With Dirk Nowitzki nursing an injury and the core of the Dallas Mavericks completely different than in recent seasons, the leadership factor of this team is at a crossroads. There are only a few veterans on this roster capable of picking up the void left by the influx of new players, and the most likely candidate appears to be Vince Carter.
The Mavericks had a roster turnover this offseason. Ten new faces have played minutes for the team to start the season, as owner Mark Cuban and the front office finally listened to calls about getting younger and more athletic on the wings.
Jason Terry and Jason Kidd are both in the Eastern Conference. Nowitzki is nursing his knee following arthroscopic surgery just before the regular season began. Tyson Chandler is long gone; the once-defensive captain of this team has left a void that hasn't since been filled.
Nowitzki emerged as the unquestioned leader of this team during the 2011 championship run. He had been criticized and embargoed as an emotional wimp before Dallas reached the promised land, but his hunger for a title and growth in maturity helped turn him into the complete star and unquestioned all-time face of the franchise.
There aren't many choices when it comes to finding a veteran that knows the way of the NBA.
New starters O.J. Mayo and Darren Collison are both in their mid-20's. Dallas also has three rookies that are trying to find their NBA footing, a task that sometimes takes players years to accomplish.
Brandan Wright, Rodrigue Beaubois and Dominque Jones all know what head coach Rick Carlisle expects of his players, but none are exactly what you would call experienced.
Shawn Marion is a likely candidate, but The Matrix isn't a player associated with on-court leadership. No doubt he's been a great NBA player, but his status as a confirmed bachelor combined with his penchant for partying doesn't exactly make him the voice of reason.
That's not to say Marion is a distraction; every NBA player parties. His personality just isn't built for a true vocal leadership role.
That leaves Vince Carter, Chris Kaman and Elton Brand as the best of the rest. Take the newly acquired latter two men, and it's Carter who has to step up to fill the void with Nowitzki away.
Dallas has gotten off to a great start this season, even without Nowitzki. Collison is taking over as the floor leader in his absence, per this report by The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, but every good team has a solid mix of veteran and young talent.
Carter is 14-year NBA veteran still searching for his first NBA title. A career 21.4 point-per-game scorer, Carter is also a former Olympian and is No. 18 on the NBA's all-time three-point list with 1,507 made.
Those would be enough credentials to stop the article right here, but Carter is also now a member of a team that he came to in quite different circumstances.
After winning the title in 2011, the Mavericks chose to let the stars of the NBA Finals walk in favor of cheaper, safer talent. Chandler, Caron Butler and JJ Barea left town in favor of Wright, Lamar Odom and Carter, and it's safe to say it wasn't a great season for the defending champions.
Carter came to Dallas to play with Kidd, but now that Kidd has departed, Carter is being called upon to fill the scoring and leadership void of both Kidd and Jet Terry.
There's no doubt the charismatic Carter is up to the vocal part of the challenge, as evidenced by his response to a Jason Terry question in this Dallas Morning News report:
“I’m down for it,” Carter said when asked if he wanted to be the new sixth man. “I’ll come in and help the team, remain verbal — I do that well. I just try to keep us going forward and not regress. When the second unit comes on the floor, they have to keep it going. I just try to do a little bit of everything to help the team.”
Carter has been key to the team's 2-1 start, averaging 13.7 points on 38 percent shooting from the three-point line. He's versatile enough to play three positions, including power forward.
Until Nowitzki returns, Dallas is content on relying on youth to prevail as the dominant force on this team. Collison and Mayo have been great through three games, as the young guards are living up to previous billing as misaligned bench players on other squads.
But when facing teams like Oklahoma City, Los Angeles and San Antonio, Dallas will need a veteran presence to help stem the tide when things go bad.
Who better than Carter, the former high-flyer still looking for the chance he never got in New Jersey, Toronto or Orlando? He's a different, more heady player now, but he's still an option on offense and the best option to lead Dallas while its long-time star Nowitzki gets healthy for a stretch run.
Ethan Grant is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report and the Dallas Mavericks page, as well as a member of the site's Breaking News Team. Check him out on Twitter.
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