For two years, the Raptors boasted the NBA's cutest storyline. Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady, cousins and two of the brightest young stars in the game, formed a high-flying core North of the Border. The duo led the Raptors to the franchise's first-ever playoff appearance in 2000 (swept by the Knicks in the first round), and Carter and McGrady entered the offseason at age 23 and 21, respectively.

McGrady, who went to the NBA directly from high school in 1997, was a free agent. Rather than stay with Carter, who joined Toronto in 1998, T-Mac signed a six-year, $67.5 million contract with the Magic.

But what if Carter and McGrady stuck together?

"We've talked about it plenty of times," Carter says. "He says, 'I guess, maybe I should've explored it,' but at the same time, he was looking for his opportunity to be the superstar that he became. That's what he wanted. It's funny how back then, guys were leaving teams to go and start their own team instead of the other way around. That's just the way it was back then and he wanted that opportunity to be the exclusive go-to guy and you can't knock him for that, and he was taking abuse -- verbal abuse -- from a lot of people for doing that. And I think now, if a player were to do that, they would be respected for it. It's weird how time changes."

Carter has a fair point. In the current era of "superteams," the media mostly criticize players like Kevin Durant for joining loaded rosters and constructing teams with multiple superstars. McGrady, on the other hand, passed on the opportunity to stay in Toronto and be the second star, opting for unpredictable pastures as the leader of his own team in Orlando.

To be fair, the Magic also signed Grant Hill, an established star, that offseason and reportedly came close to bringing in Tim Duncan. Duncan stayed in San Antonio, Hill battled injuries most of his tenure in Orlando and McGrady became the face of the franchise for four years, winning two NBA scoring titles and making two All-NBA First Teams.

Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady

Meanwhile, Carter starred in Toronto and signed a six-year, $94 million extension in 2001. Vinsanity led the Raptors to the second round of the 2001 playoffs, going seven games with the eventual Eastern Conference champion Philadelphia 76ers. (Carter missed a buzzer-beater that would have won the series for the Raptors. Here's Dell Curry inbounding). The Raptors then lost in the first round in 2002.

Carter and McGrady had the pieces to build an NBA power in Toronto, but Tracy's move ended those hopes.

"We were established," Carter remembers. "We showed we could coexist together and I think through free agency, draft, whatever the case may be, we could've put ... If he stayed the next year ... we were swept by the Knicks ... and then of course, the following year, we play the Knicks to go on to the Sixers series. If I make the shot, we go on to play the Milwaukee Bucks, hopefully to the Finals. Imagine adding T-Mac to that squad that, so yes, I think we definitely had a championship-caliber team at that point, just adding him alone. Who's to say what happens in free agency in terms of gaining other players, but just from what was built there and incorporating him, it would've been pretty darn good."

Carter is still playing. At 40, he is the oldest active NBA player, and after three years with the Grizzlies, he is a free agent. Carter has never played in an NBA Finals. McGrady retired in 2013, making his only NBA Finals appearance in his final season, as a reserve for the Spurs. He played 14 minutes in two Finals games, recording zero points as the Heat won the series in seven games.

Carter and McGrady will always have to wonder "what if" about their hypothetical growth together in Toronto.

In lighter news, Carter explained to ThePostGame the backstory of how he and McGrady found out they are related.

"The year he was getting drafted, that's when we found out we were cousins," Carter recalls. "We played AAU basketball all these years. I was on the older team, he was on the younger team, and we admired each other, but never really knew we were family. We're excited about that whole year, watching him play. The next thing I know I get a call like, 'Hey, make sure you work out for the Raptors when they call you because they want to draft you. I told them to go get you.' The rest is history."

According to Carter, he and T-Mac are third cousins. A 1999 Sports Illustrated article described them as second cousins once removed.

One thing is for certain. They are teammates once removed.


Carter spoke to ThePostGame on behalf of Verizon. At the NBA Draft in Brooklyn, Barclays Center patrons on Verizon's unlimited plan had the opportunity to meet Carter and take home a free phone case made of basketballs.

-- Follow Jeff Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband. Like Jeff Eisenband on Facebook.

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