Which Players Could Take Their Final Bow in 2014 NBA Playoffs?
The 2014 NBA playoffs aren't even a week old, and they've already occasioned coming-out parties for some of the game's brightest young stars.
Damian Lillard has continued to make a name for himself—this time at the expense of the Houston Rockets. John Wall and Bradley Beal have had their way with the Chicago Bulls, leading the Washington Wizards back to the brink of postseason success in the process. Jeff Teague torched the Indiana Pacers' vaunted defense in Game 1 of the Atlanta Hawks' first-round series, and DeMar DeRozan did the same to the Brooklyn Nets on behalf of the Toronto Raptors in Game 2.
Chances are, though, we'll have many more years to celebrate these and other up-and-comers as they work their way from promising prospects to bona fide superstars. If there are any players whose performances we should be savoring right now, it's the old guys. This year's pro edition of the Big Dance is practically teeming with familiar faces who are getting up there in basketball years.
The same can't be said for these 10 stalwarts, each of whom could at least consider calling it quits once the Association's "Second Season" comes to a close.
So long as we're putting together a list of potential retirees, we might as well start with those who've already declared this year's playoff ride to be their last.
Derek Fisher announced his intentions last July, well before the start of his 18th pro season, with a heartfelt message to all of his fans on Instagram.
The 39-year-old has made the most of his farewell tour thus far. He played in 81 of the Oklahoma City Thunder's 82 regular-season games, scoring in double figures 11 times and (somehow) cementing himself as a periodic defensive stopper at point guard off Scott Brooks' bench.
Fisher now finds himself gunning for ring No. 6—his first without the aid of former Los Angeles Lakers teammate and fellow 1996 draftee Kobe Bryant. It would be strange to see Fisher hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy without the Black Mamba by his side.
Then again, the ones to whom Fisher has hitched his wagon this time around (i.e., Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook) aren't too shabby either. Whether or not Fisher is part of another championship, he figures to have his fair share of career options to consider this summer—perhaps even as a coach or executive for Phil Jackson's New York Knicks, per USA Today's Jeff Zillgitt.
The other certain retiree in this year's playoffs? Shane Battier. He shared his intentions with Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick in late March:
Yes. Shane Battier is retiring after season. No more equivocating. "It would take an act of God to change it & that act of God hasn't come."— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) March 28, 2014
What, exactly, that "act of God" would entail is anyone's guess. Perhaps a miraculous physical recovery would be enough to convince the 35-year-old "No-Stats All-Star" to keep on keepin' on.
Some more playing time probably wouldn't hurt, either. Battier has yet to appear in the Miami Heat's first-round series against the Charlotte Bobcats. Rashard Lewis began siphoning off Battier's minutes down the stretch of the regular season, and James Jones' re-emergence as a useful contributor has only further diminished whatever role an old, slow, poor-shooting Battier might have otherwise filled for the two-time defending champs.
Not that anyone should pity him, per se. He has earned two championship rings and nearly $60 million in salary since leaving Duke as a national champion and the collegiate player of the year in 2001. He tried his hand at broadcasting during the 2013 NBA draft but may well find his sharp mind better suited to a front-office role somewhere in the league after this season.
Seasoned though he may be, Battier isn't the elder statesman on Miami's oldest-in-the-league roster. That honor belongs to Ray Allen, who turns 39 in July.
Allen would seem a strong candidate to hang them up for good after this season. He'll be a free agent this summer, and he appeared to be less than a sure shot to play in 2013-14 when the time came for him to pick up his player option last summer.
The man known to many as Jesus Shuttlesworth, though, may not be ready to step away just yet. "At this point, I love how my body feels," Allen told The South Florida Sun Sentinel's Ira Winderman in February (h/t Bleacher Report's Sim Risso). "It's 18 years for me. I love what I've done and how I've continued to feel."
Who could blame him? Allen has featured in each of Miami's first two playoff games, after averaging 9.6 points and shooting a solid 53 percent from inside the arc this season.
If he feels good enough to play on—and rack up more classic moments along the way—good on him. The Heat certainly wouldn't mind; only one member of their current supporting cast (Norris Cole) is guaranteed to be on the roster next season.
If not for Allen's late-game heroics, Tim Duncan might be a five-time champion who is looking for his sixth ring right about now. Instead, his San Antonio Spurs are doing what they can to put that heartbreak behind them, though the Dallas Mavericks aren't exactly obliging them in that regard.
Longtime NBA coach George Karl told ESPN in February that he'd heard "whispers" of Duncan's impending retirement during All-Star weekend in New Orleans.
Duncan shot down that rumor shortly thereafter. "I’d like to know who he talked to," Duncan told The San Antonio Express-News' Mike Monroe. "I don’t know what I’m going to do so I don’t know how he knows what I’m going to do."
When asked if he'd given any thought to his future, Duncan replied, "I don’t worry about that stuff. It will take care of itself.”
It certainly has to this point. His per-36-minute averages from this season (18.7 points, 12 rebounds, 3.7 assists) were practically on par with those of his 17-year career (20.6 points, 11.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists).
The difference? He rarely played that much on any given night. He soaked up just 29.2 minutes per game in 2013-14—the third time in the last four seasons that he has averaged fewer than 30 minutes.
The 37-year-old, with his size and skill set, could probably play well into his 40s if Gregg Popovich continues to manage his minutes. But if Duncan does, indeed, decide to retire at season's end, don't be surprised if Pop joins him.
As the three-time Coach of the Year told Dan McCarney of The Express-News last spring, "When he doesn’t think he can, he’ll stop. It might be in the middle of a game. I can see him walking off the court saying, 'Nah, I’m not pulling my weight anymore. I’m gone.' And he’ll walk. And I’ll be right behind him, like this. No pride, no nothing."
Duncan isn't the only all-timer at power forward who might bid the NBA adieu when his season is through.
If anything, Kevin Garnett is more likely to bow out than "The Big Fundamental." "The Big Ticket," who turns 38 in May, is almost a year older than Duncan, with a body that might better belong to someone in his 60s. Garnett missed 28 games this season due to myriad maladies (most notably back spasms) and played just 20.5 minutes in the other 54—by far the lowest average of his Hall of Fame career.
He has shown some of his former burst in fits and spurts in these playoffs and is set to draw another $12 million from the Brooklyn Nets' coffers in 2014-15. But another full campaign may be too much for his body to bear.
And it's not as though KG hasn't flirted with retirement before. Last summer, he told China's Sina Sports (h/t Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal) that he would have called it a career had he not been joined in his move out of Boston by Paul Pierce. That being the case, Garnett would seem likely to consider retirement in more certain terms this summer, should Pierce decide to make a change of his own.
Paul Pierce's status beyond this season appears to be up in the air at the moment. The 36-year-old will re-enter the free-agent market this summer after a season in which he, slowly but surely, found his groove in Brooklyn.
How the Nets' decision to play Pierce at power forward since Brook Lopez's season-ending foot injury will affect the former's decision is anyone's best guess. The team has thrived with Pierce going toe-to-toe with bigger, stronger opponents, but he might not be so keen for a full season of such wear-and-tear.
If that's the case, retirement won't be "The Truth's" only option. After Brooklyn's loss to the Celtics in Boston this past March, Pierce suggested that he'd be open to another go-round with his former team. "Yeah, why not?" Pierce told the attendant media, via CLNS Radio's Jared Weiss. "Maybe as a player, maybe as a coach. Who knows what the future holds?"
Staying in Brooklyn could also be in the cards for Pierce, if Nets broadcaster Ian Eagle is to be trusted. "I think he's going to be back," Eagle told CLNS Radio in early April (h/t Nets Daily). "I think he's going to end up signing a two-year deal and they'll pay him. He'll get his money with the Nets. They understand his role on this team and that there is a leadership and an edge that he brings to this franchise."
As crazy as it is to see Pierce thriving in a completely new role in a different uniform, Vince Carter's late-career transformation might be even more mind-boggling.
Once upon a time, he was a high-flying superstar whose acrobatic dunks inspired a basketball revolution in Canada.
That is, until he moped his way south of the International Boundary, at which point he might as well have been the Toronto Raptors' equivalent of Benedict Arnold.
Carter's "Vinsanity" days have long since expired, but his usefulness as an NBA player have not. Since joining the Dallas Mavericks in 2011, he has evolved into a sweet-shooting, multi-faceted sixth man. Over his last two seasons, he has averaged 12.7 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists while shooting 40 percent from beyond the arc.
He has yet to decide whether he'll continue this supporting act for much longer. "I don’t want to do that to myself," Carter told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Dwain Price during Mavs training camp. "I don’t want to limit myself. I think doing that you’ll start thinking about [retirement] as the season goes on. I’ll just let the body pretty much dictate how I’m feeling in the end."
He'll have plenty to think about this summer when he returns to free agency. So long as he feels up to the grind of playing pro basketball for a living, Carter figures to continue his pursuit of the championship that's eluded him for his 16-year career.
Al Harrington came out of the same 1998 NBA draft that brought Pierce into the pros. Harrington, though, has two years to go until he reaches Pierce's current age.
He can thank his decision to skip college entirely for that.
He has played for seven teams since taking the "preps-to-pros" route to the Association. His latest stint, with the Washington Wizards, figures to be his last, if his harrowing comeback from knee troubles—as recounted with the help of Bleacher Report's Jared Zwerling—is any indication. In that retelling, Harrington insisted that his goal wasn't to prolong his career for many more years but rather to fit in one more good run: "I had asked God. I said, "God, you just let me play one more season, and I will be done. You give me one more healthy season and I will give it up."
In contemplating his future, he seemed to think that he'd be better-suited to an off-the-court role within the Wizards organization after this season—unless a team is willing to bring him on for half of a campaign:
Looking ahead, I would love to stay in Washington—even working in their front office or joining their coaching staff. Randy Wittman loves me. I've already had conversations with the team. I ain't going to lie, what would really be ideal for me is if they would sign me at the All-Star break next season. So let me have that time to take care of my body and get my leg strong. I can do 30 games; that's nothing.
Unless a team is willing to wait and see with him next season, expect Harrington to step aside and let his knees rest for good once the Wizards' postseason push has come to a close.
Harrington no longer had to worry about being the Wizards' most geriatric constituent once Andre Miller arrived ahead of the Feb. 20 trade deadline. His sideline spat with Brian Shaw in Philadelphia on New Year's Day spelled the end of his tenure with the Denver Nuggets.
The point guard known affectionately as "The Professor" has been a boon to the Wizards' rotation. His eight-point spurt in Washington's first playoff game since 2008 was pivotal in propelling the Wizards to victory against the Chicago Bulls.
His current contract runs through the end of the 2014-15 season. In truth, the 38-year-old could probably play well beyond that, thanks in large part to a deep reserve of old-school tricks that don't require much in the way of quickness or athleticism to execute.
Miller seems to think he could too; he told The Denver Post's Christopher Dempsey last October that he wants to play until he's 40.
Much has changed since then, of course. There's no telling how his move to D.C. might affect his future in the NBA.
For now, aspiring floor generals would do well to watch and learn from Miller as he demonstrates to a new generation how to get to the rim—be it by backing his way to the post or slithering through the lane.
It's only fitting that this list both begins and ends with alumni from the 1996 NBA draft. Two members of that class (Allen Iverson and Zydrunas Ilgauskas) saw their jerseys retired this year. Five more were on active rosters this season.
Jermaine O'Neal came out of that draft as the 17th pick, which was all too fitting, since he was 17 years old when the Portland Trail Blazers selected him.
Few players have endured as many twists and turns in their careers as O'Neal has. He was a six-time All-Star with the Indiana Pacers but saw his tenure in Circle City wind down not too long after his involvement in the infamous "Malice at the Palace." He wandered through Toronto and Miami and seemed to be done for good after playing just 49 games during his two seasons in Boston.
Fortunately for O'Neal, he ended up with the Phoenix Suns—and their training staff of miracle workers—in 2012-13. He showed enough in his 55 games with Phoenix (8.3 points, 5.3 rebounds in 18.7 minutes) to draw the attention of the Golden State Warriors, who needed another big man after losing Festus Ezeli to major knee surgery in October.
O'Neal did a masterful job of backing up Andrew Bogut and David Lee under the auspices of fellow former Pacer Mark Jackson. Now, O'Neal finds himself starting in the playoffs, with Bogut bound to the bench by a rib injury.
He has already spoken of this season as though it might be his last. "This could be it," he told The San Jose Mercury News' Diamond Leung in March. "So this is my last chance to try to win a championship. That's how I view it right now, whether it is or not.
"It affects all the way to how you view your pregame meal to your nap to your bus ride to the arena. Those things are a little more intense than they would normally be."
If O'Neal does return, though, the Dubs will have Jackson to thank. "It's a couple reasons why I will come back," O'Neal told The San Jose Mercury News more recently. "This fan base, this organization is first class, and obviously my teammates are great, as well.
"But the No. 1 reason that I will come back and play another year is because of Coach Jackson. I'm absolutely, 100 percent positive about that. He makes it easy to come in this gym every day, and there's not a lot of coaches that do that."
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