5 NBA Veterans Who Must Perform Early to Keep Their Starting Jobs

Ben Leibowitz@BenLeboCorrespondent IIIOctober 30, 2013

5 NBA Veterans Who Must Perform Early to Keep Their Starting Jobs

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    Proven NBA veterans tend to earn seniority over younger teammates by default.

    However, those veterans still need to play at a high level. If they don’t, the energetic youngsters who excel off the bench have a shot at earning their starting gigs.

    Sometimes, contending teams make the move to get another spark in the lineup. Other times, struggling teams merely want to get young players in the starting five to aid their development.

    Regardless of the circumstances, a few NBA veteran starters are on the hot seat. Talented youngsters and overall better options are waiting in the wings, so it’s up to these five veterans to perform well and impress the coaches.

5. Carlos Boozer, Chicago Bulls

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    Carlos Boozer made a strong case to keep his starting job in the season opener against the Miami Heat.

    In 32 minutes of action, he scored 31 points on 13-of-18 shooting. He cashed in on all five of his free-throw attempts and added seven rebounds, two assists, one steal and one block to the box score.

    Aside from Jimmy Butler’s 20-point, five-steal performance, Boozer was one of the few Chicago Bulls players who showed up.

    With that said, various writers have been saying for a while that Taj Gibson should be starting over him.

    The argument is that Gibson is a vastly superior defender (true) and that he’s a better fit within Tom Thibodeau’s defensive-minded system (also true).

    If Boozer continues to score points in bulk though—especially at a ridiculously efficient 72 percent clip—the Bulls will have no reason to move him to the bench.

    It’s true that he isn’t a great defender. He’s not going to defend the rim like a Roy Hibbert or Serge Ibaka. However, he gives the Bulls much-needed offense.

    Chicago is already an elite defensive squad. As long as Boozer contributes on offense while being adequate on defense, he’ll stay in the starting five.

4. Chauncey Billups, Detroit Pistons

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    Chauncey Billups was the alpha dog and best player on the 2004 Detroit Pistons team that won an NBA championship. He means a great deal to the franchise, but a lot of time has passed since Detroit last won the title.

    In February 2012, Billups tore his Achilles tendon and hasn’t been the same since. He’s missed 106 games due to injury over the past two seasons and is inching closer to retirement.

    The 37-year-old guard is expected to start in the backcourt beside new addition Brandon Jennings, but nobody knows what to expect from Billups moving forward.

    Considering that head coach Maurice Cheeks has said that Billups will be able to monitor his own minutes throughout the season, according to David Mayo of mlive.com, it would make sense to have a more consistent option in the starting lineup.

    The roster needs to develop team chemistry early in the season in order for Detroit to make a playoff run. If Billups is starting, playing limited minutes and even sitting out games, it could be difficult for teammates to get into a rhythm.

    Moving him to the bench to lead the second unit isn’t a bad option, since young players like Kyle Singler and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are waiting in the wings.

3. Caron Butler, Milwaukee Bucks

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    With so many teams improving in the Eastern Conference—Detroit, Cleveland, Washington—the Milwaukee Bucks' chances at a playoff spot this year are not promising.

    O.J. Mayo, Brandon Knight, Gary Neal, Luke Ridnour, Zaza Pachulia, Carlos Delfino and Caron Butler make up the eclectic group of acquisitions that this team added in 2013. There are a lot of working parts that need to jell. If they can't, it may become time to embrace the youth movement by rebuilding.

    Butler is still a gritty veteran who can make a positive impact on both ends of the court. But as he enters the final year of his current contract, he isn’t the future of the Bucks franchise.

    Someone who may be a big part of Milwaukee’s basketball future, however, is rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo.

    At just 18 years old, the “Greek Freak” has boundless potential. His massive hands and enormous wingspan draw parallels to Nic Batum of the Portland Trail Blazers. He showed flashes in preseason by blocking shots and being genuinely exciting to watch, but he's still a raw talent.

    Butler has earned a starting job as a veteran leader, but Milwaukee may decide that developing the rookie is a better long-term plan.

2. Jason Maxiell/Jameer Nelson/Arron Afflalo, Orlando Magic

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    Veteran forward Jason Maxiell may have already lost his starting job after one game.

    In the Orlando Magic’s season opener against the Indiana Pacers, he started, playing 26 minutes. He finished 0-of-5 shooting, scored zero points, grabbed five rebounds, blocked two shots and turned the ball over twice.

    NBA sophomore Andrew Nicholson, meanwhile, scored 18 points on 8-of-10 shooting off the bench. He scored all 18 of his points in the first half.

    That fails to mention Tobias Harris, who missed the opener due to a sprained ankle. He may fit best as a small forward, but Maurice Harkless showed some promise by scoring 14 points in 24 minutes. Perhaps Harris will start at power forward and move Maxiell to the bench upon his return.

    Other veterans who could be relieved of starting duties include the backcourt of Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo. Those two guards finished 7-of-27 shooting against Indy, and they’re playing ahead of rookie phenom Victor Oladipo.

    Orlando is not going to make the playoffs this year. As a result, developing Oladipo has to be a priority.

    Whether that happens by trading Nelson and/or Afflalo or by moving them to the bench, I expect the rookie to be starting by year’s end.

1. Kendrick Perkins, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Even though Kendrick Perkins has continued to be a huge liability for the Oklahoma City Thunder, general manager Sam Presti has decided to stick with the big man.

    Perkins could have easily fallen victim to the league’s amnesty clause, but for some reason, OKC’s management decided against using the provision to rid themselves of his hefty contract.

    He struggled in the 2013 playoffs, as Tom Ley of Deadspin pointed out. The big man played in all 11 postseason games, averaging 19 minutes per contest. In that time, he posted a player efficiency rating of negative-0.7.

    Yes, PER can go negative.

    That was the worst PER to ever be notched in the playoffs by someone who played at least 200 minutes, according to Basketball Reference.

    That lowly form continued in the preseason, as NBA.com’s Sam Smith pointed out via Twitter.

    OKC is still one of the elite Western Conference teams, but it has to evaluate Perkins moving forward. If he continues to be a liability on the court, someone else deserves the starting job—whether that’s rookie Steven Adams, youngster Perry Jones III or even a small-ball lineup that pushes Serge Ibaka to center and Kevin Durant to power forward.

    Unless Perkins finds a way to produce, he doesn’t belong in an elite team’s starting five.