Checking the head of Vince Carter, with the Globe And Mail’s Robert McLeod.

Only after Vince Carter carefully fastens the expensive portable stereo unit to his body and rams the headphones into his ears is he ready to join the rest of the Toronto Raptors on the basketball court for the pregame warm-up.

It is a curious ritual that the 27-year-old has adopted of late, seemingly isolating himself from the rest of his teammates as they run simple drills and shoot baskets together about 20 minutes before the opening tip.

Carter was thusly wired up before Friday’s game in Seattle against the SuperSonics where if it didn’t catch the attention of David Stern, the National Basketball Association commissioner who happened to be in attendance, it should have.

The NBA has strict guidelines as to what constitutes proper on-court attire and it is believed Carter’s headset may be stretching the rules somewhat. The NBA was not available to comment yesterday.

It is anybody’s guess what Carter might be listening to? Maybe it is an advance copy of Ron Artest’s coming CD, or perhaps a Tony Robbins motivational message.

While Carter may be electronically plugged in, his indifferent play so far this season appears to suggest he is tuning out the message of solidarity the Raptors are desperately trying to establish in the early going of the NBA season.

Carter found himself paying the price for a horribly lethargic (2 of 9 for four points in 22 minutes) outing against the Trail Blazers in Portland on Saturday night with a spot on the bench for the entire fourth quarter.

It marked the second time through the first four games of this West Coast road swing for the Raptors that Carter has been relegated to the bench, like a second stringer, down the stretch in the fourth quarter. He also found himself stationed there for the final 9 ½-minutes during Wednesday’s 104-95 win over the Utah Jazz.

After Saturday’s setback in Portland, Mitchell was at a loss to explain Carter’s play. On the season, Carter is averaging a sub-par 14.3 points a game (his career average is 23.8) with an uncomfortable 38.1 per cent shooting average. In seven games this season, Carter has scored more than 20 points only once.

“He’s in the locker room, guys, I don’t know,” Mitchell said when asked what was wrong with Carter. “I’m not in Vince’s head.

” I would assume he just didn’t have it.

“But ask him, I want to know.”

As usual, Carter was less than forthcoming about his performance.

“I’m fine,” he said.

“Whatever. He had to put the guys on who were playing well.”

Maybe Vince is preoccupied with the thought of having to pay back Tank Black?