Hate to drag you down memory lane but let’s go back and talk about Game 4 for a second, particularly the second half. Questions like this are irritating, but which Knick do you think wanted to win the most? Who played the hardest? Who believed his team could create a miraculous comeback for the ages even while trailing by three games and double digit points in the series’ deciding game? If you’ve yet to erase the game’s details from your memory, only a few candidates are presenting themselves. And if you read the title of this post, then you know my answer: Anthony Carter.
He played like a man who didn’t want his NBA career to end. All his teammates could sense it; he wasn’t afraid of the moment. They kept feeding him (the third string point guard) the ball—even Carmelo Anthony was deferring as the Celtics’ lead dropped to four points. If New York managed to complete the comeback and win the ball game it’d have gone down as one of the most unlikely playoff performances in Knicks history. (After scoring eight points, grabbing three rebounds, and doling out just two assists in the series’ first three games, Carter posted an 11, five, and four while missing just two shots in the season’s final game).
When the Knicks traded nearly a quarter of their team for the league’s most unstoppable offensive force and a former Finals MVP, they received a few additional players who many presumed would immediately be dropped for salary dumping purposes. After appearing in just 14 games for Denver before the trade, Carter topped the list of those who would be bought out. Instead, to the surprise of many, Walsh kept the 35-year-old on the active roster as a veteran savvy insurance policy for Chauncey’s equally aged legs and a banged up/inconsistent Toney Douglas. Carter took to his role at once, running the second unit with capable consistency and using every ounce of energy his body had on the defensive end, sticking his nose into the business of opposing point guards as the two ran up and down the court. He seemed to excel on Madison Square Garden’s stage. A new pep appeared in his step. The guy was playing like he’d found a home, and after going through a career that’s about as humbling as one in professional basketball can be, Carter competed like someone with zero interest in ending his NBA employment as a use-in-case-of-emergency-only bench player. Carter wanted to contribute. In 19 games with the Knicks, he shot a career best 46% from the field and his steals per 36 minutes (2.1) were also a career high.
Should the Knicks bring Carter back? It’s an interesting question. Douglas will be on the shelf for most of the offseason after undergoing successful shoulder surgery, and Chauncey Billups has an incredibly attractive expiring contract that could force him out of town next February. He made $1.3 million last year in the last year of his deal, and if he were re-signed it’d be for a one year veteran minimum ($1.39 million) contract. The price is certainly feasible, but making a move on Carter depends on a few things. Do the Knicks think Carter can sustain the energy he supplied in those post-All-Star break minutes for a whole year at the age of 36? Probably not, seeing that he might have been supplied that extra bounce by a change of scenery. Also, if the Knicks happen to draft a point guard (one of their needs) it’s unlikely they’ll keep Carter around. If Douglas doesn’t return from his injury on time, does Walsh believe Carter can serve as the instant backup for long stretches? I love Carter’s intensity and the way he approaches the game like a hungry hobo (compliment!) but I’m not sure he can. If that inspirational second half push in Game 4 was the last we see of Anthony Carter in a Knicks uniform, it certainly wasn’t a bad way to go out.