When he whimpered his way out of town two years and two months ago, the last thing Vince Carter could have seen was the future.
The last thing he could have envisioned is what he walked into last night at the Air Canada Centre. Never mind the booing. That's old by now. Never mind the disdain. That will last a lifetime.
But this is new: The team Carter saw no future for and was traded away for an embarrassment of nothing, is in first place.
The Raptors are in the playoffs as the all-star break is about to begin. What is left of Carter's New Jersey Nets are not.
Think about that for a moment and how unlikely the juxtaposition is. Carter left because he stopped believing.
And before that, he did what he usually does when things get a little dicey: He shut down. It took a year or so for the ownership to realize that the same management he had no faith in was the management they had no faith in.
But Vince left, and only Joey Graham remains from a Phil Esposito-type one-sided trade.
Morris Peterson remembers the day, two years and two months ago. It wasn't the end of the world as we know it, but for a basketball team, it was about as close to rock bottom as you can get.
"To see him leave, that wasn't easy," said Peterson. "He wasn't happy. He didn't want to be here any more for whatever reason, but he was still our best player. You don't want to lose that."
Two years and two months later, Chris Bosh is going to the all-star game as a starter and Vince Carter is going, but having not been voted in. Two years and two months later, Bosh hears the chants of "MVP" from the ACC crowd, a chant that Carter got caught mocking on television cameras. The guy is, after all, nothing but class.
And yet, his absence may have had unintentional benefits.
"You can't know if Chris develops like this if Vince is here," Peterson said. "Chris was just a kid when Vince was here. When Vince left, a lot of us got opportunities we might not have had had he stayed."
Carter left. The Raptors paid $10 million US for Alonzo Mourning not to show up. Eric Williams and Aaron Williams played like Anson Williams. Graham was drafted when the Raptors could have had Danny Granger. As lousy trades go, this one gets worse as the Raptors get better.
"With all due respect, you get kind of tired of all the criticism of Vince," said Lawrence Frank, the Nets coach.
He is talking about Vince because Carter is nowhere to be found. NBA players are supposed to make themselves available prior to games but last night all Carter did was make himself invisible.
"Things like that happen in this league all the time," said Frank. "Listen, Vince is a Net. The Raptors are a very good team. This no longer should be about Vince Carter anymore. At some point, there has to be the ability to separate. So every time to gets booed, we take that personally. Look, we're not to let anyone criticize our guy. Vince is our guy now."
Next season, in the philosophical words of Borat, not so much.
Carter is still an attraction and a free agent at the end of the season and the combination of both means somebody will be interested. There has never been any doubts about his game, only his character.
He may read this, get hurt, and be out for a week. With Carter, it usually depends on the mood.
Meanwhile, in the land of the Raptor, all is almost well but you wouldn't know it listening to coach Sam Mitchell blather on. When asked if he thought he would be in first place at the all-star break -- a true softball of a question -- Mitchell went into one of his attitude moments.
"I can't answer questions like that," he said. "I don't answer what-if questions."
Memo to Sam: Let's be clear for a moment. No one, including your wildly optimistic owner, your brilliant general manager, or your wife saw this coming, this quickly.
"I'm not comfortable answering questions like that because you are where you are," he said. "My what-if is a whole lot better than 24 losses. Our record is what it is."
Insights like this don't come easily. Vince Carter may have said something similar. If he was anywhere to be found.