It's also possible that their time together may be limited. McGrady will be an unrestricted free agent after this season, and teams like Krause's Bulls will no doubt want to gamble on his seemingly limit-less upside. The Raptors would just as soon confiscate McGrady's passport, even if there are lingering concerns about his work ethic and his long-term willingness to play second fiddle to Carter. Lacking Carter's public relations savvy, though, McGrady didn't endear himself to the front office when, on die first day of training camp, le expressed his desire to play 30 to 35 minutes a game. "I told him that was a decision for [coach] Butch Carter," Grunwald says.
As his tentative handshake and the gleaming braces on his teeth attest, McGrady is still very much a novice adult. He talks about getting paid K.G. money—i.e., a salary comparable with that of another high-school-to-NBA trailblazer, Kevin Garnett—on the open market. Moments later, though, he muses whimsically about playing his career in Toronto. "If I were in a room with a contract offer from the Raptors, I think Vince would put a gun to my head and force me to sign it," he says. "The next Pippen and Jordan, that's what I see us being." (For clarification, McGrady adds, "And I'm Pip.")
Carter smiles politely when he hears his cousin make these pronouncements, but he bristles at the inevitable comparisons with Jordan, which he has heard ever since he arrived at Carolina as a bald-pated freshman. That's partly out of deference to Jordan—"He's the best ever," says Carter—but he's also wary of being saddled with unrealistic expectations. Yet even MJ recognizes that Carter is unique. When Carter was a frustrated freshman at North Carolina, Jordan advised him to keep his head up. When Jordan heard the Raptors had drafted Carter, he called his buddy, Toronto forward Charles Oakley, and told him to take care of the rookie.
In addition to the physical similarities, Carter is endowed with Jordan's ability to defy gravity. Several times a game, he prepares for takeoff, achieves cruising altitude and deposits a poster-quality dunk. If Dominique Wilkins was the Human Highlight Reel a generation ago, in this postmodern age Carter is the Human Highlight—Real Time. Fans who click on the Raptors' Web site can download no fewer than 67 of Carter's jams and other levitational feats from last season. "I realize people love the dunk, but one time I swear I'm going to have a breakaway and just do a layup," he says. "I'll do it on the road, though, because the fans will probably boo me."
It's not just folks in the stands who dig his dunking. While playing in Gary Payton's charity game in Seattle this summer, Carter threw down a jam so fierce that the other nine players stopped the game to watch the replay on the big screen overhead. "My boy is out of control," says McGrady, "but it's not just dunks. He can take you to the basket, he's big enough to post you up, he can rebound and block shots. He's just real well-rounded."
That could just as easily be a character assessment of his cousin. As comfortable golfing with the team's sponsors and luxury box owners at the Raptors' preseason scramble as he is hanging out with his friends in his hometown of Daytona Beach, Carter is a social Proteus. At Mainland High he not only was a jock of all trades, starring in basketball, track and volleyball, but he also wrote the school's homecoming anthem—which his mom describes as "a pop number to a hip-hop beat"—and played baritone, and alto and tenor saxophone in the band. (The man Carter calls Dad, his stepfather, Harry Robinson, was the director.) Like the übergeek in the movie American Pie, Carter enthusiastically reminisces about band camp. "Guys hear that and make fun of me," he says, "but trying different things and doing what I like is more important than being popular."
Even after the auspicious start to his NBA career, Carter remains unaffected. His body is innocent of tattoos and piercings, and he's an indefatigable autograph signer. His biggest immodesty? He has his name and number on a neon sign hanging above his personal computer. Anything else? "Sometimes," he says, "if I have a really good dunk in a game, I'll go home and watch it on the highlight shows."
Making good on a promise that he made to his mother before he went to Chapel Hill, Carter returned there last summer and earned nine credits toward his degree in African-American Studies. (He's planning to graduate next summer.) He supplemented his course work by stroking 1,500 jumpers a day and working on his defense. The same impatience that causes him to ceaselessly channel surf is evident when Carter bites on head fakes and gambles foolishly for steals. "Once he starts knocking down the jumper consistently and plays better defense on the perimeter," says Oakley, "look out."
McGrady's outside shot and defensive instincts could stand some honing too, but his first task is to become a more consistent player. Last season his performances fluctuated from execrable to extraordinary. When the Raptors beat the New York Knicks on April 17, McGrady scored two points and, because of his indolence on defense, played just 10 minutes. The next game, a victory over the Orlando Magic, he dominated, sharing the game-high in scoring (16 points) and leading both teams in rebounding (11) while dispensing four assists and blocking a pair of shots.
"If you compare their rookie seasons, it was apparent that Vince was the one who played in college and has had access to better coaching," says Pacers president Donnie Walsh. "In Tracy's case, the strides he made from his rookie year to last season were significant, and I think he'll just keeping getting better. If he can make the adjustment to point guard, which is what I think they're trying to do with him—I know that's what I'd try to do with him—he can be a great, great player in this league. His mistakes will be more obvious there than if he's playing the two, but he has the athleticism, and at his height, he'll be very hard to defend."