Pride and a whole lot more on line

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:28 AM ET

Today is the day the Vince Carter trade really becomes official.

Carter made his professional name as a Raptor. But now he is the Raptors' enemy.

Some might argue Carter had become the Raptors' enemy long before he left Toronto last December. Be that as it may, when Carter's New Jersey Nets play host to the Raptors tonight in East Rutherford, N.J., it remains to be seen if familiarity will breed contempt.

Surely Carter knows all of the Raptors' moves, and they know all of his.

"Not every move," Carter said yesterday. "I didn't get to use all my moves."

That subtle dig was as close as Carter came to taking a shot at his former club as he was interviewed following the Nets' practice yesterday.

"It's being blown out of proportion," Carter said of the showdown tonight between his two NBA employers. "I think it would be a bigger deal if there were hard feelings or hatred. It's none of that.

"Am I looking forward to it because it's the guys I know? Yes. Because it's the team I used to play for? Yes. But after that, I can't get caught up in it, because I still have to report back in the locker-room and deal with (Nets coach) Lawrence Frank. I have to play the game he wants me to play and not do too much. So that's why it's just another game."

Well, that's easy for Carter to say, and he has said it repeatedly through the years. For Raptors supporters, a Nets win tonight would be like rubbing salt into a gaping wound, with no paramedics to ease the pain.

Surely Carter understands why fans get pumped up for encounters like this.

"I don't have anything to do

with the fans, not in this case," Carter said. "They get excited

to see it happen. And it's going to be different (facing the Raptors) because it counts, it's not practice. But it has to be approached as just another game for me."

Carter's emotional state placed second on Franks' list of worries last night, well behind the whereabouts of Nets point guard Jason Kidd. He went on vacation to Mexico during all-star weekend and some flight complications caused him to miss practice.

Kidd was scheduled to arrive back in New Jersey late in the evening and is expected to play tonight. Franks would not reveal if Kidd will be fined for his tardiness, but the coach was far more talkative on the subject of Carter facing the Raptors.

"Obviously there will be some natural energy there,"

Franks said. "But I think if it were Vince's first or second year in the league, it would be more of an

issue. He's

mature enough to continue doing what he has been doing, regardless of the opponent."

And what Vince has been doing is revitalizing his career, which had stagnated in Toronto. The Raptors, meanwhile, have garnered no help from the three players they got for Carter (Eric Williams, Aaron Williams and the conveniently absent Alonzo Mourning).

The blunt truth is that unless Raptors general manager Rob Babcock makes hay with the two first-round draft picks he obtained -- either through the draft itself or by trading one or both picks for something else -- the Carter fiasco eventually may cost Babcock his job. And that could occur sooner than anyone thinks, too.

Babcock has until 3 p.m. EST on Thursday to make another trade before the deadline for this NBA season. If nothing else, a new transaction grabbing some headlines would provide a little distance for Babcock. While the Carter trade still might be Babcock's worst deal, at least it wouldn't be his most-recent deal.

It's true the game this evening will not justify the Carter trade, one way or the other. But don't be fooled by Carter's nonchalance. Pride is on the line.

If Carter is going to haunt the Raptors, it will begin tonight.


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