Meet Next Season's Ring-Chasing NBA Veterans

Ben LeibowitzCorrespondent IIIJune 20, 2014

Meet Next Season's Ring-Chasing NBA Veterans

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    Every NBA player wants to attain eternal glory by winning a championship. If that isn’t among a player’s career goals, then he’s probably in the Association for the wrong reasons.

    Youngsters have time to get their feet wet and establish themselves as viable talents within the league before winning a ring becomes the No. 1 concern. Aging veterans, meanwhile, sometimes opt for pay cuts at the twilight of their respective careers—so long as it means competing for the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

    Ray Allen is one such example. He left the Boston Celtics behind via 2012 free agency in order to join the mighty Miami Heat. His ring-chasing attitude was rewarded in 2013, when he played a huge part in Miami’s second straight title run.

    While he played a lesser role in 2012-13, Rashard Lewis joined Allen as an aging star looking to reach the mountaintop.

    Signing with contenders in order to chase rings has become the norm for guys without much left in the tank. As long as they can still contribute, front office members will no doubt consider bringing their talents on board.

    So who will be among this year’s class of ring-chasers?

    Paul Pierce is one such free agent headlining the list, but he isn’t the only guy age 30 and above who could put contention above all other factors.

Honorable Mentions

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    The honorable mention candidates include a handful of savvy vets. They’ll likely put winning as the No. 1 priority when speaking with their agents. However, their vastly diminished skill sets won’t have executives around the league clamoring for their services.

    Some of them have still proven themselves as productive rotational players. Others are running on fumes at best.

     

    Chris Kaman

    He didn’t get along with Mike D’Antoni (putting it lightly), but Kaman managed to contribute when given an opportunity.

    In fact, on March 30 against the upstart Phoenix Suns, the 7-footer became the first Laker since Shaquille O’Neal to post a game with at least 28 points, 17 rebounds and six assists.

    That outburst was an obvious anomaly, but the 32-year-old can still bring interior scoring and rebounding to the table.

     

    Jermaine O’Neal

    While the injury-prone 35-year-old could certainly opt for retirement, he may not want his playing career to end on the heels of “a dirty play.”

    The big man was one of former head coach Mark Jackson’s staunchest backers, so he may gauge his decision to return on the possible addition of All-Star power forward Kevin Love.

    If he does come back for another campaign, it’s hard to see him leaving the Golden State Warriors.

     

    Drew Gooden

    The 32-year-old Kansas product was surprisingly productive for the Washington Wizards after getting picked up in late February.

    He scored in double digits 10 times in March, but inconsistent postseason play didn’t help improve his stock.

     

    Richard Jefferson

    Thanks in large part to Tyrone Corbin’s baffling rotations, the University of Arizona product somehow managed to start 78 games for the hapless Utah Jazz in 2013-14.

    He appeared in all 82 regular-season contests and had his most productive campaign in years due to his endurance and starting role.

    One could argue that the soon-to-be 34-year-old poured in empty stats for a bad Jazz squad, but he shot 45 percent from the field and 40.9 percent from beyond the arc. Those percentages are rock-solid by any measure.

    He may still be able to help a contender as part of a second unit.

     

    Emeka Okafor

    The big man out of Connecticut missed the entire 2013-14 campaign due to a herniated disk in his neck. Once thought to be trade bait for the Phoenix Suns to utilize during the season, he’ll simply become a cap-clearing expiring contract.

    Everything is dependent upon his health, but Okafor could still bring a contender interior defense if he’s able to compete.

     

    Ben Gordon

    From one former Husky to another, Gordon’s career circled the toilet as a member of the Charlotte Bobcats last season.

    He played just 19 games under first-year head coach Steve Clifford, averaging 5.2 points per game. Nonetheless, he averaged 11.2 points off the bench during the 2012-13 campaign. There’s reason to believe he can continue to score at the professional level.

    The 31-year-old may still have value as a three-point shooter off the bench, but don’t expect him to contribute in any other categories. For his career, the 2-guard has recorded just one double-double.

     

    Kenyon Martin

    The former No. 1 overall pick played 32 games (15 starts) for the New York Knicks in 2013-14. He averaged 4.3 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.6 assists and shot 51.2 percent from the field.

    The numbers suggest he can still be productive in limited time, but health and overall interest from league execs will determine whether he suits up in 2014-15.

     

    Elton Brand

    Yet another No. 1 overall pick, Brand’s skills have diminished rapidly in recent years.

    He averaged 11.0 points and 7.2 rebounds with the Philadelphia 76ers in 2011-12. During 2012-13, the veteran notched 7.2 points and 6.0 rebounds as a member of the Dallas Mavericks. Most recently, he posted 5.7 points and 4.9 rebounds for Mike Budenholzer’s Atlanta Hawks.

    The swift decline is pretty typical of aging big men, but Brand’s numbers were still respectable. He actually shot 53.9 percent from the field with Atlanta—the highest mark of his illustrious career.

    He knows how to pick his spots when looking to score, but he fits only certain schemes due to his slow, methodical pace.

7. Danny Granger, SF, Los Angeles Clippers

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    Danny Granger’s 2013-14 campaign was a whirlwind.

    He played 29 games (two starts) for the Indiana Pacers before getting traded at the deadline to the 76ers in exchange for Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen. From there, he negotiated a buyout with Philly and signed with the Los Angeles Clippers.

    No player would have wanted to play for that lowly roster in Philadelphia, but Granger’s move to LA may act as a precursor to ring-chasing in 2014 free agency.

    The 31-year-old played 12 regular-season games and 13 postseason contests under head coach Doc Rivers. His effectiveness continued to dwindle.

    During the 2014 playoffs, Granger shot 27.5 percent from the field and 22.7 percent from three-point range. After becoming one of the league’s best scorers with Indy, the veteran’s offensive game has fallen off the map due to a slew of injuries.

    At this point, Granger’s defense is his saving grace. He posted a defensive rating of 95.9 with LA in the playoffs, per NBA.com, and inexplicably “earned” an NBA All-Defensive Second Team vote from former Coach of the Year Hubie Brown, per NBA.com.

    Granger has been limited to being a role player at best, but contenders could certainly use his experience.

    He may decide to stay with the Clippers (if they’ll have him), but what are the odds he opts to return to Indiana?

    The Pacers experienced a historic second-half collapse after the Granger trade appeared to cripple team chemistry. Bringing back Paul George’s mentor would help bring stability back to the locker room.

    With that said, Granger was reportedly “pissed” about being traded, per The Boston Globe’s Jake Fischer (h/t Sports Illustrated’s Matt Dollinger).

    He’ll almost certainly opt for a contender, but Indy may have burned that bridge.

6. Caron Butler, SG/SF, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Escaping the Milwaukee Bucks worked wonders for Caron Butler during the 2013-14 season. Although he was exclusively a bench player with OKC, his scoring efficiency improved when playing alongside Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

    With Bucks: 11 PPG, 38.7 percent field-goal shooting, 36.1 percent three-point shooting

    With Thunder: 9.7 PPG, 40.9 percent field-goal shooting, 44.1 percent three-point shooting

    The biggest takeaway is Butler’s sharpshooting from deep. By draining more than 44 percent of his treys in Oklahoma City, he became a valuable asset for head coach Scott Brooks.

    Butler has transitioned gracefully from star to role player within the Association. Expect that career arc to continue with a playoff contender next season.

    The 34-year-old proved his worth to general manager Sam Presti, but he could opt to return to the Clippers (where he played two seasons), Washington Wizards (where he spent more than four seasons) or Miami Heat (where he started his career).

5. Ray Allen, SG, Miami Heat

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    The NBA’s all-time leader in three-point field goals made has frequented the free-agent pool during the tail end of his illustrious career. Allen mulled retirement after winning a ring in 2013, but ultimately signed on with Miami for another go-round.

    Now the retirement question is on his mind once again.

    The soon-to-be 39-year-old experienced the worst statistical season of his career during 2013-14, but he still notched 9.6 points per game and shot 37.5 percent from deep.

    As a role player off the bench, the savvy veteran still has value.

    If falling in the 2014 NBA Finals left a sour taste in Allen’s mouth, he may put off retirement for one final season to chase another ring.

    That could mean staying with the Heat, but he could also opt to join a team like the Chicago Bulls—which desperately needs to find offensive spark plugs.

    Who knows, maybe he'd try and woo the champion San Antonio Spurs to bring him on board.

4. Vince Carter, SG, Dallas Mavericks

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    Much like Butler and Allen, Vince Carter’s transition from league star to above-average role player has been a graceful one.

    After years as a hyperathletic, electric scorer, VC has “reinvented” himself as a three-point sniper. I put reinvented in quotes because Carter has always been able to rain down from deep. He’s simply relied upon that skill more as his athletic ability dwindled.

    Carter has said he wants to “stick around” with the Dallas Mavericks as his career winds to a close, per The Dallas Morning News' Eddie Sefko. He certainly earned that right with his game-winning dagger in the 2014 playoffs, but we’ll have to wait and see if he returns to the Mavs or chases a ring elsewhere.

    Owner Mark Cuban once called Vince “a warrior” who comes ready to play every night, per ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, so there will likely be mutual interest between both parties. Still, Cuban’s management team has plenty of work to do if Dallas is going to compete for another ring in 2015.

    Carter may wait to see those changes before making a decision about his future.

3. Pau Gasol, PF/C, Los Angeles Lakers

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    Pau Gasol’s future is very much up in the air.

    The unrestricted free agent won back-to-back titles with the Los Angeles Lakers from 2009 through 2010, but Lakerland’s overall appeal has diminished following a 27-win campaign in 2013-14.

    Despite playing through trade rumors once again and experiencing the organization’s worst season in more than 50 years, the veteran Spaniard has continued to show loyalty to the Purple and Gold.

    “If there’s anything or anyone who could make me stay it’s Kobe Bryant,” Gasol said on his personal website (h/t Los Angeles Daily News’ Mark Medina). “I’d stay for him, but there’d have to be significant changes.”

    If “significant changes” means Gasol won’t be thrown on the trade block, he may be better off mulling other suitors.

    If he’ll consider taking a pay cut, Gasol could join the Spurs, Bulls or perhaps even the surprisingly competitive Suns to be in better situations from a winning standpoint.

    His loyalty may win out, but he has maintained that winning another title is his top priority.

2. Paul Pierce, SF/PF, Brooklyn Nets

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    According to ESPN Boston’s Chris Forsberg, The Truth had to convince longtime teammate Kevin Garnett to waive his no-trade clause so both veterans could land with the Brooklyn Nets.

    Leaving the Celtics behind obviously wasn’t an easy decision for either player, and it’s fair to say the results weren’t what they had in mind, either.

    The Nets stumbled out of the gates en route to a 10-21 record through December. Pierce (36), KG (38) and Jason Terry (36) were all showing their age. First-year head coach Jason Kidd, meanwhile, was proving to be a mistake signing by general manager Billy King.

    While Brooklyn managed to turn its fortunes around in the new year, the Nets still couldn’t get past the Heat.

    Garnett is under contract with Brooklyn for one more year, but Pierce is free to choose a destination.

    Will he decide to stick by KG?

    Could he reunite with head coach Doc Rivers as a member of the Clippers?

    He may even decide to join a dark-horse destination like Chicago or Oklahoma City.

    Of course, there’s also a chance Pierce could choose Boston.

    “Yeah, why not?” Pierce said of the possibility of returning to Celtics’ green, per SB Nation’s Jared Weiss. “Maybe as a player, maybe as a coach. Who knows what the future holds?”

    Pierce should opt to chase another championship ring with the time he has left. He lost a step (or seven) with the Nets, but he thrived with a transition to the small-ball power forward role.

    Even if his quest to chase titles ends next season, he doesn’t have to return to Boston right away.

1. Carmelo Anthony, SF/PF, New York Knicks

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    If reports surfacing about Carmelo Anthony are any indication, the 11-year veteran is planning to chase a ring with a destination outside of New York.

    “New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony is leaning toward leaving in pursuit of immediate championship contention, and awaits the Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets to clear the necessary salary-cap space to sign him in free agency,” Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reported.

    Woj added, “As re-signing with the Knicks continues to fade as his priority, Chicago and Houston have emerged as the clear frontrunners to acquire Anthony.”

    So how will Melo reshape the NBA landscape during the 2014 offseason?

    Will we see a core of Anthony, Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah in the Windy City, or a trio of Melo, James Harden and Dwight Howard in Texas?

    Either way, those scenarios are much more favorable when compared to playing beside Amar’e Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani and J.R. Smith.

    Anthony wants to win now. He won’t be able to do that if he stays with the Knicks. Even Phil Jackson doesn’t have the power to clear New York’s cap until next summer.

    All signs point toward Melo chasing a ring a la other league veterans. The biggest difference is that Anthony will be the No. 1 offensive option regardless of where he winds up.