Vince Carter isn't a free agent yet, but sources close to the situation say the eight-time All-Star will be thrust onto the open market shortly after the end of the lockout.
Based on an amendment in his contract obtained by ESPN.com, Carter must be waived by the Phoenix Suns within 72 hours of the official start of free agency or his $18 million salary for the 2011-12 season becomes fully guaranteed.
The Suns, sources said, have already decided to waive Carter within that window.
The Suns and Carter amended the contract in June to delay the guaranteed-salary date in Carter's final contract year until after the lockout ended. Waiving Carter inside the first 72 hours after the league's schedule start of free agency Friday means that Phoenix would only have to pay $4 million to Carter and likely ensure that the Suns avoid luxury-tax territory this season even after trying to complete the re-signing of Grant Hill and moves with other potential free agents.
The Suns' plan, sources said, is to bring back Hill if possible and make a playoff run this season, then proceed to the summer of 2012 armed with salary-cap space to make major upgrades to the roster.
Sources said the Suns have yet to receive any indication from star guard Steve Nash that he wants to be dealt to a contender, which is why management clings to the hope that the two-time MVP -- who is also headed for free agency in July 2012 -- will retire a Sun.
Carter landed in Phoenix in December 2010 when his hometown Orlando Magic dealt him to the Suns with Marcin Gortat, Mickael Pietrus, $3 million and a 2011 first-round draft pick in exchange for Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson and Earl Clark. A month later, Carter became the 37th player in league history to reach the 20,000-point plateau, but it has long been assumed around the league that Phoenix wanted him in the deal purely for the payroll relief Carter's contract affords.
Chicago, Miami and San Antonio are expected to be among the teams interested in signing Carter, 34, once he clears waivers and becomes an unrestricted free agent.
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. Chris Broussard is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.