Vince Carter is on the cusp of a revered NBA career record, the most seasons ever played.
He promises season No. 22 will be his last.
“I wouldn’t let you guys say this is the last one if that wasn’t the case,” Carter said Monday at the Atlanta Hawks’ media day. “I don’t want to do that. Even if I change my mind now, for me I feel like it’s too late, but no, this is it.”
When Carter checks into his first game — likely the Oct. 24 opener at Detroit — he will break a tie with Robert Parish, Kevin Willis, Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki, all of whom played 21 years.
Carter, who turns 43 in January, still can’t quite comprehend what the record encompasses, but he’s glad to have all of training camp and the preseason to sort out what’s next.
“Stepping on the court to make it official is going to be kind of crazy,” he said. “When you see that list and you see that cluster of guys and you see the next number is 22 and to see me passing guys like that — I’ve been asked that all summer and you’d think by now I’d have a legitimate answer. I don’t. I don’t. ”
Carter, a 6-foot-6 swingman, played a long waiting game before the Hawks signed him in August to a one-year contract for the second straight season. He said several teams expressed interest, but nothing was firm until Atlanta called.
The eight-time All-Star is back in a familiar role with the Hawks, giving coach Lloyd Pierce valuable minutes off the bench and mentoring a rebuilding squad that went 29-53 and finished 12th in the Eastern Conference last season.
“I don’t want to diminish what he’s doing on the court by saying he’s a coach,” Pierce said. “It’s kind of like kicking him out. I think what he’s doing is being a team leader. He’s in the locker room speaking to the guys in their language but he’s also trying to support the growth of our organization and showing respect as a professional. ‘This is how the coaches are trying to install things, and I’m on board. You guys need to get on board.’”
Carter, the No. 5 overall draft pick for Toronto in 1998, exceeded Pierce’s expectations last season, averaging 7.6 points, 17.5 minutes and 38.9 percent on 3-point attempts in 76 games.
The former North Carolina star was particularly helpful to Atlanta’s trio of young talent — Trae Young, John Collins and Kevin Huerter — and he will take the same approach with rookies De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish.
Huerter raves about how Carter helps out. As a rookie last year, Huerter heard his stories about former players who refused to listen to coaches or got in trouble off the court. He was a constant presence in the film room, cluing in the young players on tendencies of that veteran opposing coaches like Doc Rivers and Gregg Popovich.
“I can think of a whole bunch of other things, too,” Huerter said. “But the one thing that’s most amazing of all is the shape he’s in. You come in here to practice and he’s still dunking. He’s still wind-milling. He shows up the next day with a smile on his face and he’s ready to do it again. If guys that are trying to maybe feel bad about themselves or they’re coming in a little nicked up and you see him out there dunking, it’s a little bit easier to get off the training table and go practice.”
Some other things of note as the Hawks begin training camp:
Getting better slowly
The Hawks have no immediate timetable for their list of injured players. Reddish (abdomen), Huerter (knee), Collins (hip), Allen Crabbe (knee) and Alex Len (ankle, back) are still limited in workouts. Collins, who led the team in scoring and rebounding last year, might skip the preseason.
Older and stronger
Young, who’s listed at 180 pounds on the camp roster, said he added 10 to 11 pounds of muscle during the offseason. He believes that will help him not get pushed around as much when he’s going to the rim.
Jabari Parker, the No. 2 overall pick for Milwaukee in 2014, is with his fourth team in three years. The oft-injured forward said staying healthy is his top objective.