A great teammate, voice of experience and mentor.
That’s what the Kings knew they were getting when they signed Vince Carter in July.
Carter’s been all that, even while out injured. More than one King credits a conversation with Carter with helping them through a rough stretch, some of those discussions happened while Carter was away from the team recovering from kidney stones.
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The question is can Carter, 40, do all of that while not playing?
“It’s tough to do that,” Carter said.
He’s right, too. If the Kings wanted Carter to be a coach, they would have offered him a job on the coaching staff for considerably less than the $8 million he’ll earn this season.
Carter understands his role, and it’s one that’s hard to do if he never sees the floor.
“It’s not about putting the ball in the basket for me, I know I can do that,” Carter said. “It’s all about helping these guys play the right way so if I can move the ball and talk us through things on the court, that’s what I’m going to do, and I can make a difference when I’m on the court that way. That’s how I look at the game.”
So if that’s what Carter is here for, he certainly can’t do that from the sidelines.
“He’s here to play,” coach Dave Joerger said. “He’s a competitor and we brought him in for that purpose, as well as helping our young guys on and off the court.”
There are many who argue Carter’s 11.7 minutes per game could go to Justin Jackson, Malachi Richardson or any of the Kings’ first- or second-year players. But if the team is to have any credibility in getting better and keeping the locker room intact, the team can’t just be handed over to the youngsters.
“I think the worst thing you can do is trot five freshmen and sophomores out there together,” Joerger said. “I’ve been told that by many, many people in management, and those who’ve gone through a rebuild. You try to have a nice mix.”
Joerger tried that once and what we got was the Kings down 37 at home to Washington.
Do we really need a repeat of that? No, thank you.
Carter is an easy target for any ire over time on the court. He’s the NBA’s oldest player, and his position is one in which the Kings have a lot of young guys.
Carter’s minutes, points (2.6 per game) and shooting (28.3 percent) are all career lows. But to say Carter playing eight minutes a game is robbing a young player of a chance to blossom is an overreaction. Let’s not act as if sometime around February or March, we won’t see Carter and probably anyone over 30 given rest nights regularly.
Until the Kings decide that’s the way to go, Jackson and Richardson are better off with the G League team in Reno and actually playing rather than waiting for a few sporadic minutes on the NBA club.
And Carter will still be offering nuggets of wisdom to Kings, young and older, as he’s done all season.
“I think they value my opinion. They’ve allowed me to kind of be in their ear, even when times are tough,” Carter said. “I just try to have an easy approach about it because everybody goes through their moments when they don’t want to hear it, and I understand that and respect that.”
Carter is sensitive to the struggles of the young players and what he can do to help them. Over his career he’s observed young players now seem to learn better by seeing what’s supposed to be done, rather than just being told.
“It’s always tough, especially when a guy hasn’t been through it before, and when you tell them something, they hear it,” Carter said. “But then there’s processing it for it to make sense.”
That comes with film review, coaching and, in some cases, watching Carter.
Zach Randolph is averaging 17 points and 7.6 rebounds while shooting 55.9 percent in his last five games, and has scored at least 22 points in his last two.
The Kings give up the 3-point shot with too much ease. Opponents are shooting 39.1 percent from beyond the arc this season. Entering Sunday, only Milwaukee (40 percent) was worse.
The Kings on Wednesday visit Cleveland and LeBron James, who shows no signs of slowing down. Then there’s a game at New Orleans and former King Rajon Rondo. Oh, and DeMarcus Cousins, too.