ATLANTA (AP) — Vince Carter can’t say his 21st NBA season will be his last.
At least not yet.
Carter signed a one-year veteran minimum contract Friday with the rebuilding Atlanta Hawks, his eighth team, in what could be his final stop before starting a career in broadcasting.
It appears to be the right mix for Carter, the league’s oldest active player. He turns 42 in January and wants to be ready for a television job when his playing days end.
Atlanta, home to Turner Broadcasting and NBA TV, is the right place to be, but Carter isn’t quite ready to announce his retirement.
“I know playing this game that the media and the fans and people can be cruel,” he said with a grin. “It’s like, ‘You’re old and you’re playing against guys half your age. You shouldn’t be out here.’ But then for me that is my goal, to prove that I’m able to do that. And I put in a lot of work in mentally as well as physically just preparing myself.”
Carter says the once-dynamic dunker, a live highlight reel of a player known as “Vinsanity ,” still lives inside him. It’s just different now that he’s been a reserve in stops the last six seasons with Dallas, Memphis and Sacramento.
“Yeah, I’m still the same person,” said Carter, the 1999 NBA Rookie of the Year and an eight-time All-Star. “My approach is still the same. My work ethic, my ability to play the game is still the same. Obviously it’s limited. You just don’t get to see it as much, but it’s the same guy.”
He wanted to play for the Hawks because they offered a chance to earn extra minutes. Atlanta is likely to be among the league’s worst teams this season and will begin training camp Sept. 25 with Taurean Prince, John Collins, Dewayne Dedmon, Kent Bazemore and either Trae Young or Jeremy Lin as its starting five.
Carter says he and new coach Lloyd Pierce have been texting each other frequently since Carter agreed to a contract late last month. They already know what his role will be, to mentor Prince, Collins and Young — the three core players the Hawks are building around — and to lead by example.
He did much of the same last season with the Kings, averaging 5.4 points and 2.6 rebounds in 58 games for a team that finished 27-55.
The Hawks figure to win far fewer games, but Carter believes the long-term plan looks promising.
“The makeup and the makeover of what this organization is trying to do is positive,” Carter said. “It’s in the right direction. We live in a world where we want it right now, but the reality is that sometimes it doesn’t happen that way. The potential is there to put the pieces together. My job is to come in and be like, ‘Yeah, I might not be here a couple of years but if I can help lay some foundation and some ideas to lead them in the right direction, that’s what I’m going to do.’ “
Carter isn’t the oldest player to ever play for the Hawks. Kevin Willis, Carter’s teammate in Toronto from 1998-2001, spent his first nine-plus seasons in Atlanta before returning at 42. The Hawks went 13-69 and had the NBA’s worst record.
If something that bad happens again, Carter says he won’t complain. For years he’s passed up on chances to sign with a contender and chase that championship ring he never won.
And it’s not like he needs the money after earning over $160 million in his career .
“To just sit on the end of the bench, I just can’t do that,” he said. “That’s just not who I am. I guess I’ve been around long enough, and what’s engrained in me and what’s been instilled in me, that’s not my thing.”
Carter describes himself as a longtime veteran who has a coach’s mentality but doesn’t want to coach.
“I love to play, man,” he said. “I have a young guy’s mentality with a 40-year-old body.”
And a potential Hall of Fame candidate who has his eyes set on becoming the NBA’s next broadcaster with a household name. He’s already worked as a guest analyst for NBA Summer League and high-profile youth games.
TNT could be his next step.
“I have a fear of when it’s over not being prepared for the next phase,” Carter said. “Now that I’m nearing the end, whenever that is, I want to make sure when that door is closed and I leave my basketball shoes in the gym or where I choose to leave them, I’m ready for the next phase.”