No single player in Toronto sports history cast a shadow over his former franchise like Vince Carter did over the Toronto Raptors.
Nearly eight years removed from his departure and over 11 years removed from the shot that could have changed the fortunes of the Raptors forever, Carter's controversial legacy still looms over the entire organization. Even as his career winds down, the Raptors are still searching for his replacement - a role not even Chris Bosh was able to comfortably step into during his seven-year stint in Toronto.
It's funny, in a way, because Bosh was both a better and more dependable player during his tenure with the Raptors. He produced consistently and improved each and every year he played for the club.
Still, no matter what Bosh accomplished in Toronto, he didn't capture that indefinable magic that Carter grabbed hold of in his early years in the NBA.
In truth, it would be nearly impossible for any player to come to the club and live up to the legacy Carter made with the Raptors. He took a nascent NBA club and put them on the map in a huge way. For a moment in time, Carter was arguably the most popular and most visible player in the entire league (he led the NBA in All-Star voting three times, a feat only accomplished by Julius Erving and Michael Jordan before him). Having Toronto emblazoned on his chest brought tremendous attention to the young franchise.
In Toronto, though, Carter also came to epitomize the underachiever status that has come to define the club, and his trade demand during an organizational downturn was seen as an outright betrayal by fans who had worshipped him for years. He captured the city and then ripped out its heart - the multitude of emotions he ran fans through would make him nearly impossible to catch by any current or future member of the club.
So when people talk now about who the club's "Next Carter" is, they are really asking an unanswerable question. There will never be another Carter. There will never be another Raptor who looms over the organization the way he did when he played, or does today eight years after he left. He defined the club for the six-plus years he was with the team and has continued to define them in the years since.
What people should really be asking is "Who is the guy that is going to make Toronto forget about Vince Carter?" That's a far more interesting question to tackle.
Clearly that guy is not Andrea Bargnani, who has as many detractors in the city as he does admirers. Nor is it DeMar DeRozan, who is still trying to prove he's a starting-grade shooting guard in today's NBA. Terrence Ross is an intriguing talent, but nowhere near the level he'd have to be to eradicate the memory of Vinsanity.
If there is one guy on this club that could even hope to ascend to that height, it would be the club's 7-foot Lithuanian center, Jonas Valanciunas.
Now, it has to be said right away that to expect Valanciunas to actually accomplish this feat would be as unfair as it is unnecessary.
There is no reason for him to want to achieve any kind of association, good or bad, with Carter, a guy so far removed from his NBA life he might as well play a different sport. That, though, is what gives him a chance to do it.
Valanciunas has nothing in common with Carter besides the fact that they both play basketball. They exist at totally opposite ends of the spectrum: One is a 6-6 guard, the other is a 7-foot centre. One plays with finesse, the other plays with grit. One is an athletic Superman, the other is a workaday Clark Kent. One has a tendency to float through games, the other is almost active to a fault. One is known for offence, the other for defence. If you wanted polar opposites in the NBA world, it would be hard to do much better than these two.
It's these differences, though, that give Valanciunas a chance to put Carter's legacy in the rear-view mirror.
It's not about being as good as Carter, or as famous or successful - it's about being being totally different and defining the team in that image.
It's about taking a club with a Charmin-soft reputation and making them strong and fearsome.
It's about taking a club known for lying down when things get though and making them a club that fights against even the most impossible odds.
No, if Valanciunas is going to do all that it won't happen right away. He has do little things first like, oh I don't know, play in an actual NBA game. His is the kind of game that could excite fans in Toronto again, though. He represents all of the things that the Raptors want to be going forward: tough, defensive-minded, full of effort and grit. He doesn't even have to be the team's best player to define their on-court personality.
Vince was what he was to Raptors fans a long time ago. The only reason his memory endures like it does is because no one has come along and made people forget it. Valanciunas is nothing like Carter, but that's what gives him a fighting chance to be the guy that, at long last, pushes the Raptors out of his shadow.