Even NBA stars eventually have to use their last tanks of gas. No matter how many times they've refilled, they inevitably must deplete those final few gallons as their careers either come to an end or they see their reign as stars extinguished.
And as someone who's managed to run out of gas twice while driving a Prius (including an unfortunate experience that involved coming to a halt with my car straddling some railroad tracks), I consider myself an authority on bottoming out the tank.
These seven stars (well, six stars and one fringe star) have all enjoyed great careers, but they're on their last set of gallons now. They might not run out of gas entirely during the 2013-14 season.
They just won't have an opportunity to refuel ever again.
Team: Chicago Bulls
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 16.2 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.4 blocks, 17.1 PER
The return of Derrick Rose and the offensive improvement of Jimmy Butler spell trouble for Carlos Boozer.
No longer do the Chicago Bulls need to keep him on the court over prolonged stretches for the sole purpose of providing offense, as other quality players can fill the scoring void.
That will inevitably force Boozer to the pine for longer portions of games as Taj Gibson's role grows larger.
And it's a good thing for the Bulls.
Few players are better than Boozer at putting up empty, meaningless numbers. His 16.2 points and 9.8 rebounds per game look like fairly impressive statistics, but they come at the expense of the team's success.
According to Basketball-Reference, the Bulls scored 4.3 points fewer per 100 possessions when Boozer played and allowed 4.2 more.
The porosity of his defense and black-hole nature of his offense has made him a better candidate for Least Valuable Player than the actual MVP award in recent years, and that will finally come back to bite him now that he has another year under his belt, one that will make his slow-footed defensive play even more egregious.
Team: San Antonio Spurs
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.8 points, 9.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 0.7 steals, 2.7 blocks, 24.4 PER
Unlike Carlos Boozer, Tim Duncan isn't going to have a bad season.
In fact, the opposite is true. Duncan is going to remain in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation, compete for the league lead in blocks per game as he stays even closer to the basket than ever before, dominate on the glass and put up consistent, efficient offensive numbers.
That doesn't mean he's not on his last tank of gas, though. At some point he has to slow down, right?
Duncan's per-36 numbers have been eerily consistent over the years. Try to guess which seasons produced the following stat lines:
- Season A: 21.3 points, 11.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 0.6 steals, 2.7 blocks per 36 minutes
- Season B: 21.3 points, 11.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 0.9 steals, 3.2 blocks per 36 minutes
- Season C: 21.1 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 0.9 steals, 2.5 blocks per 36 minutes
Season A is Duncan's MVP-winning 2002-03 campaign. Season B is this past season, and Season C is the 2006-07 go-around. How's that for strange consistency?
Duncan isn't just going to fade away, but retirement is drawing nearer, especially since there's a solid chance he would have pulled the plug on his Hall of Fame career if the San Antonio Spurs had made just one more free throw in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
If anyone can make one final tank of gas last a little longer by running on fumes, though, it's Duncan.
Team: Brooklyn Nets
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 14.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.9 blocks, 19.2 PER
Retirement rumors also came into play this offseason with Kevin Garnett. One of the prevailing assumptions was that KG would call it quits if he wasn't able to play alongside Paul Pierce for the rest of his career.
Well, he gets to journey to the Brooklyn Nets with Pierce, but it won't be long before his NBA tenure comes to its end.
Garnett's style of play has been noticeably shifting over the last few years. As he racks up the seasons, he's straying further from the basket than ever, relying on his silky smooth mid-range jumper instead of banging away on the blocks. It's clearly still working for him, but it's an indication that the physicality is slipping away.
The 37-year-old will be a fantastic role player for the Nets, but make no mistake about it. He'll be a role player.
With Pierce, Joe Johnson, Deron Williams and Brook Lopez joining him in the starting five, Garnett is going to experience watching the All-Star game from afar for the second time since the turn of the century. There just aren't enough touches to go around, and it's him that will lose many of them.
Team: San Antonio Spurs
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 11.8 points, 3.4 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.2 blocks, 19.0 PER
In an interview with Daniel Arcucci and Juan Manuel Trenado of Canchallena.com (translated by Pounding the Rock's J. Gomez), Manu Ginobili delivered a pretty telling quote about his performance and mental state concerning retirement:
By the end of the season—and I mean the regular season and not the playoffs—I thought about it a lot. I was so tired of it. I hadn't suffered a muscle strain in my whole life and I went through three in four months. I felt negative, fed up. And I thought about retiring. I hadn't come close to making up my mind but I thought it was something I had to discuss with my wife, "what if...?" She told me that it was my decision and she was fine either way. But when I recovered physically I started to feel better about it all. When the season ended I grieved for 48, 72 hours and I didn't feel retired. I knew something was missing, that I still wanted to play...
The physical part. Having to keep rehabilitating and getting in shape after injuries. Having to play with the parking break on because I'm coming back from a muscle strain. That wore me out and it was hard. I have a great time when I'm healthy and playing, I feel lucky playing with the team and coaching staff I play for. But the physical problems drained me.
Ginobili struggled to remain effective in the face of nagging injuries, and his performance against the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals wasn't exactly vintage Manu. He missed shots with alarming frequency, coughed up the ball far too often and didn't look like he should be earning playing time over Gary Neal.
The Argentine 2-guard should look better after an offseason of recovery, but this could very well be the swan song.
Team: Washington Wizards
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 12.6 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.6 blocks, 17.0 PER
Nene Hilario had his worst season in a half-decade during the 2012-13 campaign, and it's unfortunately a sign of what's to come.
The big man has been in the league since he was 20 years old, and he's always played a lot of minutes. So while he's only 30 years old, he's an old 30 and already experiencing the inevitable decline suffered by all big men not named Tim Duncan.
His role on the team won't help things either.
The Washington Wizards belong to John Wall, especially after the talented point guard inked a five-year, $80 million contract during the offseason. And Wall is joined by Bradley Beal and Otto Porter, two young guns who will take even more touches away from the Brazilian center.
Nene will remain a productive center, but his days as even a fringe star are now well behind him.
Team: Brooklyn Nets
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 16.3 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.2 blocks, 14.1 PER
Take a look at Joe Johnson's per-36 numbers over the last few seasons (only the 2012-13 campaign was with the Brooklyn Nets):
That looks like a decline, huh?
Not only is Johnson contributing less on a per-minute basis as the years progress, but he's losing efficiency at the same time. Talk about a brutal combination.
While the former Atlanta Hawk's efficiency may rise now that his role is subject to even more of a decrease, he's no longer going to be even close to a No. 1 offensive option. Iso Joe is a thing of the past now that he's playing alongside Deron Williams, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Brook Lopez.
Johnson could very well become a great role player, but he's in no way a star at this stage of his career.
And yet his contract still begs to differ.
Team: Los Angeles Lakers
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 12.7 points, 2.8 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.1 blocks, 16.0 PER
Steve Nash's first season with the Los Angeles Lakers got off to an unfortunate start when he fractured a bone in his leg during a collision with Damian Lillard. He was never really able to get back on track, and neither were the Lakers.
Now, Nash is 39 years old and playing with another new set of teammates. Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol are still there, but it's not like he built much chemistry with that dynamic duo during his first go-around.
The floor general possesses some of the best court vision in basketball, even at his advanced age, and he still has the passing skill to make use of it. However, he's going to be even more physically limited than ever before, especially if Mike D'Antoni insists—stupidly—on running a fast-paced offense once more.
Nash could have one excellent season left in the tank, but he's filled it up for the last time.