Trade Retrospective: Vince Carter To Nets

In the wake of the blockbuster deal that sent Kevin Love to the Cavaliers this summer, I’ve been taking a look back at some of the bigger trades that have occurred in the NBA over the last decade. It’s always a risk to trade away a star player, and getting equal value is a near impossibility in most cases.

It’s fascinating to see the league-wide ripples that big trades can cause, and sometimes the full effects and ramifications aren’t fully felt until years later when the draft picks are used, players either reach their potential or fall short, the won-loss records are final, and title banners have been hung, or franchises end up in the draft lottery.

So far I’ve looked back at Carmelo Anthony being dealt to the Knicks; Kevin Garnett to the Celtics; Dwight Howard to the Lakers; Stephon Marbury to the Knicks; Shaquille O’Neal to the Heat; Chris Paul to the Clippers; Deron Williams to the Nets; LaMarcus Aldridge to the Blazers; and James Harden to the Rockets. Next up is a response to one of our reader’s requests, the December 18th, 2004 trade that saw the Raptors send Vince Carter to the Nets.

Let’s begin with a breakdown of the pieces involved:

The Nets were desperately looking for some athleticism to replace Kenyon Martin who had been traded to Denver prior to the season. The franchise was beginning to decline, despite being only one season removed from their second consecutive trip to the NBA Finals. The team’s biggest star, Jason Kidd, was growing frustrated and all indications were that he was going to push for a trade, and management hoped that this deal would not only vault the franchise back into contender status, but also placate Kidd.

Here are the Nets records prior to trade:

  1. 2000/01: 26-56
  2. 2001/02: 52-30 (Lost in the NBA Finals to the Lakers)
  3. 2002/03: 49-33 (Lost in the NBA Finals to the Spurs)
  4. 2003/04: 47-35 (Lost in second round to the Pistons)

Carter was the biggest star in Raptors history. He was an electric player whose high-flying dunks and scoring prowess made him one of the top attractions in the game. But he was beginning to be criticized by the media and fans for becoming a “soft” player, which didn’t sit well with him. The point of contention was his increased reliance on jump shots, and his seeming reluctance to drive the lane and take the inevitable contact that results from such forays.

At the time of the trade Carter was in the midst of his worst season as a professional, averaging a career low 15.9 PPG while shooting 41.1% from the field. Believing a change of scenery would energize his career, Carter requested a trade from the Raptors and Brooklyn (then New Jersey) was all too happy to pair him with Kidd and Richard Jefferson to form one of the more exciting and athletic teams in the league.

Carter instantly responded to the change of address, increasing his scoring to 27.5 PPG the rest of the 2004/05 season. He also returned to form during his years in New Jersey, though the move never resulted in the Nets returning to the Finals, much less winning them.

Here’s what Carter’s production was during his time with the Nets:

  1. 2004/05: 27.5 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 4.7 APG, and 1.5 SPG. His slash line was .462/.425/.817.
  2. 2005/06: 24.2 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 4.3 APG, and 1.2 APG. His slash line was .430/.341/.799.
  3. 2006/07: 25.2 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 4.8 APG, and 1.0 SPG. His slash line was .454/.357/.802.
  4. 2007/08: 21.3 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 5.1 APG, and 1.2 SPG. His slash line was .456/.359/.816.
  5. 2008/09: 20.8 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 4.7 APG, and 1.0 SPG. His slash line was .437/.385/.817.

As you can see, his production was All-Star caliber though he began his decline phase during his last two seasons in New Jersey. But his numbers were also just window dressing since the Nets were merely an average team during his tenure. Here is what the Nets did with Carter on the roster:

  1. 2004/05: 42-40 (Lost in first round to the Heat)
  2. 2005/06: 49-33 (Lost in second round to the Heat)
  3. 2006/07: 41-41 (Lost in second round to the Cavs)
  4. 2007/08: 34-48
  5. 2008/09: 34-48

Carter’s time in New Jersey came to an end on June 25th, 2009, the day of the NBA Draft. He was dealt to the Magic along with Ryan Anderson for Rafer Alston, Tony Battie and Courtney Lee. The Nets immediately felt his absence, going 12-70 the next season, while Orlando went 59-23 and lost in the Conference Finals to the Celtics.

Considering the Nets didn’t end up giving away all that much to acquire Carter, it’s difficult to label the trade a failure from a purely statistical standpoint. But seeing how Carter’s presence didn’t result in a deep playoff run or a 50+ win season at any point, the franchise may have been better served in the long run if they had skipped this trade, blown up the roster, and spent a few seasons in the draft lottery as a result.

This trade from the Raptors’ point-of-view was an attempt to jump start their rebuilding process and to assuage Carter, who had made it clear to team management that he wanted out of Toronto. He was in the midst of his worst season as a pro, and to be fair, he was nursing a number of nagging injuries at the time, but the change of scenery certainly seemed to energize Carter and boost his stats.

Toronto wasn’t close to contending with its roster at the time, as evidenced by its records in the seasons prior to the deal happening:

  1. 2000/01: 47-35 (lost in second round to the Sixers)
  2. 2001/02: 42-40 (lost in first round to the Pistons)
  3. 2002/03: 24-58
  4. 2003/04: 33-49

When looking back at the pieces the Raptors netted, the first impression is that they received “pennies on the dollar” for Carter. They got very little out of the players they acquired, and the draft picks also ended up being misses, which makes the trade look even worse for Toronto.

With the 2005 first-rounder they received, the Raptors selected Joey Graham with the 16th overall pick. His numbers in Toronto left quite a bit to be desired for a mid first-rounder, as shown below:

  1. 2005/06: 6.7 PPG, 3.1 RPG, and 0.8 APG. His slash line was .478/.333/.812.
  2. 2006/07: 6.4 PPG, 3.1 RPG, and 0.6 APG. His slash line was .495/.290/.840.
  3. 2007/08: 3.6 PPG, 1.8 RPG, and 0.4 APG. His slash line was .434/.667/.844.
  4. 2008/09: 7.7 PPG, 3.7 RPG, and 0.6 APG. His slash line was .481/.188/.825.

When making big-name player trades, draft picks are some of the best currency a franchise can acquire to help them jump start the rebuilding process. But the key is that teams need to cash in and select the right player–something that is far from an exact science. Toronto essentially wasted the pick on Graham, judging by his lack of production. This selection looks even worse when you consider that Danny Granger, Monta Ellis, Marcin Gortat, David Lee, and Gerald Green were still on the board when Graham’s name was called by the commissioner.

Graham’s tenure north of the border came to an end when he became a free agent in 2009 and inked a one-year, non-guaranteed deal with the Nuggets. He was only in the league for two more seasons, averaging 4.2 PPG and 5.2 PPG respectively during those years.

The other first-rounder was also wasted by Toronto. They packaged it along with Jalen Rose in the trade with the Knicks that brought Antonio Davis to the Raptors. For Toronto, this was a move to create cap space for the summer when the team was hoping to re-sign Mike James, who ended up opting out of his contract and signing with the Timberwolves anyway.

Davis did little-to-nothing for the Raptors, suffering a serious back injury after just eight games with the team. This injury resulted in the team releasing Davis, with then GM Bryan Colangelo saying, “After receiving a second opinion on Antonio’s lingering back problems, it is very unlikely that he would return to competitive action this season with the Raptors. After lengthy discussions with Antonio regarding his physical condition and his general sense of disappointment over his personally difficult year, we have concluded that it’s in the best interest of both the organization and Antonio Davis to simply release him at this late point of the season.” Davis never played another minute in the league again.

So instead of having another young player to try and build around, the Raptors traded the pick to the Knicks, who also botched their selection by taking Renaldo Balkman with the No. 20 overall pick. Balkman’s career numbers were 4.0 PPG and 3.5 RPG. That’s hardly impressive, and made all the worse by the players who were available when that selection rolled around, like Rajon Rondo, Kyle Lowry, and Paul Millsap.

This deal could have been a win for the Raptors if they had held onto the picks and used them wisely. If we were looking back on this trade and the Raptors had Rondo and Granger, or Ellis and Millsap, then it would be cast in a much different light for the organization and its fans.

So instead of tearing down their roster and starting fresh, the Raptors ended up with a number of aging and injured players in return for their superstar. Here’s what Toronto’s records looked like after the deal:

  1. 2004/05: 33-49
  2. 2005/06: 27-55
  3. 2006/07: 47-35 (lost in first round to the Nets)
  4. 2007/08: 41-41 (lost in first round to the Magic)
  5. 2008/09: 33-49

As for the rest of the players the Raptors received, Alonzo Mourning was the biggest name, but he was nowhere near the player that he was during his time in Charlotte or during his first stint with the Heat thanks to his kidney condition. Mourning never reported to Toronto, and instead he had his contract bought out by the team, which enabled him to sign with Miami, where he spent the remaining three seasons of his career.

Eric Williams lasted a season and a half in Toronto before being traded on June 21, 2006 to the Spurs along with Matt Bonner and a 2009 second-rounder (Jack McClinton) for Rasho Nesterovic and cash. Williams’ numbers with the Raptors were less than inspiring as evidenced below:

  1. 2004/05: 4.7 PPG, 2.3 RPG, and 1.5 APG. His slash line was .379/.333/.717.
  2. 2005/06: 3.3 PPG, 1.8 RPG, and 0.5 APG. His slash line was .387/.278/.737.

The final player involved was Aaron Williams, who also didn’t provide much in the way of production. Here’s what he offered the Raptors during his tenure:

  1. 2004/05: 1.6 PPG, 1.3 RPG, and 0.1 APG. His slash line was .417/.000/.857.
  2. 2005/06: 1.8 PPG, 1.1 RPG, and 0.1 APG. His slash line was .526/.000/.833.

Williams’ time with the franchise came to an end when he was traded in January of 2006 to the Pelicans for a 2006 second-rounder (Edin Bavcic) and a 2009 second-rounder, which was subsequently included in the previously mentioned Nesterovic trade.

Trading Carter was something that the Raptors couldn’t avoid. Having a star player unhappy to be in the city and with the franchise is never a good situation, and it’s even worse when he is having a career-worst season at the time. As is often the case, there was no way that Toronto was going to obtain equal value out of the gate for dealing away a player of Carter’s talents. But if they had used the first-rounders they acquired much more wisely, including not dealing one of them away for eight games of Antonio Davis, this is a deal that could have turned out quite differently.

So all the GMs out there hoping to stockpile picks when they gut their rosters should know that sometimes the players they have are much more beneficial to the team. The NBA Draft is such an inexact science when it comes to projecting which players will have the best professional careers. If these picks are spot on, the executives making these deals are hailed as geniuses, but far more often they don’t work out quite as planned.

This deal should have been a win for the Raptors considering who they could have had with the picks they obtained, but theoretical victories don’t placate fans, nor do they guarantee job security for those calling the shots. As for the Nets, they could have benefited more from holding onto the picks and using them wisely, especially since the acquisition of Carter didn’t net them a return to the NBA Finals, much less a championship banner. In the end I give the edge to Brooklyn, but it’s by default, and it’s not a victory they’ll hang from the rafters of the Barclays Center anytime soon.

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