It is time to make peace with Vince Carter, Toronto. Time to get at it.
The Toronto Raptors are rebranding and watchable once again; they've got a high-powered global ambassador, a president/chief executive officer who understands the meaning of the grand gesture. They even have an NBA all-star game coming to the Air Canada Centre in 2016 – and if that isn't the perfect time to celebrate Carter's career and remember his dunk-contest coming-out party at the 2000 all-star festivities, there is no perfect time.
Carter made what could be his final visit to the ACC as a player on Wednesday. He took a back seat to the new face of the Raptors, as DeMar DeRozan poured in a career-high 40 points in a 93-85 come-from-behind win over Carter and the Dallas Mavericks in front of 18,179. But, four days shy of his 37th birthday, Carter has made noises about wanting a rapprochement with the Raptors and there are signs of reciprocation.
Which is all to the good, because it never was the easy narrative so many wanted it to be; it never was "Vince Carter quit on Toronto and that's all there is to it."
There were plenty of villains: Kevin O'Neill, Richard Peddie and Rob Babcock and, most assuredly, Carter and his entourage among them. There was, frankly, a crying need for adult supervision that might have allowed for sober second thought on all parts.
And now here we are: The Raptors' second-leading scorer and one-time face of the franchise – who averaged 23.4 points per game in his six-plus seasons in Toronto – is in his dotage; in his 15th year in a league where nobody plays an entire career with one team any more.
Tim Leiweke, the president and CEO of team-owner Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., introduced himself to Carter before the game. The men had what a source described as a pleasant chat. Carter also had a good-natured exchange with Canadian rap star Drake, the Raptors global ambassador, who was sitting courtside.
Carter entered the game for Shawn Marion at 6 minutes 59 seconds of the first quarter to scattered boos and no small amount of applause. The boos became louder when he touched the ball and then, oddly, gave way to hoots and first pumps as many in the crowd stood following a rim-rattling dunk.
And that's how it went: loud, sustained booing at times. Muted applause. Slightly less muted applause – all, perhaps, the signs of a relationship in transition to a happier place.
Carter played a key role as the Mavericks went on a 19-5 run to end the first, scoring five points and dishing out three assists, two of them to DeJuan Blair on driving reverse layups. But he picked up his third foul with 2:48 left in the first half, and the Raptors in the middle of a 33-17 quarter. Carter picked up his fourth foul just 36 seconds after re-entering the game in the third quarter, and was immediately returned to the bench.
Carter finished with eight points and four assists in 22 minutes and agreed later that perhaps the relationship with Toronto fans was "a work in progress.
"It was a great feeling," he said of the cheers, which he apparently heard. "It was appreciated."
The Mavericks blew a 19-point lead to the Raptors on December 20 and tonight's blown advantage was 21 points. "We played two quarters, they played three," said head coach Rick Carlisle, who gave Dirk Nowitzki the night off purely for rest, saying: "it was the right thing to do for him and the organization.
"We blew a big lead," he added, tersely. "No excuses."
Both Carlisle and Carter sent kudos to De-Rozan, who was 15-of-22 from the field and 9-for-14 from the line. Greivis Vasquez chipped in with 17 points and a team-high seven assists as the Raptors bumped their record to 21-20.
"He did a little bit of everything," Carlisle said of DeRozan. "Driving ... making shots ... they got in transition because of turnovers (21) and he is a good transition player."
Added Carter: "He's a very good player, and what he's learned to do is play in control a little more. You've got all that athleticism ... but you want to slow down sometimes and see things developing."
The notion that a player need bring a title to his team to get his uniform retired doesn't hold water in this market.
Sundin … Gilmour … Clark … Salming – I'm looking at a whole bunch of honoured players' numbers in the rafters at the ACC and many of them don't scream Stanley Cup champion. Truthfully? I will always think Chris Bosh screwed over the Raptors more than Carter – and there are people close to the NBA team who won't mount much of an argument.
When the Raptors tied the can to Rudy Gay this season, they satiated the gods of analytics. And this flirtation with respectability – they're 21-20 after Wednesday – has not only been unexpected, it's allowed for measurable growth in metrics such as TV ratings.
Time now to address some of the karmic issues; time to move beyond transgressions real and imagined and see where it goes.
Banner? Retired jersey? The guess here is the global ambassador, who knows how to hit the right note more often than not, might be the perfect sounding board.
Follow me on Twitter: @GloBlair