5 Stars Whose 2014 NBA Playoffs Could Be Their Last
Nostalgia is a big part of sports. Fans look back fondly on their favorite players when they competing in their prime, but Father Time catches up to everyone eventually. Is it possible that we’ll be seeing a variety of the NBA’s biggest stars play their final postseason in 2014?
While youth and athleticism have helped guide teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder and Toronto Raptors, squads with proven veterans tend to win consistently based on their basketball IQ and overall experience.
One such example is the San Antonio Spurs, who get counted out by critics year after year for being too old or too slow yet continue dominating. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are clearly in the twilight of their respective careers, but is there a chance one or both of those guys will decide to hang it up at season’s end—especially if the Spurs deliver by winning the Larry O’Brien trophy?
As fans, we need to remind ourselves to appreciate the players we love watching before their ride off into the sunset—often times into the broadcast booth.
The following players may ultimately decide to return, but then again, what if they don’t?
While the players in the honorable mention section don’t qualify as “stars” in today’s NBA landscape, two made multiple All-Star appearances, while the other two won multiple titles.
Those factors alone deserve our respect.
Veteran point guard Derek Fisher has five championship rings to his name and may have to bring a sixth finger into the equation if the Oklahoma City Thunder make a run at the Larry O’Brien trophy.
The 39-year-old will retire after his 18th season in the pros when OKC’s playoff run comes to an end, according to Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News.
“I rarely use the word never, but I feel like this is a good opportunity to put a cap on a great career. I think we have a legitimate chance to make a run at the title,” Fisher said, per Medina.
For nostalgia sake, here’s the video of Fisher’s game-winner with 0.4 seconds remaining on the clock—apologies to all San Antonio Spurs fans.
The years of “Vinsanity” with the Toronto Raptors and New Jersey Nets are in the rearview mirror. And while "Half-Man Half-Amazing" isn't nearly as amazing as he once was, Vince Carter has produced as a role player for the Dallas Mavericks during the twilight of his NBA career by way of the three-point shot.
The 37-year-old notched an average of 39.4 percent from beyond the arc during 2013-14 and 40.6 percent from deep with the Mavs in 2012-13. He no longer has the pep in his step that he once had, but he’s still managed to throw down graceful slams despite his age.
He has no plans of retirement, according to Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Nevertheless, his contract with Dallas is set to expire at season’s end, so it will be interesting to see where the eight-time All-Star winds up—and if he reaches postseason play again.
Elton Brand was selected No. 1 overall in the 1999 draft by the Chicago Bulls. He averaged at least 18 points and nine rebounds for eight consecutive seasons to start his career between Chicago and the Los Angeles Clippers. Because he never played for an elite team, his individual accomplishments have been overshadowed over the years.
Brand, however, was one of the league’s best big men for nearly a decade. He earned two All-Star appearances as well: 2002 and 2006.
The big man is now suiting up for the No. 8 seed Atlanta Hawks. He averaged 5.7 points and 4.9 rebounds per game during the regular season.
The second Duke Blue Devil to appear in the honorable mention section, Shane Battier will retire at season’s end, barring “an act of God,” per Bleacher Report’s Ethan Skolnick via Twitter.
The 35-year-old is playing his 12th NBA season. He carved a niche as a defensive glue guy for the Memphis Grizzlies, Houston Rockets and Miami Heat—where he won back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013.
Some view him as a notorious flopper, while others regard him as a savvy veteran. Whatever your stance, you can’t fault the man’s work ethic throughout a successful NBA career.
5. Manu Ginobili
Would you walk away from $7 million?
Me neither, but if the Spurs cap a phenomenal 62-win regular season with yet another championship, there may be an outside chance Manu Ginobili decides to go out on top via retirement.
I wouldn’t deem this scenario all that likely, but that doesn’t mean NBA fans shouldn’t stop and appreciate the Argentinean southpaw during the 2014 postseason.
He’s one of the greatest international players of all time and certainly one of the best second-round picks in league history.
On top of it all, Ginobili stayed relatively healthy and had a solid 2013-14 campaign. He averaged 12.3 points on 46.9 percent shooting from the field and 34.9 percent shooting from downtown. The scoring output accompanied 4.3 assists, three rebounds and one steal per game. His efforts put him in the Sixth Man of the Year conversation, because San Antonio’s bench led the league in scoring with 45.1 points per game, according to Hoops Stats.
Here’s hoping we haven’t heard the last of Charles Barkley’s “Ginobili!” scream.
4. Ray Allen
Ray Allen is arguably the greatest pure shooter to ever play in the NBA. He is the Association’s all-time leader in made three-pointers after all, but is there a chance the veteran—who will turn 39 in July—decides to hang it up at season’s end when his contract with Miami expires?
“I don’t know when I’ll retire,” Allen said in January 2013, per Gery Woelfel of the Racine Journal Times. “I’d like to get through the year first. I feel great; my body feels good. I just got to get through.”
The legendary sharpshooter added that it was possible he’d call it quits at the end of the 2012-13 season. Apparently his phenomenal, season-saving three-pointer in the NBA Finals against San Antonio kept the competitive juices flowing, because he’s still playing and producing.
Allen averaged 9.6 points, 2.8 rebounds and two assists while shooting 37.5 percent from beyond the arc during his 18th year as a pro.
The decision will be up to him, but there’s a chance that the 2014 postseason will be his last. Calling it quits as a 10-time All-Star and two-time champion is not too shabby, and the Heat still have a chance to win another title.
We'll see what happens, but don't take that sweet shooting stroke for granted.
3. Paul Pierce
Paul Pierce scuffled through the month of November as one of the newest members of the Brooklyn Nets. He averaged 12.1 points on just 35.4 percent shooting from the field and a 23.1 percent clip from beyond the arc.
He had lost a step, the Nets were struggling, head coach Jason Kidd was on the hot seat, and all seemed lost for Brooklyn’s grand championship aspirations.
Now Pierce has reinvented himself as a small-ball power forward—a position he’s rarely played throughout 16-year career, if he ever had before.
During March, he averaged 14.6 points while shooting 51.1 percent from the field and ridiculously efficient 46.7 percent from three.
The Nets have been playing extremely well in 2014 and will face off against the upstart Toronto Raptors in the first round of the playoffs. Whether Brooklyn makes a deep run or not, this might be "The Truth’s" last hurrah.
His contract is set to expire at season’s end, and while he could still offer an NBA team plenty as a role player, he may choose to exit the game gracefully.
Pierce is a 10-time All-Star, ranks 18th on the NBA's all-time scoring list and won a title in 2008 as a member of the Boston Celtics. He doesn't have anything more to prove.
2. Tim Duncan
Unlike his teammate Manu Ginobili—who is under guaranteed contract next season—Tim Duncan has a player option for the 2014-15 season that will pay him $10 million if he decides to keep playing.
Much like the case with Ginobili, however, it’s hard to see Duncan walking away from that payday unless San Antonio wins a championship this year. Might that entice him to retire on top?
Winning titles for the same franchise 15 years apart would be a momentous achievement even for Duncan, who has already established himself as a first-ballot Hall of Famer and one of the best interior players of all time. He won it all with the Spurs in 1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007. He’s looking for one more feather in his cap before hanging it up on the hat rack.
Of course, even if the Spurs win their fifth title in the Duncan era, he may decide to re-up for another season. He’s still playing at a high level, finishing 21st in the league with a player efficiency rating of 21.40, per ESPN.
Missing out on a Mariano Rivera-esque farewell tour would be a shame for the fans who have grown to love and respect the 37-year-old legend, so it’s best to cover the spread and drink in every moment from "The Big Fundamental" moving forward.
Full disclosure: I think he'll be back regardless of the outcome.
1. Kevin Garnett
While Pierce clearly lost a step for Brooklyn before getting his swagger back somewhat to close out the season, Kevin Garnett lost at least eight steps and missed 28 games due to injury—the most in a single season during his Hall of Fame career.
His numbers dipped nearly across the board with his third team. His points per game took a massive hit, dropping down to 6.5 from 14.8 a season ago. He also shot a career-low 44.1 percent from the field and regressed statistically in rebounding, assists, blocks and steals.
He started to play much better in January and early February during the Nets’ miraculous turnaround but got derailed due to debilitating back spasms.
Garnett may still play a meaningful role for Brooklyn in the playoffs, but it would appear as if the 37-year-old will lose playing time to rookie big man Mason Plumlee—who played well in KG’s prolonged absence.
Ironically, Garnett—not Pierce—is still under contract through the 2014-15 season to the tune of $12 million. It’s hard to see him passing that up, but health will continue to be a prevalent factor for “The Big Ticket” moving forward.
I’d love for the playoff atmosphere to light a fire under Garnett and inspire him to return to form, but back spasms are fickle injuries.
“The most frustrating part about this is that you just can’t push through this,” Garnett said in March, per the New York Post’s Tim Bontemps. “The back tends to obviously deals with the legs, the lower part of your body, the core, your hand movements, your breathing, a lot of it comes into play.”
This may not be Garnett’s last bow, but if it is, it has been a pleasure to watch him compete.
All salary information courtesy of ShamSports.