While time seems to have healed the wound, a big part of why most Raptors fans felt such animosity toward Vince Carter upon his departure from Toronto stemmed from the return — or lack thereof — the team got when it traded him away in his prime.
Sure, the relationship between the man then known as “Air Canada” and his one-time army of fans had grown sour by the winter of 2004 — the breaking point being when he told us he wasn’t going to dunk anymore:
But the fact that Carter, a five-time consecutive all-star starter at the time, was shipped off to a division rival with so little to immediately show for it was a pill too large to swallow. It was like trading in a $12,000 Ski-Doo for an old GT Snow Racer. (Actually, that wouldn’t be so bad.) OK, it was like trading in an iPhone for two paper cups and a ball of string.
On Dec. 17, 2004, with the Raptors holding an 8-17 record, Carter was traded to the New Jersey Nets. Almost 13 years and precisely 27 players and draft picks later, let’s take a look back at the most infamous trade in Raptors history, and more than a decade’s worth of repercussions:
New Jersey Nets receive: Vince Carter
Toronto Raptors receive: Alonzo Mourning, Aaron Williams, Eric Williams and the Nets’ first-round draft picks in 2005 and 2006
Carter’s time in Toronto had clearly reached its expiration date, and so the notion of trading him in the first place wasn’t altogether shocking. But the haul then-GM Rob Babcock got in return sure was.
The biggest name and best talent Toronto received was Mourning who, at 34 years old, may not have been the all-NBA-calibre player he was during his heyday with the Miami Heat but could still contribute. Prior to the trade, Zo had been averaging more than 10 points, seven rebounds and two blocks per game in New Jersey. He couldn’t replace Carter’s scoring, but would have been a nice veteran voice and complement in the post alongside budding second-year star Chris Bosh.
But Mourning had different ideas, and, not wanting to play for a rebuilding team, refused to join the Raptors. Mourning had $17 million left on his contract and in February of 2005 Toronto bought him out for a reported $10 million. He never played a game for the Raptors, and promptly signed with the Heat, where he won a championship the following season.
Aaron and Eric Williams were both role players who had been in the league for 11 and nine years, respectively. Neither had achieved great individual success — Aaron averaged a career-best 10 points and seven boards for the Nets in 2000-01 while Eric was long removed from his best season, averaging 19.8 points per game in 1997–98 with the Denver Nuggets. Eric Williams was averaging a decent 12 points per game for the Nets at the time of the trade, but only managed 4.7 points per with the Raptors during what remained of that 2004–05 campaign.
The Raptors finished that season with a 33-49 record and wouldn’t record a winning season for another two years.
Both Williamses spent two seasons in Toronto before being traded. More on that in a moment.
Of course, for a team hitting the reset button and looking to usher in a new post-Vince era building around Bosh, the most promising assets the Raps received in the trade were the two first-rounders.
Babcock and the Raptors entered the 2005 draft with two first-round picks and a good opportunity to add future cornerstones to a roster needing direction. With their own seventh-overall pick, the Raps selected Charlie Villanueva, a talented forward out of UConn. In retrospect, he may have been better suited to today’s NBA, but had a solid rookie campaign before being sent to Milwaukee in exchange for Bucks point guard T.J. Ford.
With the Nets’ 16th-overall pick — the jewel of the Carter trade — the Raptors drafted Oklahoma State small forward Joey Graham. The next pick was future all-star Danny Granger.
Graham had an NBA-ready body and the athletic ability to be a great defender on the wing, but never realized his potential. He spent four seasons in Toronto before signing a free-agent deal with Denver. Graham was out of the league by 2011.
His Raptors tenure can best be summed up in this video, in which he posterizes Chris Mihm and the announcers forget his name:
The other draft pick the Raptors received, a 2006 first-rounder from the Nets, was ultimately never used by the team to draft a player. In February 2006, that pick, along with Jalen Rose (and cash) was sent to the New York Knicks in exchange for former Raptors all-star Antonio Davis, who returned to Toronto for eight games before being waived. He retired after that.
A few years back I spoke to Rose, who recounted the hilarious story of that trade.
With that acquired Nets pick, 20th overall, the Knicks selected Renaldo Balkman, who hung around the league for six unspectacular seasons.
As mentioned, Aaron and Eric Williams, both spent two seasons in Toronto. The pair were dealt in separate trades in 2006. Aaron was traded to the New Orleans Hornets in exchange for an ’06 second-round pick that was used to select Bosnian forward Edin Bavcic, who was later traded to Philadelphia for cash.
In a far-more-significant move, Eric was packaged with Matt Bonner and sent to the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for centre Rasho Nesterovic, who went on to start for the Raptors and helped them capture their first-ever division title in 2006–07 and make the playoffs for the first time in five years.
Hang on, because now things get a tad busy.
Prior to the 2008 draft, Nesterovic was traded to the Indiana Pacers along with T.J. Ford, Maceo Baston and a first-round pick (17th overall) that turned out to be Roy Hibbert. The Raptors received former all-star Jermaine O’Neal and rookie forward Nathan Jawai.
The 30-year-old O’Neal was one year removed from six straight all-star appearances, but the pairing with Bosh turned out to be imperfect. After 41 games in the 2008-09 season, O’Neal was traded to the Miami Heat along with Jamario Moon and a 2011 first-round pick (the Raptors ended up getting this pick back when Bosh signed with Miami and used it to draft Jonas Valanciunas). In return the Raptors received another former all-star, Shawn Marion, and point guard Marcus Banks.
Marion wound up playing 27 games for the Raptors that season, averaging 14.3 points and 8.3 rebounds. In the summer of 2009, general manager Bryan Colangelo sent Marion to the Dallas Mavericks as part of a four-team trade. Along with Jawai, Kris Humphries and a 2016 second-round pick, Marion was the centrepiece of the deal, which netted the Raptors none other than Hedo Turkoglu, who came to Toronto with guard Antoine Wright and veteran Devean George.
Wright played in Toronto for a season before fleeing in free agency, while George was traded to the Warriors for Marco Belinelli. The Italian sharpshooter played 66 games in 2009–10 for the Raptors before being traded to the Hornets for forward Julian Wright, who also fled the Raptors in free agency.
In November 2010, the other player acquired in the Marion trade, Banks, was packaged with Jarrett Jack and Australian big man David Andersen in a deal for former all-star Peja Stojakovic and point guard Jerryd Bayless. After just two appearances with the Raps, Stojakovic was waived and later signed with the Dallas Mavericks before retiring in 2011. Bayless averaged just over 10 points per game in two seasons with the Raptors and signed a free-agent deal with the Memphis Grizzlies in 2012.
As for Turkoglu, the man touted as a missing piece was fresh off a star turn in the 2009 playoffs with Orlando, where he helped lead the Magic to the Finals. With the Raptors, however, Turkoglu was a shell of his former self and went from averaging nearly 17 points per game to just over 11. After one full season with the Raps in which the team went 40-42, Turkoglu was traded to the Phoenix Suns for Leandro Barbosa and Dwayne Jones.
Jones was waived, while in March 2012, Barbosa was traded to the Pacers in exchange for a second-round pick. The Raps selected Croatian centre Tomislav Zubcic, who has yet to appear in an NBA game.
In 2015, Zubcic was dealt to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for point guard Luke Ridnour, who was waived 10 days later. Ridnour was the last remaining connection to the Carter trade.
Over the last three years, the Raptors have enjoyed their most successful seasons in franchise history. With a team centred around their all-star backcourt of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, there are no remnants of the 2004 trade remaining.
Meanwhile, Vince Carter’s career is still going strong. At 40, he is the NBA’s oldest player and has evolved his game gracefully, becoming an effective role player with age. He recently signed a one-year deal with the Sacramento Kings.
But Carter was still an all-star for years after being traded from Toronto. He went from averaging just 18.8 points with the Raptors in 2004–05 before the trade — the lowest total since his rookie season — to 27.5 in 57 games after the deal. In New Jersey his career was reawakened and over the next four seasons with the Nets he averaged just shy of 23 points per game and made three more all-star appearances.
Oh? And about that whole “not dunking anymore” thing? This happened two months after he was traded:
And the following season, this:
In the years that followed, he continued to plunge the knife in fans’ hearts and twist in not one, but two of the most demoralizing endings to any Raptors game I can remember.
First, there was this buzzer-beater in 2006:
And then two years later… this game-winning reverse alley-oop slam.
But, again, with the benefit of both time and hindsight, Carter’s image among Raptors fans has come full circle. Once booed mercilessly during each and every game in Toronto, Carter receives something resembling a hero’s welcome these days.
In 2014, 10 years after the trade, Carter returned to the Air Canada Centre as a member of the Memphis Grizzlies and was treated to a standing ovation and a video tribute that brought the man who put Canada on the NBA map to tears.