Vince Carter’s knee swollen, but Phoenix is his medicine


PHOENIX — It’s been a rough couple of years (and weeks) for Vince Carter.

The 33-year-old has fallen from superstardom in a matter of seasons, and is having his worst year as a pro, averaging only 15.1 points per game.

And now 48 hours before what was supposed to mark a new beginning for Carter in Phoenix, the eight-time All-Star is contemplating arthroscopic surgery on a swollen knee that’s been bothering him for two weeks.

Although he participated in a light practice on Tuesday, it’s looking more and more like Carter, who was scheduled to undergo MRI tonight, won’t make his Suns debut with Marcin Gortat and Mickael Pietrus against the Heat on Thursday.

How long he sits remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure — if there’s one place for Carter to be battered, bruised, aging, and fighting to regain the Vinsanity he unleashed on the league during the first decade of his career, it’s Phoenix.

His production is declining, his knee swollen, but the Valley of the Sun is his medicine. Just look what head athletic trainer Aaron Nelson and his staff did to Steve Nash and Grant Hill. Nash is still playing at an All-Star level (17.6 ppg, 10.2 apg) as the entire league waits for the 36-year-old to show some sign of slowing down.

And Hill is defying all odds, transforming from an MVP-caliber player that couldn’t avoid the injury bug, to a 38-year-old playing his best season as a Sun, out-dueling Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City and averaging 15.0 points per game in 30.2 minutes of action.

At one point Hill played in only 47 games over the span of three seasons. But since coming to the fountain of youth that is the Phoenix Suns, Hill has missed only 13 games, while playing in 190 of the Suns’ last 191 games.

“If he can do it, I’m drinking whatever he’s drinking,” Carter said, referring to Hill.

Carter and Hill have a long-lasting relationship, which could make Carter’s transition and attempt at finding that fountain of youth that much easier. Carter, who still lives next to Hill in the offseason, said he’s been trying to find a way to play with Hill for years.

“I’ve known Grant for a very long time. I go back to being recruited at Duke. We were walking around. Some of the guys, they knew of me but people thought we were brothers. They thought I was his younger brother,” said Carter, who played for North Carolina.

“He’s been a great friend for a very long time,” Carter continued. “We’ve been trying to connect and play on the same team so it’s a great opportunity.”

And now he’s aiming to emulate him.

“Like I said, I’m drinking whatever he’s drinking,” Carter said.

The player formerly known as Half-Man, Half-Amazing is well aware that he’s viewed as only half of the player he used to be when he dominated dunk contests, jumped over seven-footers and averaged over 20 points per game in 10 of his first 11 seasons in the league.

“Yeah, for the last three years I’ve heard that,” Carter said. “It doesn’t bother me. I trust in my game, I believe in my game.”

He went on to say he thinks, like Hill and Nash, he can gets better with age. Although his scoring averages are about five points lower than they were two years ago, Carter believes he’s a smarter, more efficient player, as he’s shooting a career-best 47 percent from the field this season.

“You here all the time, ‘Oh he’s not as quick, he doesn’t jump as high,’ that’s all right but I feel like I’m more effective,” he said. “Maybe you lose a step, maybe you don’t jump as high but you can be more effective.”

With Phoenix’s training staff, his relationship with the exact model he’s trying to replicate in Hill, and the Nash-led Suns offense, Carter is set up perfectly to revitalize his career just as the other two members of the Suns’ 30-plus club have done.

“Carter is a proven scorer and in our offense we think he’s going to be dynamic,” said president of basketball operations Lon Babby.

Carter thinks he can play off of Nash, while handling the ball and taking pressure off the two-time MVP from time to time. He even went as far as saying, “Maybe I can have the 13 assists and he can have the 40 points.”

That probably won’t be the case, but Carter does add another isolation player to a Suns roster lacking exactly that. His numbers dipped in Orlando, where he wasn’t the No. 1 option for the first time in his career. Although he was playing in his hometown and going deep into the playoffs, Carter wasn’t the same player his talent suggests.

But in Phoenix, Nash turns talent into points and Suns trainers turn physical weaknesses into strengths, meaning Carter may be able to turn a declining career into a success story in time, pending the status of his knee.

But success is defined for Carter these days. Success used to mean high-flying dunks and 50-point nights for him, but at age 33, there’s one thing on his mind.

“It’s all about winning,” he said. “It’s not about my numbers, it’s not about what other guys are doing, it’s about getting W’s and that’s it, championship. That’s something I want to get the opportunity to do. I was oh so close last year and I want more.”