Dave D'Alessandro: Vince Carter Said to be Divorcing, Could Have Free Agent Implications

Dave D'Alessandro has been on Vince Carter like white on rice ever since Vinsanity got to New Jersey. D'Alessandro's Carter information is almost always solid. And he tossed this little tidbit onto the end of an article about Jay Williams (who, by the way, reportedly has not had luck getting a guaranteed contract from anyone, but is mulling a training camp invite from the Nets).

There have been reports out of Orlando that the Magic will vigorously pursue Vince Carter next summer -- when he has the option to terminate his Nets contract and play the free-agent market for the first time -- but his future has suddenly become more difficult to discern.

According to a close friend of the Nets forward, Carter and his wife, Ellen, recently initiated divorce proceedings, which may be a major factor in his next move.

If his wife gains custody of their 1-year-old daughter and moves back to Orlando or her own hometown in South Carolina, Carter could be motivated to sign with the Magic or Charlotte Bobcats just to stay close, as both teams have substantial cap room to sign him.

The last time Carter addressed his contract situation, he stated, "I just let it be as it may, and when the time comes, I'll deal with it."

Sad stuff. I wrote a Vince Carter story a few years ago for HOOP, and, though we didn't talk about it much, I definitely got the impression their marriage was a serious one. She's an intelligent professional, and someone Carter spoke of with reverence when I interviewed him for this a year ago.

Keep reading for the full HOOP article, which is a year old.Nice Guys Finish in New Jersey

Vince Carter is smiling, and so are the Nets.

by Henry Abbott

Everyone saw Vince Carter leap, and everyone leapt to conclusions.

The man flew to victory in the 2000 dunk contest at the All-Star game; yards in the air, throwing down one vicious fireball after another. Elbow in the cup. Ball through legs. Takeoff from God-knows-where.

“That’s when it all started,” Carter says of All-Star weekend in 2000. when he won the dunk contest by a country mile. “Before that happened, after every game, there would be three or four reporters and one camera waiting for me at my locker after the game. After that day, there were ten or twelve reporters and ten or twelve cameras. It has been like that ever since.”

“The one thing Vince might do better than Michael Jordan,” says his high school coach Charles Brinkerhoff, “is dunk.”

That rainy weekend in Oakland, Carter announced to the world that he was one of the most beautiful dunkers in the history of the league. However, with his familiar pedigree (a championship in high school, two near misses at championships while at Michael Jordan’s alma mater in North Carolina, an NBA rookie of the year award) reporters, fans and marketers of all kinds concocted a different message. They got the idea that the 6-6 shooting guard might be the second coming of Jordan. They showed the young Toronto Raptor on television so much that even his own hype got a name: Vinsanity.

The message was clear. Vince Carter, power-dunking shooting guard, was taking over the mantle from Michael Jordan as the ultimate warrior of the NBA.

Just one problem.

There are a hundred stories about the demeanor Michael Jordan wore on his way to six championships. You didn’t have to sit courtside to see if for yourself. That Space Jam smile was MIA between the lines. No, Michael Jordan the basketball player was steely, hard, and as determined as a predator. He scowled. He yelled. If you believe the many books on him, he intentionally found reasons to make himself angry, and used the anger as motivation to play harder. He barked at opponents and teammates alike. He inflicted his will on games with avarice. He destroyed opponents, and left them fearful.

Of course, people came to expect the same from Carter. Was he not cut from the whole cloth of Michael Jordan? Carter had the body, the experience, the size, the explosive athleticism… They even went to the same college and played the same position.

But where, wondered fans, coaches, GMs, reporters and television commentators, oh where was the warrior mentality?

“Vince Carter” says Brinkerhoff, “is about the nicest person you will ever meet. He’s kind. He’s thoughtful. He’s sensitive. He’s someone who really likes to please others.”

In other words, Carter might be a fantastic basketball player. He might have won one of the most memorable playoff duels of the last decade with 50 points, including eight straight made three-pointers in a playoff victory over Allen Iverson and the 76ers. He might have won buzzer-beating game-winners in two consecutive games. He might have a list as long as his arm of players he has dunked upon. He might be a six-time All-Star, with career best of 51 points, 15 rebounds and 12 assists. He might have a shoe named after him. He might have literally hurdled a 7-2 Frenchman on his way to Olympic gold.

But he’s never going to be good at being mean. Everyone you talk to about Carter agrees. Even Carter himself.

“I love to smile, I love to make people happy,” he admits. “I approach the game a little differently. I’m not so uptight. I don’t have the mean face all the time. I can laugh. Whether it’s the third quarter or the fourth quarter, I can have the relaxed face, the demeanor that I’m comfortable.”

At first, that didn’t seem to be a problem. Things started so optimistically. He was drafted fifth overall in 1998 and was the rookie of the year with all but five of the 118 votes. His second season, the Vinsanity really kicked into gear, and he earned a reputation as a clutch player, at one point assassinating the Celtics and then the Clippers with buzzer-beating game-winners just a few days apart.

Shocked to see that one of his idols, famed dunker Dominique Wilkins, wasn’t named to the list of the NBA’s 50 greatest players of all time, Carter even dedicated himself to becoming more than just a dunker—rounding out his game to become a complete offensive threat.

But there were some injuries, some team turnover, and eventually, some trouble. There was a cloud of off-court distractions: his shoe deal went bad, reportedly because the shoes he was paid to wear hurt his feet. His agent, Tank Black, was accused of various wrongdoings for which he was eventually jailed.

When the Raptors reached the peak of their franchise history—nearly making the eastern conference finals in 2001—Carter clanked what would have been the game-winner, on the very day that he had been criticized for skipping the team’s morning shoot-around to take a private jet to get his diploma from the University of North Carolina.

“That’s the thing about shooting game-winners—missing sucks,” says Carter. “I took that one hard. It bothered me all summer. I’d definitely love to have that opportunity again.”

Most troubling of all, there was a widening gulf between what people expected of Carter, and what he actually was. Inevitably, it caused friction.

Raptors brass lamented the fact that Carter wouldn’t be more of a take-charge leader. Players told the media he should scream at teammates. They wanted him to talk a lot more. They wanted him to leave no doubt, on a nightly basis, that he was the alpha dog.

“I’m not sure,” says Brinkerhoff, “that his personality lends itself to that.”

People were even upset that he was friendly to opponents before games.

“I’m not going to name names,” says Carter’s mother and confidant, Michelle Carter-Scott “but one of his NBA coaches didn’t want him to hug and say hello to players from the other team before the game. Vince has known a lot of those players since he was 15. He knows their mothers, their sisters and their brothers. He played AAU and Junior Olympic ball with them. Shaquille O’Neal and Grant Hill live right down the street. Are you telling me Vince is not going to say hello to Shaquille? Come on.”

“I asked Vince if he wanted these people to remember him with a Christmas card he was 55. He looked at me like I was crazy,” remembers Carter-Scott. “I asked ‘Are dear friendships part of what’s important in this picture? Yeah? Ok. And you’re not going to go and say hi? You can’t ask how someone’s mother is doing? One of these days you’re going to walk away from the game for the last time. I want to still like you. I adore you, I’m your mother, but I want to still like you.’”

Carter never did stop saying hello to his friends on opposing NBA teams. It was one of many little frictions that emerged from the gulf between the domineering lead dog the Raptors badly needed, and the jovial puppy they actually had under contract.

Carter doesn’t like to talk about it much to the media—he’s too nice—but eventually bad blood developed with his employer.

“Things went south pretty fast,” remembers Carter-Scott, who is less bashful on the topic. “Or, maybe things were going south all along and we refused to see it. It’s like one of those stories when you hear about a couple getting in bed at night and one of them just announces ‘I want a divorce.’ Huh? When did this happen? The marriage, in any case, went south, and Vince was miserable. He was making all of us miserable. It was hell.”

By the beginning of the 2004/2005 season, it was public knowledge that the Raptors were shopping Carter around the league. Eventually, the New Jersey Nets were the ones to nibble. The Raptors traded Carter to New Jersey shortly before Christmas, in exchange for Alonzo Mourning, Aaron Williams, Eric Williams and two first round draft picks.

Living out of a New Jersey hotel, surrounded by new teammates, and trying to fit into a foreign system, Carter scampered to one of the best seasons of his career. In 57 games as a Net, he set a team record by averaging 27.5 points per game, to go with six rebounds and five assists.

“The trade,” says Carter-Scott, “was a God send. All of a sudden Vince had a new lease on life. It was like somebody gave him a shot of feel good.”

It also gave Carter an up-tempo system, a fresh start with teammates and coaches, and, perhaps most importantly, a team that was not in search of a lead dog.

The Nets, you see, are Jason Kidd’s team. They don’t need Carter to tell anyone to do anything.

“J. Kidd makes life a lot easier,” says Carter. “That’s a luxury I have definitely gotten used to, and he has been a big part of my success. He has the mentality that he doesn’t want to lose, and it’s contagious. I have that feeling too. When we put our talents together, we can get to a point where no one’s worried who gets the points, who gets the assists, who gets the credit. He’s not even necessarily verbal about it. He just goes to ball every night, and he knows I’ve got his back. He’s setting the bar high. He’s demanding.”

Carter visited his old high school coach this off-season. Shortly after leaving, Coach Brinkerhoff said the Nets captain had made a big impression on Carter. “He refers to J. Kidd all the time. He’s ‘J. Kidd this and J. Kidd that’ all day. Playing with Jason is a motivator to Vince. He likes it that way.”

“I haven’t seen Vince Carter this focused on basketball in a long time,” says Brinkerhoff. “I’ve known him since he was a freshman in high school, and I can tell you that he really enjoyed playing at North Carolina. That was a lot of fun for him. I don’t think he has felt great about basketball since then—until now. I see that in him this summer. It’s the right situation, with the right organization, at the right time. I don’t think you’ve seen the best of Vince Carter yet.”

The change of scene is just one of the auspicious signs for Carter these days.

He’s not living in a hotel anymore—he has bought a house in New Jersey to compliment his off-season Orlando home down the street from Grant Hill, Shaquille O’Neal and Tiger Woods. He married chiropractor (and former North Carolina classmate) Ellen Rucker in 2004. The newlyweds won twice in June: the miracle of Kai Michelle Carter’s birth was matched only by the infant’s sleeping eleven straight hours every night beginning at only eight weeks old.

For the first time in a long time, his health is perfect; knees and Achilles tendons that have howled like hound dogs so often in the past are, he swears, at peace.

Carter is bubbly and happy to talk about his team. “We have twelve to fifteen guys who, if everyone accepts their roles and stays healthy, we can make a lot of noise,” he says. “I’m not saying we can win a championship, but we can contend for one.”

And his good mood only makes him smile more. Which begs the question: is Vince Carter too nice?

“He has been told,” confirms his mother, “that he’s too nice.”

“He may be,” says his Coach Brinkerhoff. “He’s never going to be a vocal leader.”

Carter doesn’t give a damn.

“I worked hard to get here my way, and I don’t have the same demeanor as Michael Jordan. But with a smile on my face, I can still go out and get you thirty-five. I’m not like MJ. I just don’t have that serious face. I’m going to be the way I am,” explains Carter, “and sooner or later the vast majority of people are going to get that. I’m Vince Carter.”