Vince of the Dead: Will There Be a Sequel?

I must admit – I’ve been rather foolish when it comes to Vince Carter. I’ve demeaned the effort he shows on the floor, and I’ve gone so far as to call him a zombie. All of it is uncalled for, really, especially given that Vince is (by all accounts) one of the nicest, most educated players in the league who does as much for various charitable causes as anyone.

So I’ve tried recently to only say nice things about Mr. Carter. I’ll still jokingly refer to him as Zombie Vince, envisioned less as a contagious threat to the team and more as an affable loaf kept around on a chain, as in the end of “Shaun of the Dead.” He may be a zombie, but he’s our zombie, dammit; give him the controller, and he can still play the game, even if a step slower.

I suppose Steve Nash is Simon Pegg in this analogy.

In short, I’m trying to be more level-headed when it comes to Vince (and the rest of the team), an approach I hope will pay off as the Suns come into the homestretch limping, missing two of their starters and trying to incorporate a new sometimes-backup/sometimes-starting point guard. And really, I’m grateful for that – I’m of the mind that, too often, we as fans get caught up in the extremes of sports and forget to treat the competition merely as entertainment. Besides, the Suns are most definitely going to buy out the remainder of Carter’s contract at the end of the season, and we’ll be done with him.

Or so I’d assumed since the Suns traded for Carter earlier this season. Prior to the move, the consensus seemed to be the Magic would waive Carter after this season instead of paying him the $18 million he’s due next year – though Vince expressed his hope that wouldn’t be the case. It made sense that the Suns were a safe bet as well to wash their hands of Vince’s large cap figure at their earliest convenience, particularly given the Magic’s addition of $3 million (the largest amount transferable in a trade) to the trade. Then, while recently reading Zach Lowe’s feature on the Western Conference’s restricted free agents, one word in one sentence concerning Marcus Thornton piqued my curiosity. Lowe said (emphasis mine),

The Pacers and Wolves are set to be well under the cap and could use scoring 2-guards, the Cavs need anyone they can get and Thornton’s old team, the Hornets, could find themselves with enough cap room if they renounce their remaining free agents — and if the CBA turns out right for them. Phoenix could be a wild card if it decides to buy out Vince Carter’s contract.

In an instant, the idea of the Suns pursuing Thornton flashed before me and was forgotten. The paragraph could have been about Lon Babby swapping brains with RC Buford and I would have focused still on that third use of the word “if.”

If? IF? IF??!?!??

This was – is – the first time I read or heard someone with any doubt that Phoenix will let Vince go in the off-season. The “Dawn of the Dead”-me would have raged at the incompetence of a front office so atrocious at their job that one of my favorite writers could consider a world where a human health hazard was willingly kept on the roster. The “Shaun of the Dead”-me? He – I – was simply curious. So I asked Mr. Lowe, on twitter, if he thought the Suns might actually look to keep Vince, specifically asking if it might be CBA-related.

His reply was telling on a couple of levels. First, he allowed that the new CBA is always a consideration. Second, he said that the buyout ($4 million) is fairly pricey and that Carter could be an expiring contract if kept on the roster. Finally, he gave a piece of good advice for, well, everyone. “I’ve learned not to assume anything, ever,” he said.

In retrospect, I’m not entirely sure how the possibility of a new CBA might affect the Suns’ decision on whether or not to re-sign Carter, save for the potential for a provision to roll back existing salaries to numbers that better fit the new (presumably stricter) salary cap. If the Suns can retain Carter at a reduced number, this might make some sense, but the deadline for them to decide on whether or not to keep Vince is June 30, 2011. The odds of having a labor agreement by then – especially one specific enough for the Suns to consider such a scenario – are small, possibly nonexistent.

As for the cost of the buyout, one might assume that the $3 million the Suns received in the trade to acquire Carter was meant to cover the bulk of the cost of waiving him. However, given the history of a notoriously thrifty ownership group that may or may not be losing money, who knows whether or not that’s true or if that was ever the idea in the first place.

However, the idea of Vince Carter as an expiring contract after 2011-2012 is intriguing. The 2012 free agent class is, of course, star-studded, with Chris Paul, Deron Williams, and Dwight Howard (among others) possessing player options or ETOs. Might the Suns look to clear the contracts of both Carter and Nash from the books after the 2012 season and acquire a big-name free-agent or two? Or perhaps they’ll look to secure young talent and draft picks for the sizable cap space Carter’s 2012 expiring deal would provide. This possibility becomes even more intriguing if the new CBA does allow for some sort of amnesty for large contracts, if not a scaling back. If the Suns can re-sign Vince Carter as an $18 million expiring asset that counts for less against the salary cap in 2012, it very well might be worth clogging the books for (at the most) another year.

Of course, it still seems the simplest scenario will see the Suns splitting ways with Vince Carter in the off-season. Just don’t assume, like I did, that it’s a foregone conclusion.

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