Carter's game mending fences

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:07 AM ET

Just when you thought it was safe to kiss Vince Carter goodbye, to stop caring, to label him the poster-boy for sulk, he goes out and does this.

He reminds you he can still be Vince Carter again.

He does it with a smile and with charm and with precision and athleticism and everything Toronto once fell in love with.

He does the superstar thing and for an instant you pause and you wonder: Is this an audition for the rest of the NBA or is Carter becoming part of Sam Mitchell's Raptors?

This has not been an easy beginning for Carter, not with the public trade demand, the booing, the assaults on his character and the fact he has been playing the part of the disinterested.

"You have to understand how sensitive he is," said Larry Tanenbaum, the Raptors chairman of the board. "I'm not sure people understand that. A lot got to him. In part, the media. In part, the fans. That all affected him.

"He told me before the season started that he just wanted to play and let what happens happens. But you could see things were bothering him. Quite honestly, he was in a slump. But tonight he connected and last night he connected. It was great to see."

Carter only played 27 minutes in the Raptors romp over the New York Knicks last night at the Air Canada Centre, but he didn't have play any more.

That was enough time to make a statement.

A near-perfect 22 point evening. That was enough time to announce for that, for now anyhow, Carter is back.

And always that comes with an asterisk. With Carter there always has to be a question. Sometimes you don't know what is real and what isn't. Sometimes you don't know what is genuine and what isn't .

But a funny thing has happened on the way to a trade demand. Carter sat down last weekend and began to think about his game. Began to think about what he was doing, think about how he was playing.

He hasn't come out and said he wants to remain a Raptor. But last night, and the night before in Washington, he didn't play as though he was ready to take the last train to Clarksville.

The smile, which had gone missing amidst all the self-induced turmoil, returned last night.

From before the game to the end.

When he was on the court and when he was on the bench. It was there, big and wide, almost as apparent as the perpetual Pinball Clemons' smile from courtside.

"I have a different approach," Carter confessed after the game. "I've decided to have a good time, enjoy what I do best. The mistake I made was trying to play a perfect game instead of having a good time.

"My problem? I was trying too hard."

When asked what he has learned about himself this season, Carter smiled before answering. Then he said: "I'm glad you asked me that now and not a week ago."

The indication being, he has cleared his head in recent days, tried to figure out that if he's here he might as well make the best of it. He might as well play Sam Mitchell's game.

For however long that lasts.

This is still a situation with an ending to be determined.

"I learned I love the game of basketball no matter goes on," Carter said. "You have to have fun, doing what you love to do."

A few more games like this and Toronto may fall in love again.


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