kidd was traded last year and throughout this season, Carter's interest level has appeared to be more consistent. 

When he is interested, Vince Carter has the ability to be really good.  That combined with the relatively reasonable price tag is why the Spurs would have to at the very least consider making this move if it does end up on the table.

The upshot is that this is a move that would add a dimension to the Spurs' offense.  Suddenly, they gain a third 20-point scorer to Tim Duncan and Tony Parker in a lineup that already features Manu Ginobili coming off the bench.  That's four legitimate stars: a speedy penetrating point guard who can hit the mid-range shot, two dynamic wings and one of the best big men to ever play the game.  All four players can shoot from at least mid-range, all three guards will knock down open looks from behind the arc, and all of them can get to the basket.  Defending this team late in games would be extremely challenging, especially because of how difficult it would be to double-team and trap them with four stars on the floor.

The big question about Carter on a basketball level is of course whether his attitude would fit in town.  Much as he isn't a personal favorite, it's only fair to credit him for the fact that, as mentioned earlier, he has done a reasonable job of getting after it this season in New Jersey.  He isn't breaking as many plays as he once did, he's distributing to less talented teammates (4.9 assists per game) and he's still getting nearly 21 points per game on efficient shooting.  Carter's 39.3 percent mark from beyond the arc is his best since 2005, and his 55 percent true shooting mark is tied for the third-best of his career.  He has even been spotted diving for loose balls here and there, and he has won a couple of close games for the Nets with his clutch late-game performances.  He is 32 years old and stuck on a team that is going nowhere in the immediate future, yet he continues to come to play.  If ever there were a time for him to have matured to the point where he could really appreciate playing on a contending team, this is it.  It's hard to imagine that Carter's arrival wouldn't help the Spurs' 13th-ranked offensive efficiency by season's end.

But despite the fact that the outgoing costs aren't huge, there are risks in both the present and the future with giving up the players mentioned.  The Spurs have built their organization over the last decade on the value of team above all else.  After a rough start to the season due to injuries and rotation question marks, this team has jelled over the last couple of months, rising to sit second in the West at the break.  Everyone seems to have a role. 

Bruce Bowen may have lost a step, but he still made his fifth straight All-Defensive First Team last season.  While his role has decreased, he is still a valuable piece to the Spurs' fourth-ranked defense, and his importance will only increase against top-tier wings in the playoffs.  Roger Mason has established himself as one of the game's best three-point shooters (checking in at 44.9 percent), has provided a spark off the bench and hit several big shots in the waning moments of games this season.  George Hill has spelled Tony Parker at the point and played with an aggressiveness and confidence that may have led Spurs brass to view him as the team's point guard of the future.

Gregg Popovich's Spurs rely heavily on chemistry and being on the same wavelength to ensure that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  Moving several players for Carter could deplete the bench and might also weaken the defense this season.  If the folks running the show in San Antonio believe this team has a reasonable shot to win a championship as assembled, perhaps they lay off the deal.

Further, the cost down the road will be high.  While Carter might be able to summon the right amount of intensity and effort this season, having a player like him around on a long-term guaranteed deal can be dangerous.  VC is locked in through 2011, and he is scheduled to make $48.8 million between now and then.  Mason, Oberto and Bowen all have contracts that come off the books at the end of next season, and none of them makes more than $4 million either year.  Hill's rookie deal has team options at less than $3 million through 2012, and again it bears mention that he is expected to be an important part of the future in San Antonio.

Going for broke with the home-run trade hasn't exactly been the Spurs' style over the years, and neither has been acquiring players like Vince Carter.  But when he cares, VC is well beyond good.  It makes sense for the Spurs to listen to any VC offer that doesn't include sending one of their three stars in the other direction.  But what cost is worth sacrificing to bring in a 20-point scorer with baggage and a hefty contract?


Unrelated recommending reading: BBright Side of the Sun's Phoenix Stan scored press credentials to many of the All-Star festivities going on this weekend.  He's been live blogging and posting all sorts of good content over the last couple of days.  Definitely worth getting over there to take a look.

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