Vince Carter of the Atlanta Hawks plays the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center on November 15, 2018 in Denver, Colorado.
Photo: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Photo: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

For Vince Carter it’s been 21 seasons ... and counting?

This might not be the Vince Carter Farewell Tour after all.

A summer of reflection will be the determinant. However, Carter is playing like a 22nd NBA season is not out of the question.

The Hawks signed the forward to be a veteran presence for a young team. Carter has provided more on the court than many expected. Well, maybe everyone but Carter himself.

“It’s all expectations for me,” Carter said Wednesday. “I expect to play well. I know the ups and downs and what comes with it sometimes. I know that. I get that. That’s just what I expect of myself. I know a lot of people use the age – he shouldn’t be able to do this, how is he able to do this – and that’s great. I believe in my abilities, what I can do and what I bring to the table.”

Carter played 24 minutes in the Hawks’ 117-113 victory over the Lakers on Tuesday night and had 11 points, five rebounds and three assists. He was 3-of-4 from the field, including 2-of-3 from 3-point range. When the game was on the line in the final minute, Carter was on the floor.

Carter and Dirk Nowitzki are playing their 21st NBA seasons. They joined Robert Parish, Kevin Willis and Kevin Garnett as the longest-tenured players in league history. Another season, and Carter could be alone at the top of the list.

Even if he wanted to quit earlier this season. Maybe.

“That’s what the summer is for,” Carter said of his impending decision. “Every year, and it sounds like I’m joking, but every year after the end of the season, that is when I evaluate how I feel. I’m an emotional roller coaster during the year. A couple of weeks ago, I told Coach I was thinking about retiring during practice.

“It’s just how I feel. I put a lot of work in. I go through all the practices. I do what I have to do. I still love it. Once the season is over, I will evaluate it and play it by ear.”

Carter has averaged 6.6 points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.0 assists in 15.9 minutes this season. His scoring average is tied for second-most over the past five seasons. He entered Thursday’s game against the Knicks, the final before the All-Star break, shooting 42.5 percent from the field, including 38.7 percent from 3-point range.

The Hawks (19-38) have played better after a rough start to the season, as they have developed a core group of young players such as John Collins, Trae Young and Kevin Huerter in their second and first seasons.

“He’s one of the most talented players to ever walk this planet,” Kent Bazemore said. “It’s obvious he loves the grind and getting up every day and coming to work. Any time he gets an opportunity, he is ready. Which after 21 seasons, is quite impressive. There are times this year when he’s carried the load for us offensively. He’s been vocal defensively. In the locker room, he’s held it together throughout the ups and downs.”

Several opposing players have requested a trade of jerseys with Carter after games this season. Most notably, Dwyane Wade, who may be playing his final season.

Earlier this season, Carter became the 22nd player in NBA history to eclipse the 25,000-point mark and currently has 25,210. He also moved into seventh place on the league’s all-time 3-pointers made list (2,180).

In other statistical categories, Carter ranks seventh all-time in games played (1,457), 19th in minutes played (44,986), 21st in field goals made (9,112), 38th in free throws made (4,806) and 47th in steals (1,493).

Carter has appeared in 52 of the Hawks’ 57 games. He did not play in a loss to the Magic on Sunday – but not by his choice. Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce said he decided not to play the 42-year-old wonder. 

“I thought 21 years in, there are going to be some days when he taps me on the shoulder and says, ‘I don’t think I’m going to be able to go tonight,’” Pierce said when asked how the season has been different than he expected with Carter. “He hasn’t. The amazement has been his durability. Now I get why he’s been in the league for 21 years.”

Perhaps it’s 21 years and counting.

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