NBA's 'Best Third-Stringer' Seeks Return to Nuggets
"I would have to consider myself the best third-stringer (in the NBA),'' said the Denver point guard.
This consummate team player usually doesn't brag. But one supposes bench-warming boasting is acceptable.
An 11th-man trophy might come with a guy on top wearing warm-ups, but that would be OK for Carter. Even though he's didn't play in 28 regular-season games, that didn't bother him.
"I wouldn't take it as an insult,'' Carter said of being known as the NBA's top third-stringer. "You got to be pretty decent just to be in the league. So I would look at it as a compliment.''
Carter, who backs up starting point Chauncey Billups and reserve Ty Lawson, actually does play far more than your typical third-stringer. Billups missed nine games due to injury and Lawson 17 as the Nuggets (53-29) concluded their regular season Tuesday with a 123-101 loss at Phoenix.
Carter, who averaged 3.3 points and 3.0 assists, has seen his role decline in each of the past two seasons for the Nuggets. He was a starter in 2007-08, became second string last season when Billups arrived and dropped to third string when rookie Lawson showed up this season.
What's going to happen next season? Fourth string?
But Carter, 35 in June, actually embraces his role. In fact, he said he wants to re-sign with the Nuggets this summer. It could mark the fourth straight summer he signs a one-year minimum contract, which might be some kind of record.
"Yeah, this is,'' Carter, who first joined the Nuggets for the final two games of 2006-07, said of Denver still being where he wants to play next season. "I wouldn't mind coming back and staying with the coaching staff and just see where it goes. I think I've been a big part of it this year even though my role changed and the minutes changed. But I still feel like a great fit from what I can bring to these guys just by talking to them mentally. It's not just about being on the court at all times, but just being in the locker room and keeping their heads right and stuff like that.''
In the past two summers, Carter has wanted a multiyear contract before settling for one-year deals when the Nuggets wouldn't budge. But the 11-year realizes now being the NBA's best third-stringer probably doesn't make it worth pushing hard again for a multiyear deal.
"It's kind of tough since the minutes are down and the numbers are down so you really don't have too much to work with,'' Carter, whose minutes average over the past three seasons has gone from 28.0 to 22.9 to 15.9. "So I'm just trying to stay focused and do what I got to do to continue to stay with the Nuggets.''
While it might not help him get anything more than another one-year deal, Carter actually has had some periods in the past three weeks when Adrian Dantley, Denver's acting coach while George Karl recovers from a form of throat cancer, has gone with him over Lawson to back up Billups. A primary reason was Lawson being slow to recover from a shoulder injury that forced him to miss 12 games before returning March 24.
But Lawson in recent games has returned to being the primary backup, and that's how it might be in the postseason. Still, Carter is ready, and lets it be known he's far more active in his duties than a third-string quarterback who stands on the sideline with a clipboard while wearing a ball cap.
"I know what I can do when I get out there,'' Carter said. "I can change the game. It's not about scoring. It's just about doing the little things that help us win games, if it's energy, playing good defense or things like that.''
And never complaining about playing time. That's also what being the top 11th man is all about.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @christomasson