NBA Veterans We Never Thought Would Be Around in 2012

Sean Hojnacki@@TheRealHojnackiFeatured ColumnistNovember 20, 2012

NBA Veterans We Never Thought Would Be Around in 2012

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    The NBA is a pretty good league in which to enjoy a long career. Just ask Blake Griffin, who advises his younger self in this television commercial.

    With constant improvements in modern medicine, players are sticking around for longer than presumed these days. But with developments in training and sports science, the youngsters are in even better shape than in years past, forcing the senior citizens to stay fit to keep their roster spots.

    Back in the day, any old man could shuffle onto the court as long as he could knock down a jump shot. Nat Hickey of the Providence Steamrollers played a game in 1948 when he was just two days shy of his 46th birthday. 

    More recently, 44-year-old Kevin Willis suited up for the Dallas Mavericks in 2007, snatching a few old-man accolades from Robert Parish in the process. Parish was 43 years old when he played in the 1996-97 season, helping him establish the record for most games played (1,611) in NBA history.

    Today's oldest hoop stars have a few years yet to catch up with Willis and Parish, but there are several players that come to mind when one thinks of ageless wonders in the Association. 

Kevin Garnett

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    Kevin Garnett is only 36, but he was drafted straight out of high school in 1995, so he has 17 years of NBA experience on his resume. He is currently second among active players in both games and minutes played. 

    Garnett toiled in Minnesota for what had to seem like an eternity to him, but the big man finally got his championship ring after joining the Boston Celtics in the 2007-08 season. 

    Father Time will call his name soon, but KG is still contributing over 15 points and seven boards nightly, proving he has plenty left in the tank.

Paul Pierce

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    Kevin Garnett's teammate, Paul Pierce, is only 35 years old, but he has been carried off the court several times in his career. Worry not, as he has been known to come back out of the locker room and drop a dozen points in crunch time. 

    Nicknamed "The Truth," Pierce is a player that opposing teams—and their fanbases—love to hate. Knock him down as many times as you like, but he will keep getting up and hit clutch shots when the game is on the line, lest we forget about Game 1 of the 2008 NBA Finals.

    Pierce and KG have now been joined in Boston by Jason Terry, who is no spring chicken himself. Still, these vets just might have enough left in the tank for one more deep playoff run. 

Ray Allen

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    Ray Allen has been shooting for so long, he has made more three-pointers than anyone in NBA history (including Reggie Miller). And he just keeps adding to that record. 

    After joining the Miami Heat this offseason, he can make the claim that he is the only player in league history to be part of a "Big Three" and a "Big Four." 

    The 37-year-old finally got his ring with the Boston Celtics in 2008, but he's gunning for one more before he retires. It remains to be seen if his ankle will hold up, but Allen is still getting it done, averaging over 12 points while hitting over half of his attempts from the field and from distance. 

Tim Duncan

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    Tim Duncan has been around for a while, and somehow, despite his two MVPs and four championship rings, it's easy to forget about him. 

    The mild-mannered 36-year-old continues to perform his job to perfection every single night. He's not physically dominating, but he controls the glass and pours in points from everywhere inside the arc. 

    Among active players, Duncan is eighth in games played and fifth in minutes played. And still counting.

Chauncey Billups

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    Chauncey Billups was amnestied by the New York Knicks not long ago, but that didn't stop the late-blooming point guard from finding a new home.

    Billups caught on with the Los Angeles Clippers, but tore his left Achilles tendon only 20 games into the 2011-12 season.

    Career over, right? Not so fast. Billups is targeting a return to the court sometime in the next week or two.

    The 36-year-old has 15 years of NBA experience, and he simply refuses to retire. 

Jerry Stackhouse

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    Yes, Jerry Stackhouse is still in the NBA. The 38-year-old isn't exactly a marquee player like other names on this list, but he has quietly been an effective bench player since moving past the prime of his career. 

    In some seasons, injuries have limited him to 10 games or fewer, but he keeps showing just enough to crack NBA rosters around the league. This season, he is donning the black-and-white for the Brooklyn Nets.

    While he may never stuff a stat sheet again, his sage advice and tales of playing for Dean Smith at UNC are irreplaceable. 

Steve Nash

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    Who would have thought that a guy born in South Africa and raised in Canada playing soccer would make his living playing professional basketball?

    Steve Nash is still searching for a championship ring, but he now has the good fortune of playing on a stacked roster with the Los Angeles Lakers.

    The two-time MVP is currently seventh in games played and ninth in minutes played among active players, but he's got a ways to go before he catches John Stockton in the all-time assists category. But if the 38-year-old has the desire to play past his current contract, he has a shot. 

Grant Hill

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    Grant Hill is so old that the No. 1 song on the charts when he was drafted in 1994 was "I Swear" by All-4-One. 

    If the 40-year-old had been born two days earlier, he would hold the title of oldest player in the NBA. 

    Though he is currently on the bench for the Los Angeles Clippers and nursing a sore knee, Hill is no doddering old-timer. He averaged 10.2 points for the Phoenix Suns last season and is still a very active defender.

    Hill took a page out of Kobe Bryant's book by heading to Germany this summer to undergo Orthokine therapy on his knee, meaning he will probably play until he's at least 50.

The Knicks

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    Much has been made of the New York Knicks being the oldest team in NBA history. 

    In addition to bringing in a 35-year-old rookie Pablo Prigioni, they pulled 38-year-old Rasheed Wallace—the league's all-time leader in technical fouls—out of a two-year retirement.

    They also boast the league's oldest player in returning Knick Kurt Thomas (age 40), as well as Marcus Camby (age 38), another player they discarded in the '90s. 

    But the most notable elder statesman on the Knicks roster is 39-year-old Jason Kidd.

    Kidd has been in the league for so long, he's not only the leader in games and minutes played among all active players, he's fourth on the all-time list in minutes played (behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone and Elvin Hayes).

    The point guard is also third all-time in three-pointers made, and he's not even a particularly good shooter.

    To Kidd's credit, he is having a fantastic season playing out of position for New York, offering stout defense and coming through in key situations. Without the 10-time All-Star, the elderly Knicks probably wouldn't have won seven of their first eight games.