DALLAS -- If Vince Carter can't be the Dallas Mavericks' starting shooting guard on a consistent basis it would seem to complicate coach Rick Carlisle's plans to use Delonte West predominantly as Jason Kidd's backup.
Reserve point guard is critically important to ensure Kidd gets the rest he'll need throughout this whirlwind, 66-game schedule.
The 6-foot-6 Carter lasted one half as the starting shooting guard. West started Monday against Denver, but then Jason Terry started the second half. How will Carlisle address the position tonight against an Oklahoma City Thunder backcourt of point guard Russell Westbrook and shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha?
"Right now, we’ve got to start the game with five guys in a stance and getting after it defensively," Carlisle said. "We’ve got to find the right formula, but the right formula has got to start with tough defense. That’s just how we’re going to do business, that’s just how it’s got to be."
In the West finals, shooting guard DeShawn Stevenson allowed Carlisle to switch defensive assignments. Stevenson would start off on Westbrook, and Kidd, at a rugged 6-foot-4, guarded Sefolosha, a less athletic player and a far less dangerous scoring threat than the fourth-year Westbrook.
Carter would seem an adequate cover on Sefolosha, but that would leave the 38-year-old Kidd to tackle the 23-year-old Westbrook, making a Mavs backourt of Kidd and West seem more equipped to handle the Thunder's All-Star point guard.
For West, the sudden dual responsibility on a team also adjusting to an influx of new faces is a clear challenge.
"It is tougher coming into a new system because playing the point you’re trying to make sure everyone else is in their spots, and you have new guys also that are a little out of sort," West said. "And then once you get off the ball, you’ve got to reprogram your mind in a quick second to attacking, and that’s going to come.
"Honestly, up until really today, I didn’t have down where I was supposed to be at off the ball. I was thinking so much like trying to get guys the ball where they want it, trying to get this guy over here, get Lamar Odom down on the block. But J-Kidd has been working with me religiously, knowing the positions and I’m watching Jet play off the ball. So give us about two or three weeks and you won’t be thinking about these first two games."
Carter's start to the season has not been encouraging. He turns 35 in less than a month and the athleticism that allowed him to become a spectacular player in his prime now eludes him. He has 16 points on 5-of-12 shooting with six assists, three rebounds, five turnovers and seven fouls in 41 minutes played.
He doesn't provide the kind of tenacious defense that pushed Kidd, Terry and Dirk Nowitzki last season to twice lobby for Stevenson, now with the New Jersey Nets on a one-year, $2.5 million contract, to be the starter.
Carlisle called Carter a Hall of Fame player and said he will fit in.
"Vince is still a terrific athlete and off of 2 ½ weeks with him, he is one of the most knowledgeable players that I’ve ever been around," Carlisle said. "He totally understands the game. Look, he’s an eight-time All-Star, he’s a Hall-of-Famer; you look at Hall of Fame guys, guys that are eight-time All-Stars are Hall of Famers, and there’s a reason because he’s been a great player and he knows how to play. He’s going to fit in great with what we’re doing just because he’s a helluva basketball player."