The glint in Tracy McGrady's eye was almost as blinding as the glow from the diamond stud boulders that tested the strength of his earlobes when he offhandedly suggested that teammate Vince Carter was a wanted man in the United States.
"I think the league wants a guy like Vince Carter up in the States," the young Toronto Raptors guard said yesterday. Carter, McGrady said, would be a good fit in a big media market like Chicago.
The notion of the National Basketball Association wanting to spirit Carter out of Toronto and position him in a big-market U.S. city to help boost the league's sagging popularity is nothing new.
It was initially broached several weeks ago by Butch Carter, the Raptors' head coach and chief conspiracy theorist.
The coach's comment provoked controversy and strong denials from the NBA, even as recently as last weekend when NBA commissioner David Stern was in Toronto to witness the Raptors' playoff demise at the hands of the New York Knicks.
"We are really proud of our expansion into Canada," Stern said, denying the conspiracy theory. "Vince Carter, in my view, would do very well to play out his career in Canada."
Still, that did not prevent McGrady from stirring the pot a bit yesterday as the Raptors gathered at the Air Canada Centre for one final team meeting before disbanding for the off-season.
The Raptors' season came to a crashing end last Sunday when they were defeated 87-80 by the Knicks, completing a 3-0 sweep in the Eastern Conference opening-round playoff series.
After a wildly successful 45-victory regular season that earned them their first postseason berth in franchise history, the Raptors bowed out meekly, beset with inner turmoil and concerns about the coaching capabilities of Butch Carter.
Yesterday's short get-together was amicable, by most accounts. At least no one emerged with bloodied noses.
Afterward, Butch Carter, McGrady and several other players took turns to meet with reporters to rehash the season.
The biggest question the Raptors face in the off-season is whether they can persuade McGrady, who will be a highly sought free agent, to re-sign a fat new contract and remain in Toronto.
All season, the 6-foot-8 guard with the wing span of a crane has declined to say whether he wants to stay in Toronto.
"I've got to weigh my options and just do what's best for me," McGrady said yesterday. "I'm not counting Toronto out. That's my first option right now because of how far I've come
"But right now, I'm just going home, enjoy my summer and take some time off and get away from basketball."
However, ever-playful McGrady added an intriguing twist when he suggested that his decision will be based largely on what Vince Carter, a distant cousin, chooses for his future. Carter is still under contract with the Raptors for two more years.
"It will be a big impact," McGrady said. "But you know I have to look at I'm signing for six or seven years, Vince has two years on his contract. And who knows what he's going to do?
"They [the NBA]probably want to get Vince back to the States. So it's going to be a tough decision."
McGrady said he had not talked to Carter about the future.
Vince Carter rolled his eyes when told of McGrady's belief that their basketball futures are tied together.
"He's using that as a cop-out, just to bring me into it," Carter said. "He needs to just sit down with his family or by himself in a room or whatever and just figure it out himself."
Toronto forward Antonio Davis said the key to the Raptors' future is bringing back McGrady, and that he's going to great lengths to ensure it happens.
"I kind of rented a place close to his house [in Florida]this summer to try to convince him to come back," Davis said.
"I've grown to be a real fan of Tracy McGrady. I really like the way he's handled himself. I like the way that he's grown into a great player. I seen him play last year and he was at another level this year."
Coach Carter came under harsh criticism heading into the playoffs after he chose to file a $5-million defamation lawsuit against Marcus Camby of the Knicks, only to drop it several days later.
Carter also lost the support of some of his players who became upset after the coach questioned the team's leadership qualities.
"I basically understand that I have a vision of where we could go," Carter said. "The way I coach, and with my personality, there are going to be guys who are offended. And that is the nature when you coach millionaire players and you're demanding.
"If they think there's something unfair, there's not going to be some private fight. They feel the best way to damage a coach is some public fight. So it's the nature of the beast."