- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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DALLAS -- All due respect to Dirk Nowitzki, but he’s not the Mavericks veteran owner Mark Cuban is most sympathetic toward after the team failed to qualify for the playoffs.
Cuban feels worse for Vince Carter, who signed a three-year deal worth a little more than $9 million with the then-defending champions because he desperately wanted a chance to compete for a championship near the end of his potential Hall of Fame career. The 36-year-old Carter has been a tremendous bargain for the Mavs, although he’ll enter the last season of his contract with a grand total of zero playoff wins in Dallas.
“Vince is a warrior,” Cuban said before Friday’s game. “All these things I’ve heard in the past about him being soft and not playing hard, f--- that. That dude comes out to deliver every f---ing night.”
Case in point: Carter’s spectacular outing in Dallas’ 108-105 overtime win over the Denver Nuggets. In the Mavs’ first game after being eliminated from playoff contention, Carter put up 22 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists, two blocked shots and a steal in 34 max-effort minutes.
It was a performance that epitomized the pride and professionalism that Carter, an eight-time All-Star who had a bad rap for being a bit of a prima donna before signing with the Mavs, has consistently displayed during his time in Dallas.
It’s the kind of performance that has Cuban convinced that Carter, whose .500 beard has several gray strands, is a keeper even after his contract expires next summer.
“He’s just a first-class guy who busts his ass every f---ing game," Cuban said. "You never look at Vince and say he’s taking a play off. He’s taking charges. ... You guys talk about doing it for Dirk; doing it for Vince is just as important.
“He just wants to compete and win, period, end of story. All the s--- I heard from the past, I don’t know where that came from. I’m proud that he’s on the Mavericks. The guy lays it out every time. I can’t put it any other way. He’s one of those guys I want to retire here.”
Carter, who is averaging 13.3 points per game and playing outstanding defense in his first season as a sixth man, broke into a big smile after being informed of Cuban’s comments, particularly the part about signing him to another contract.
“That’s why he’s my guy,” Carter said, laughing. “That’s why he’s my guy. I worked my butt off this summer for a lot of reasons, just to prove that I’m still capable at this tender age, and I think he appreciates that. He’s a fiery guy, very passionate about the game, as we all know. That’s what he looks for.
“Just coming in and seeing what he’s all about, he’s a great owner to work for, just for the simple fact that he just wants to win. That’s kind of how I approach the game. I just want to win. For the people who don’t know me or didn’t know me before, I think now they’re starting to understand.
“Yeah, I can put the ball in the basket or whatever, but I just want to win and see my team succeed. It’s just great that it’s appreciated by the top dog.”
When he came to Dallas, fresh off playing for three teams in three seasons, Carter had a lot to prove. He wanted to show he still had a lot of game at his advanced age, and he wanted to eliminate any doubt that winning was his top priority.
Carter promised to do whatever the Mavs needed him to do to help them win, regardless of position or role. He’s done that, accepting the sixth-man job and playing the majority of his minutes at small forward.
He promised to play as hard as possible every minute he was on the floor. He’s done that, as evidenced by his leading the team in charges drawn by a wide margin.
“I’ve prided myself on being one of the older guys that wanted to play every game possible and go harder than everybody out there,” Carter said. “They do go hard, but for me, I just want to compete at the same level as the younger guys and set the example. We want that to be the way of life around here.”
Carter has more than held up his end of the bargain for the past two seasons, disappointing as they’ve been from a team standpoint.
As far as Cuban is concerned, Carter has a bright future around here.