Vince Carter quickly finds niche with Mavs

DALLAS -- Vince Carter arrived in Dallas with an open mind other than one assumption.

The eight-time All-Star expected to contribute to a title contender. He just didn’t care what his role would be.

“I’m willing to do whatever you need me to do, plain and simple,” Carter told coach Rick Carlisle, who is impressed and appreciative that the 35th-leading scorer NBA history would be so willing.

It seems that Carter has found his niche coming off the bench for the Mavs. His stint as a starter lasted all of one half in the season opener, when Carter struggled. He’s been a bright spot since then, scoring 29 points in 56 minutes as a reserve in the last three games.

“It appears that we have something good going there,” said Carlisle, who isn’t committing to keeping Carter in a reserve role but is leaning strongly in that direction.

Carter’s production the last two nights, in particular, included some clutch buckets. He hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 1.4 seconds remaining against the Oklahoma City Thunder, although Kevin Durant stole the spotlight and the win with a 28-footer at the buzzer. After the Toronto Raptors roared to a 14-0 run to take a seven-point lead in the third quarter, Carter came off the bench and ignited a 16-2 run that allowed the Mavs to regain the lead for good, scoring half of Dallas’ points during the spurt.

“I still have a starter’s mentality,” said Carter, who gave the Mavs life with a 3-pointer and tough 14-foot fadeaway to begin the run against the Raptors. “That’s how I approach it, and when I say that, I mean that as being aggressive, playing as if you’re a starter. Be aggressive and go out there and make plays, whether it’s getting the shot for someone else or knocking down the shot.”

One reason Carlisle likes bringing Carter off the bench is because it gives the Mavs flexibility. Carter can play either wing position, depending on matchups. With Carter in the starting lineup, it eliminates the option of letting Jason Kidd defend the shooting guard instead of quicker point guards.

Carter also has more freedom to attack offensively with the second unit.

“He knows on this team he’s not going to get the looks that he obviously used to get in New Jersey,” said center Brendan Haywood, Carter’s college teammate at North Carolina. “But when he comes in, I think coach has done a great job of calling plays for him and keeping him involved in the game.”

Carlisle often refers to Carter, who has 20,554 career points, as a Hall of Fame player. That might be considered a subtle way of massaging a former superstar’s ego, but such tactics don’t seem necessary with Carter.

Less than a month away from his 35th birthday, Carter is comfortable with where he is in his career. All he wants to do is win a ring.

“I’ve gotten the opportunity to play on a team that wants to win a championship and was formed to do so, so [the role] doesn’t bother me,” Carter said. “It’s just, make a difference.”