Here's why the Trail Blazers wanted to acquire Vince Carter: Not only would he have sold out the Rose Garden, but he also would have fed off the standing O's he'd have gotten there by slashing to the rim and tomahawking like the Carter of old. In other words, he'd have played more like Kobe Bryant and less like the underachieving All-Star now booed by frustrated Raptors fans.
According to two league sources, a proposed deal that would have sent Carter (along with Jalen Rose) to Portland fell through last weekend. Both sides had their concerns. Toronto wanted more than Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Derek Anderson and Vladimir Stepania; the Blazers had been hesitant because the contracts of Carter ($57.9 million over four years) and Rose ($47.1 million over three) would have saddled a team incapable of playing championship-level defense with a payroll of more than $80 million. Billionaire owner Paul Allen already put Portland in the luxury-tax bracket last summer by lavishing huge deals on Zach Randolph ($84 million for six years), Theo Ratliff (a $35 million, three-year extension) and Darius Miles (six years, $48 million). But even at their high prices, Carter and Rose would have provided an upgrade in talent for a team that was 8--8 at week's end.
Toronto is still expected to seek a deal for Carter, and the Knicks remain eager to acquire him. Why would the Raptors unload their 27-year-old franchise player? Because their relationship with Carter can't be saved. At week's end he was suffering career worsts in points (16.1 per game), minutes (31.2) and shooting (41.1%). Carter was getting to the line a mere 3.4 times per game, a sure sign of his apathy. (Bryant, by comparison, had averaged 11.5.) According to stats compiled by the website 82games.com through Sunday's games, Toronto fell behind by an average of 9.0 points while Carter was on the floor and gained 8.7 points while he sat. Carter's cumulative rating of --17.7 points ranked ahead of only four players'. (The NBA leader was Andrei Kirilenko at +27.7; Antawn Jamison, a former North Carolina teammate for whom Carter was traded on draft day in 1998, was 13th at +17.9.)
By shedding the salaries of Carter and Rose, the Raptors could rebuild around second-year big man Chris Bosh and point guard Rafer Alston, who plays coach Sam Mitchell's preferred up-tempo style. G.M. Rob Babcock refused to discuss the trade rumors, but it's clear that Toronto didn't design its new offense around Carter or Rose. "Those guys are used to having the ball in their hands, clearouts, orchestrating things on the wing," Babcock says. "Sam's offense is geared more toward getting that ball to move and getting easy open jump shots. Vince has had to make more adjustments than anybody on our team."
The Raptors can't afford to wait too long to trade Carter. At week's end they were 7--12 and staggering after a blowup between Alston and Mitchell, who benched his point guard along with center Loren Woods after they earned technical fouls in the third quarter of a 91--89 loss in Boston last Friday. (The following night Alston bounced back with 20 points and 10 assists in a 105--97 defeat at Cleveland.) But the real story of the Celtics game was Carter, who emerged from timeouts in the final minute shaking his head and smiling ruefully after Mitchell didn't diagram plays for him. Though he has avoided controversial statements since his agent demanded a trade in August, Carter hinted that he'll speak out if the Raptors continue to ignore him.
"I was always taught to keep [my] mouth closed and just play, and that's what I'm trying to do," Carter said. "Sometimes the built-up frustration leads you to [speak out]. When we're not winning and I'm still not out there, then it's a different situation."
On Bobcats rookie power forward Emeka Okafor (right), who at week's end was averaging 13.9 points, 10.6 rebounds and 1.5 blocks:
"He still hasn't learned the back-to-the-basket game, which is all about feeling the guy defending you, putting your ass on him and making him play you one way or the other; defenders are hiding, and Okafor can't get a sense of where they are. What surprises me is his ability to hit the 12- to 15-foot jump shot--in spite of his awkward, arms-flailing form--and his toughness, which I saw in a recent game in New Jersey. It was one of those old bull versus young bull deals: Alonzo Mourning tried to knock him out with elbows to the chest, but instead of backing down, Okafor exploded off the floor and went over the top of Zo for a rebound. I had a little more respect for Okafor after that."