5 Aging NBA Stars Who Must Have a Huge Season in 2012-2013
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At a certain point in almost every NBA player's career, it comes time to put up or shut up.
Aging is hard for pro athletes. Their skills, what got them to highest level in their respective sport, begin to erode. And then what?
If these players perform under large contracts, the fall can be all the more precipitous. Who wants to pay eight figures to an aging, former star who doesn't have it any more?
There are a group of players in the NBA every season who fall under this category—players who may be nearing their last legs and need one more year in the sun just to prove that they've still got it and are worthy of being re-signed, retained or rehired.
Here's a handful of those players who are on the age bubble headed into the 2012-2013 season.
Jefferson's time may be running out.
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Jefferson's glory days of the early aughts—when he was a young, but key contributor to several playoff runs in New Jersey, including consecutive trips to the finals in 2002 and 2003—are long since past.
Now a Golden State Warrior following a deadline deal with the Spurs last season, the now-32-year-old Jefferson, who twice averaged over 22 points per game in his seven years playing in the swamp, has seen his numbers practically drop off the cliff since the move.
He managed just nine points per game between the Spurs and Warriors last season. And although he can still shoot threes (over 40 percent in each of the last three years), it's clear that his best days are behind him.
HoopsHype has him down for $10.2 million this season with a player option for in excess of $11 million in 2013-2014. There may not be much the Warriors can do to avoid paying him that money beyond getting another team to take it on via trade or using the amnesty clause.
And with the drafting of Harrison Barnes to play the 3, Jefferson looks like a very high-priced bench player both this year and next.
Turkoglu got paid then packed it in.
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After putting up big numbers, making big shots and showing an excellent all-around game for the Orlando Magic from 2005 through the Magic's run to the Finals in 2009, Turkoglu signed himself a massive free-agent deal with Toronto Raptors.
He then promptly fell off the map.
Turkoglu took the money and ran, signing that five-year, $53 million deal with the Raptors before regressing to the point that his numbers in Toronto were the worst of his career since he was a 24-minute-per-game reserve with the Spurs in 2003-2004.
The Raptors somehow managed to unload him to Phoenix, who waited a whole 25 games before seeing what everyone else already knew: Turkoglu was looking like a dog.
Luckily for the Suns, they had former Orlando GM Otis Smith on speed dial to take the Turkoglu headache off their books. They traded him back to the Magic after those 25 games, with Smith likely hoping that a return to the scene of his greatest moments would revive him and help the Magic get back to the NBA Finals.
Not so. Turkoglu has scored 11.4 and 10.5 points per game for Orlando since his return, and the Magic have been ousted in the first round of the playoffs each of the years.
Hedo's contract, which will pay him $11.8 million this season and still has one more year after that, was considered so onerous the Magic couldn't even unload him in last week's Dwight Howard mega-deal.
Turkoglu is 33 now, and the Magic are clearly in rebuilding mode. He's going to get paid this year regardless. But if he wants to keep getting paid beyond that, he might want to think about stepping it up.
It's not as easy for Rip as it used to be.
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Things haven't been going so well for Hamilton, formerly one of the more feared offensive players in the league.
Never mind that he hasn't played more than 60 games in three years or that he was the spearhead of the infamous Detroit Pistons mutiny against former coach John Kuester.
He's looking pretty washed up, that Rip. He played in just 28 games for the Chicago Bulls last season, and his 11.6 points per game was, by far, his lowest output since his rookie season with the Wizards in '99.
The Bulls are pretty hamstrung this season as they wait for their franchise player, Derrick Rose, to return from his torn ACL suffered in Round 1 of last season's playoffs. Hamilton will be counted on for Chicago while Rose continues his rehab. And he will only cost the Bulls $5 million.
But after this year, all he's got left is a team option for 2013-2014, again at $5 million. That's not a lot of money (relatively speaking, of course).
Still, given his severe decline the past two seasons and the fact that the Bulls may want to get a bit younger as Rose gets back to full health, this could be it for the 34-year-old vet.
Marion likely needs a big year to stay a Mav.
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Remember Shawn Marion's nickname? It's the Matrix. Only he doesn't get called by that moniker all that much these days. Why? Because that's not his game anymore.
Marion is still a very good player, a tough, defensive stopper who can still post a double-double here and there. He's also 34 years old and on the books for just under $18 million over the next two seasons.
The Mavs' chance at a second championship banner decreases with every year Dirk Nowitzki ages. They tried to rebuild the nucleus around him this offseason, chasing Deron Williams in free agency and Dwight Howard via trade.
When they couldn't do that, they settled for getting younger in the backcourt, switching out Jason Terry and Jason Kidd for O.J. Mayo and Darren Collison.
Even though the Mavs will have the cap space to go after Howard again next summer if he opts to leave the Lakers, they still may look to deal Marion since he'll be in the last year of his contract and another year older.
But if he puts up another year like his first two in Dallas, and less like his most recent one, the Mavs will have to look seriously at riding it out with him.
If Billups doesn't bounce back, he could be wearing suits much more often.
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The Clippers will employ a raft of NBA senior citizens this season, with Grant Hill and Lamar Odom joining Chauncey in L.A.
But Billups, now 35 and attempting to come back from a ruptured Achilles, has the most to lose.
Brought in last year to provide a steady hand and veteran know-how for a young, inexperienced team, Billups made it just 20 games before the injury ended his season. Only thing was, the Clippers won without him, earning the No. 5 seed out West and advancing to the conference semis.
His two primary replacements last year, Randy Foye and Nick Young, are both gone. Now, the Clippers have Jamal Crawford to play the 2 off the bench and may want to take a better look at what youngster Eric Bledsoe has to offer at both guard spots.
In other words, less minutes for Billups in all likelihood.
He's set to make $4 million on a one-year deal. So while he may not be with the Clippers beyond 2013 regardless of what happens this season, a lack of playing time could curtail his chances to show every other team in the league that he can still play and deserves to be signed next summer.
It's a big year coming up for Billups. It may mean his career.