Predicting Which NBA Stars Will Play Until They're 40

Mike WalshCorrespondent IJanuary 21, 2013

Predicting Which NBA Stars Will Play Until They're 40

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    The Big Four-O is a milestone age for all of us.

    Few professional athletes get to reach 40 while still in the spotlight. To do so in the NBA takes about a 20-year career, plus loads of good fortune and smart decisions.

    There is a crop of star players currently teetering on the edge of their mid-to-late 30s. Whether they make it to 40 depends heavily on their contract situation, as well as team success and personality. 

    On top of that, there may be a few younger stars on whom we can take an educated stab in the dark. There may even be one rookie who could make it to 40, when all is said and done. 

    It is an impressive feat to be able to play with the best of the best this late in one's career. If they are able to last past their fourth decade on this planet, still playing in the league, it may just be their finest accomplishment.

    40 is a lot of candles, so take a deep breath, fellas. 

Tim Duncan

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    Age: 36
    Birthday: April 25, 1976

    This is yet another race in which being a four-year college player will help Tim Duncan. 

    Unlike straight-out-of-high-school stars like Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and LeBron James, Duncan doesn't need to have a 22-year career to breach the 40-year-old milestone. 

    A model of consistency, Duncan has been impossibly durable over his 16-year career. He has started 41 of a possible 43 games this season. Duncan is actually scoring two more points per game than last year, now averaging 17.3 points and 9.6 rebounds a night.

    Duncan will turn 37 before the season is through, meaning he'll only have to play three more seasons after this to get to 40 years old on an NBA court. He is under contract with the San Antonio Spurs through next season, with a $10.3 million player option for 2014-15. Should he accept that, then he will still need to sign on for one more year to get to this final milestone.

    At that point, it is unclear what the Spurs will look like. Longtime friend and teammate, Tony Parker's contract expires following that same 2014-15 season. Perhaps Parker will be able to convince Duncan to return for one more run; otherwise he may fall just short.

Kobe Bryant

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    Age: 34
    Birthday: Aug. 23, 1978

    Can Kobe Bryant really play six more seasons?

    Because of his late birthday, occurring during the offseason, for Bryant to play an NBA game as a 40-year-old, he'll have to be active in his 23rd NBA season.

    That seems utterly absurd to think about. It would blow away Robert Parish's 21 seasons in the league, and more than likely his 1611 games played record (Kobe is at 1,201, per basketball-reference.com). However, at 34 and in season No. 17, Bryant is submitting one of his finest statistical years. 

    The Lakers' shooting guard is posting a league-high 29.6 points per game, while shooting 47 percent from the field and 36 percent from long range. While it hasn't translated into wins for the Lakers, Bryant's career is still looking to be in great shape.

    His contract only runs through next season, at which point Los Angeles and Kobe Bryant will have a decision to make. He'll make a crazy $30.4 million for the 2013-14 season, after which the Lakers will have a vast amount of cap room. 

    I would tend to doubt he'll last far beyond next season, but who else but Kobe Bryant would have the drive to play for 23 NBA seasons?

Steve Nash

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    Age: 38
    Birthday: Feb. 7, 1974

    After turning 39 in a few weeks, this will seem pretty close to a sure thing for Steve Nash.

    The Los Angeles Lakers' new point guard has already dealt with some injury issues this season, but appears to have himself back on track in mid-January. Nash has raised his averages back up to 10.8 points and 8.8 assists per game for the Lakers.

    His contract runs through 2014-15, actually the longest current deal on the Lakers' roster. Should he play through the extent of that, he will be well beyond his 40th birthday. During the winter of the 2014-15 season, Nash will turn 41. So in reality, he can reach this milestone and still choose to retire with a year (and $9.7 million) left on the table.

    Nash has truly had the career of a revolutionary point guard. He spent seven seasons in his prime averaging a double-double and came away with two MVP awards. One knock on his career though, is that he never played in the NBA finals.

    The 17-23 Lakers don't appear to be the team that will help Nash get over that hump. While it may be bittersweet, playing past the 40-year-old milestone may be the last accomplishment Steve Nash has left.

Dirk Nowitzki

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    Age: 34
    Birthday: June 19, 1978

    Dirk Nowitzki's future has become very tough to predict. 

    With the recovery time from his latest knee surgery taking longer than expected, it is still unknown if he can get back to previous levels of offensive dominance. Prior to 2012-13, Nowitzki hadn't averaged less than 21.6 points per game since the 1999-00 season, his second in the league.

    Nowitzki's run of high-scoring seasons is nothing short of amazing, but how much has this injury, at age 34, affected him long-term? He is signed through next season with the Dallas Mavericks, at which point he will be turning 36.

    I believe he'll still have plenty left in the tank after that, but four-plus more years seems like a stretch. He should pass 1,200 games this season with ease, and I'm just not sure his body can take that many more seasons. 

    Even if he signs a nice three-year deal to finish out his career in Dallas, he'll come up just shy of 40.

Jason Kidd

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    Age: 39
    Birthday: March 23, 1973

    Barring any sort of catastrophic injury, it looks like Jason Kidd will be the likeliest star to cross the 40 plateau, while still remaining a valuable NBA contributor.

    Now in New York, Kidd has started 33 of a possible 38 games and is immensely important to what the New York Knicks are trying to do as a team. He has been a major factor in their breakout season as a veteran presence in the lineup. Kidd has filled in successfully as a second guard in the starting five.

    Kidd has shot a scorching 42 percent from beyond the arc, helping to spread the floor on a team that bases its offense around that shot. Ever the all-around player, he has also been hauling in 4.4 rebounds and dealing 4.2 assists per game to go along with his 8.2 points. 

    The future Hall of Famer will cross the 40-year-old mark before the season runs out, and is signed in New York through 2014-15. If the Knicks continue this high level of success, and Kidd stays healthy, we may see him playing well into his 40s.

Kevin Garnett

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    Age: 36
    Birthday: May 19, 1976

    When Kevin Garnett made the decision to return to the Boston Celtics this past summer, a .500 team is not what he envisioned. This is not the reason Garnett is back for his 18th NBA season.

    The 36-year-old is still playing at a high level defensively and maintaining a decent 14.7 points and seven rebounds per game average, but how much longer can this continue?

    With Boston seemingly in decline, will Garnett hang it up mid-contract if the Celtics can't contend this season? He is signed with the franchise through the 2014-15 season, a year that seems less and less likely with every game.

    Even if Garnett finishes out this contract, picking up a cool $12 million in the final season, he'll be shy of the 40-year-old milestone. He'll turn 37 during the postseason of this year, but for him to play when he is 40, he would have to last into the playoffs of the year after his current deal expires.

    That extra year would be his 21st in the league, tying fellow Boston big man Robert Parish's record.

    After entering the league as a scrawny teenager, this may be one milestone The Big Ticket never gets to.

Marc Gasol

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    Age: 27
    Birthday: Jan. 29, 1985

    One younger player with a decent chance to play into his 40s is Marc Gasol. 

    In just a few short days, the younger Gasol brother will turn 28 years old in just his fifth NBA season. Because he played for a couple years overseas before coming to America, Gasol was drafted as a 23-year-old. 

    This means Gasol only needs to hold around a 17-year NBA career for him to reach his 40th birthday. As with longer-tenured college players, this is much easier accomplished than the 20-year careers that most players would have to endure to get to the milestone.

    Gasol is being paid fairly handsomely through the 2014-15 season. He'll cross the 30 plateau in the middle of that year, at which point he should be in line for another hefty contract. 

    He has made himself into one of the top all-around big men in the league, with a skilled post game and steady defensive presence. Whether he gets a max contract at age 30 or not, I can't be sure. Skilled big men are currently at a premium in the league right now, but another couple years down the line, who can be sure?

    If Gasol keeps himself healthy, 40 is in range come 2025.

Damian Lillard

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    Age: 22
    Birthday: July 5, 1990

    This one is going to take quite the leap of faith, but it is definitely worth noting.

    In an age where one-and-done college players are the norm for high draft choices, Damian Lillard has a different story. He was a four-year player at Weber State, which means he entered the NBA as a 22-year-old, instead of a 19 or 20-year-old. 

    Unlike most of the players picked all around him in the 2012 NBA draft, Lillard doesn't have to have a 20-year career to play till he is 40, he'll only have to stick in the league for 17 or 18 seasons.

    Right now, Lillard probably leads the Rookie of the Year running while posting 18.3 points and 6.6 assists per game for the 20-20 Portland Trail Blazers. Lillard has started all 40 games his rookie season and could remain on his rookie contract through his 27th birthday, which is rarely the case for a star youngster.

    Given the rash of players entering the league too young, Lillard's career and age will be an interesting case study for many years. Come the summer of 2030, I guess we'll see if a 40-year-old Weber State grad can keep up with the NBA pace of the future.