NBA Stars Whose Title Windows Are Closing Fast
NBA stars are defined by the number of championships they win, and every player's title window closes at some point. Therefore, it's crucial for today's aging stars to take advantage of every opportunity they have to win one final title.
While it's obvious when the window closes in certain situations, that isn't always the case. The past couple of seasons for the Boston Celtics are the perfect case study, as GM Danny Ainge decided to keep his core together in order to make a couple more title runs.
Did the Celtics' title window close after being eliminated by the Miami Heat during the 2011 playoffs?
The answer is probably not, as Boston pushed the Heat to seven games the following year. With that said, who knows what the Celtics' future would hold if Ainge decided to retool his roster in order to solidify the team in the post-Kevin Garnett/Paul Pierce era?
Title windows can close for various reasons, with injuries and lackluster teams being two common ones. Two teams are represented multiple times, which speaks to the pressure for each franchise to win now.
The players on this list all had wonderful careers and are leaving the NBA in better shape than they found it. Not everyone on this list is set to retire in the immediate future, but their title windows are closing fast.
Father Time did not treat Steve Nash kindly this season, as the skilled point guard missed 32 games due to injury. Nash suffered with various injuries throughout this season, and it became clear that his body was struggling to deal with the rigors of the NBA game.
The reality of the situation is that it's only going to keep getting harder for Nash to remain healthy as his career winds down. Nash is set to turn 40 years old midway through next season, and the state of the Lakers at that time could dictate whether or not he retires in the summer of 2014.
Prior to the start of the playoffs, Nash had two epidurals in order to help him deal with the pain. Make no mistake about it, Nash is playing, despite severe pain which speaks to how much of a warrior he still is, despite the fact that this season marked his 17th in the league.
Although Nash led a few very successful Phoenix Suns teams in the 2000s, he has never appeared in the finals. That likely won't change this year, due to the how badly the Lakers are outmatched by the San Antonio Spurs in the first round.
Nash said the following to the Los Angeles Daily News after the Lakers lost Game 1 in San Antonio:
"I'm not myself. I'm not moving that well. I was struggling a little bit. There were a few shots I would normally make."
While Nash was one of the league's premier playmakers for an extended period of time, it's impossible to brush aside how this season has played out for him. That isn't to say that Nash is going to retire after the season, but he's not the game-changer he was for the Suns in years past.
Barring a playoff run by the Lakers that nobody sees coming, Nash will likely only have another season or two to chase his first NBA title.
Will this be it for Kevin Garnett?
Will the "Big Ticket" hang it up after this season?
It's a distinct possibility, as Garnett played with the idea last offseason before deciding to return for his 18th NBA season.
He's also addressed the idea of retirement indirectly while at this year's All-Star Game in Houston, as KG stated that this would be his final appearance in the star-studded event. (via New York Daily News)
While Garnett fought hard all season long, he missed 14 games and averaged just 29.7 minutes per game. Boston Celtics' head coach Doc Rivers has done a good job managing Garnett's minutes, but it should be noted that this is just the third time in KG's career that he averaged fewer than 30 minutes per contest.
The Celtics have been concentrating on making one final playoff push since their last one ended, but losing Rajon Rondo to an ACL threw a monkey wrench in those plans.
At this point, it appears as if Garnett will return for at least one season, but that could change in the blink of an eye. If he feels that Boston doesn't have a chance to compete for a title in the immediate future, then perhaps, Garnett will decide to make the transition into retirement.
Don't expect KG to quit playing basketball together, as he plans to continue playing, even if it is at a much lesser level. Garnett said the following about his future with the sport in an ESPN radio interview, according to Chris Forsberg of ESPN Boston:
I hope I'm not playing at 40. I don't know. Forty, to all you guys that are 40 ... but I don't want to play until I'm 40. I love to hoop, by the end I want to be like -- when I'm 40 I want to be in the YMCA somewhere, busting a guy like you up, talking trash to you, killing your ego. Shooting the hook shot left and right, something I never do, and enjoying it.
That statement exemplifies Garnett's love of the game, which is one of the reasons NBA fans have loved him for such a long time.
At 35 years of age, Manu Ginobili's best years are in the past. The Argentinian shooting guard has had an excellent career, as he is a fan favorite in San Antonio due to the three titles he has captured as a member of the franchise.
After missing 34 games in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, Ginobili missed 22 games during this year's campaign. His descent is evidenced even better by Manu's playing time over the past two seasons, as he averaged just over 23 minutes per game in both.
The injuries have directly affected his performance and when he has been able to get onto the court as well.
This season, Ginobili averaged 11.8 points per game, which was his lowest total since his rookie year way back in 2002-03. Also, Ginobili has struggled to guard quicker perimeter players over the past couple of seasons. He is a real liability on defense when opposing teams attack him.
It becomes harder for the human body to recover quickly as athletes age, as evidenced by the various ailments Manu has suffered with recently.
After struggling with a right hamstring strain in the regular season's final weeks, Ginobili appears to be healthy for another playoff run. He scored 18 points against the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 1 and will be critical as the Spurs try to reach the NBA Finals for the first time since 2007.
If Manu can conjure up some of his old brilliance, then the San Antonio Spurs have a legitimate chance to unseat the Oklahoma City Thunder if the two teams were to meet in the Western Conference Finals.
It will be a sad day for basketball when San Antonio's "Big Three" is no longer intact, as the trio anchored one of the most consistent teams in NBA history.
Paul Pierce has been a member of the Boston Celtics for almost two decades, as he has been with the team since being drafted in 1999. Very few players are fortunate enough to remain in the same city for such an extended period of time, but Pierce has been one of the lucky few.
Throughout his time in Boston, Pierce has had his fair share of ups and downs. Fortunately for all parties involved, the positives have easily outweighed the negatives in recent years.
With the future uncertain for the Celtics, Pierce told the Boston Herald (subscription required) the following about a potential rebuilding situation during the regular season:
I mean, I really don’t want to be part of a rebuilding situation again. I just think at this point in time that’s something that would wear on me too much mentally that I don’t know what decision I may make if I have to. I may retire if I have to. You know, that’s something that’s a year-end process, especially given the situation that we have right now.
Would Pierce consider requesting a trade if the Celtics' front office doesn't remain committed to chasing another title?
It certainly wouldn't be outside the realm of possibility, but he could also choose to retire rather than familiarizing himself with a new franchise. Earlier this season, Pierce said the following about wanting to retire as a Celtic: (via the Boston Herald)
You know, I want to retire as a Celtic. That’s been my longtime goal. But it’s not in my control. The organization, they make their decisions, but it’s something I desire.
It's impossible to predict how the end of Pierce's career will play out, but it wouldn't surprise anyone if he found himself in a different uniform next season.
Anyway you slice it, Pierce will go down as one of the best players in Celtics' history. Based upon the legendary players who have suited up for the franchise, that's one of the biggest compliments Pierce could receive.
Jason Kidd was a lock to be elected to the Hall of Fame before winning his first NBA championship as a member of the Dallas Mavericks in the summer of 2011. That triumph must have been sweet for Kidd, who worked hard to retool his game as he aged.
After being the offensive catalyst for numerous offenses for over a decade, Kidd has become more of a spot-up shooter in half-court sets over the past couple of seasons.
Kidd's high basketball IQ and skillful game have allowed him to remain productive in his 19th season, even if he is averaging a career-low 26.9 minutes per game.
At 40 years of age, Kidd is an elder statesman on the oldest team in league history—this season's New York Knicks.
Kidd has said (per Frank Isola of the New York Daily News) that he's at the stage where he decides whether or not he is going to play on a yearly basis, which means he could decide to hang it up at the conclusion of the postseason.
Wonder why Kidd hasn't already retired, despite having a successful career?
The answer is pretty simple, Kidd wants another title. Also per the Isola article, Kidd said the following about why he's still competing at age 40:
I’ve achieved everything. It’s about the competition now and trying to achieve the ultimate goal and that’s to be the last team standing.
When you fulfill that goal to win you want another one because you know it’s the ultimate feeling of winning a championship. You want that second one just as much as you want the first one.
While the Knicks had a superb regular season and are the second seed in the Eastern Conference, they will be considered heavy underdogs if they were to meet the Miami Heat in the conference finals.
If the Knicks were to shock the world and advance to the finals, you can bet that effort would have been aided by at least a couple of savvy plays by Kidd.
The end of Kidd's career is near, but he hopes to have one more memorable chapter to write come June.
One of the best big men in NBA history, Tim Duncan has enjoyed one of the most consistent and successful careers ever. One of the most fundamentally sound players to ever lace up a pair of basketball shoes, Duncan has defied Father Time with his efficient play.
If you were going try to assemble the best starting lineup in NBA history, Duncan would have to be strongly considered at the power forward position.
According to ESPN Insider (subscription required), Duncan has posted a PER over 22.6 in each of the past 10 seasons. That type of consistent excellence is remarkable, even if Duncan doesn't have the type of personality to brag about his accomplishments.
One of the few players to play for a single franchise for the entirety of his career, Duncan has four titles on his resume and is looking to add another.
After two straight seasons of averaging less than 30 minutes per game, Duncan saw his average playtime exceed 30 minutes once again this season.
While Duncan did miss 13 games this season, a portion of those absences were designated as rest days by head coach Gregg Popovich.
Popovich deserves a lot of credit for Duncan's longevity, as he started to cut "The Fundamental's" minutes way back in 2009. The decision to limit Duncan directly increased the period of time in which the San Antonio Spurs' championship window has been open.
Not surprisingly, Popovich was ahead of the curve in terms of playing time for aging players.
In the midst of the 2012 playoffs, Duncan said the following about his loyalty to the Spurs franchise: (via Johnny Luden of Yahoo! Sports)
Though I shouldn't say that; I have to threaten them that I'll leave. No … I'm not going anywhere. You can print that wherever you want to. I'm here and I'm a Spur for life.
Duncan retiring as a member of the Spurs is one of the few lead-pipe locks in all of sports, as it's safe to assume that the Wake Forest product will hang it up with the team that drafted him way back in 1997.
Kobe Bryant has won five NBA titles and is widely considered to be the second-best shooting guard of all time. He could walk away from the sport right now and take his place in the Pantheon of NBA greats, but that would be taking the easy road.
Already one of the most driven athletes in sports, it's hard to imagine how focused Kobe must be about returning just as strong as ever after rupturing his Achilles tendon.
Whether or not this season's increased minutes led to Kobe's injury is unknown, but the arduous rehabilitation process he will undergo is more definite. The recovery time from this injury is typically six to 18 months, which means Bryant could potentially miss all of next season.
The NBA world is getting a sense of what the playoffs are like without Bryant, and it just hasn't been the same. Watching the Los Angeles Lakers fight for a title without their leading scorer is strange. The team isn't dangerous without him.
When Bryant returns, there will be plenty of other challenges separating him from winning another title. The Lakers were struggling to qualify for the playoffs with a healthy Kobe and were longshots to win a championship this season before the injury.
If asked whether or not Kobe would win another title in the future, it would be hard to make a case that has him hoisting the Larry O'Brien trophy one final time. A lot of things would have to break the right way in order for Bryant to get another opportunity to win a title, even if he does regain his elite form.
Kobe said (per NBA.com) he would decide whether or not he would retire after next season this summer, but that plan went up in flames the moment his Achilles tendon gave out.
Instead, Bryant will be working tirelessly to recover in time to make an impact next season.
Bryant's injury likely occurred due to a combination of factors, but the adversity Kobe will have to overcome in order to get back will add another remarkable chapter to his already legendary career.