- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 15, 2008

They came out of North Carolina in 1998, top-10 picks and draft-day trade counterparts. Antawn Jamison, a power forward and national player of the year, had led his Tar Heels to the NCAA semifinals. Shooting guard Vince Carter was his sidekick.

The Toronto Raptors selected Jamison, who averaged 22.2 points and 10.5 rebounds his final season at North Carolina, with the fourth pick and then swapped him for Carter — taken fifth by Golden State — who averaged 15.6 points and 5.1 rebounds a game for the Tar Heels.

Carter quickly made a name for himself with electrifying dunks, while Jamison got off to a slower start, battling injury his second season in the league and enduring years of losing with the Warriors.

Now 10 years later, it’s hard to say which team got the better end of the deal. Golden State traded Jamison to Dallas after five seasons, and Toronto — upon Carter’s request — shipped him to New Jersey 20 games into his seventh year.

But who is the better pro? Carter, who during his highlight-producing seasons in Toronto earned nicknames like “Half-man, half-amazing,” “Vinsanity” and “Air Canada”? Or Jamison, who is simply referred to either by his last name or, by friends and teammates, as ‘Twan?

Throw out commercials, shoe deals and fan hype. Look at numbers over the entire body of work and intangibles. Jamison edges his old buddy out.

Carter has career averages of 23.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.3 steals to go with six playoff appearances. But since the 2000-01 season, when he averaged 27.6 points a game, his production has slowly declined. He has lost the aggression he displayed early in his career and now has the reputation of being a “soft” player who can’t stay healthy. Carter has played a full 82-game schedule just twice in 10 seasons.

In July he re-signed with New Jersey for $61.8 million, but with the team struggling and on target to miss the playoffs for the first time in six years, management considered trading Carter.

Jamison, meanwhile, only has gotten better with time. After recovering from knee surgery his second year, Jamison began to establish himself as a strong player despite the Warriors’ losing ways. In 2002-03 he averaged 22.2 points and 7.1 rebounds to lead Golden State to a 38-44 record — the franchise’s best record in nine years. Then Jamison was traded to Dallas, where he earned sixth man of the year honors, averaging 14.8 points and 6.3 rebounds.

Another season brought another change of address, but since joining the Wizards for the 2004-05 campaign, Jamison has continued his steady, unheralded production, helping a team in a playoff drought when he arrived qualify for the postseason four straight years.

Jamison posted the finest stretch of his career in last year’s Eastern Conference playoffs when he averaged 32.0 points and 9.8 rebounds. This season he earned his second All-Star appearance and is on pace to become the first Washington player to average at least 20 points (21.5) and 10 rebounds (10.2) since Chris Webber achieved the feat in 1996-97.

Jamison has a lower career scoring average than Carter, notching 19.7 points a game in 10 seasons. But he’s a better rebounder (7.9) and a more well-rounded player. His reputation in the league is stronger as well. And under his leadership the Wizards have weathered extended injury-induced absences by All-Stars Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler.

Jamison also beats out Carter in the durability department, having played all 82 games in five seasons.

Carter got off to a fast start and is more widely known thanks to the highlights. It probably will help fans remember him longer.

But true basketball followers will have a better appreciation for Jamison’s career when it’s over.

Strong, consistent production coupled with leadership and a strong reputation should trump a dazzling entrance followed by ups, downs and image problems.

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