8 Fading NBA Players Who Deserve 1 More Chance in the Association
The NBA’s free-agency frenzy may have hit its crescendo weeks ago, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of appealing names ripe for the plucking—Greg Monroe and Eric Bledsoe being the two most obvious examples.
But what about the slew of aging veterans who aren’t even sure when (or even whether) they’ll be getting that next phone call?
What follows are eight players who, despite age, injury or recent obscurity, have a legitimate chance of cracking an opening-night roster. Guys who still have plenty to contribute to an NBA team, even if it is in a purely spot-minute capacity.
For our purposes, we’re only considering players who’ve logged a minimum of five seasons in the Association and would be open to playing for the league minimum. Translation: No Rudy Fernandez on this list.
No need to look for your “wily vets” or “energy guys” in that dollar store bargain bin; we’ve got them all right here.
When looking for a proven veteran to bolster your bench, it’s wise not to put too much stock in per-game stats. Case in point: Sir Elton Brand, lately of the Atlanta Hawks, now once again hoping for another one-year deal.
At 34 years old and with an unfortunate injury history to his detriment, Brand’s best days are years behind him. Still, if his last two stops with the Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks prove anything, it’s that the burly power forward isn't quite running on fumes just yet.
Indeed, despite a significant reduction in minutes, Brand’s per-36 statistics and overall player efficiency rating still check out as rotation-ready. Just ask the Hawks, who after losing Al Horford to a season-ending pectoral injury early last year, slotted Brand a not-so-insignificant 19.4 minutes per game.
Over at Beale Street Bears, Xan Nikchevich underscores just how valuable a veteran of Brand's stock could be:
The Grizzlies presumably are looking to groom Jarnell Stokes into a future starter, and he will need some guidance along the way. Z-Bo is obviously going to have a huge influence on Stokes’ game, but Brand would be another great mentor. Being taught by two players who can score down low, rebound, and defend could elevate Stokes to the next level sooner rather than later.
Possible fits: Los Angeles Clippers, Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls, San Antonio Spurs, Memphis Grizzlies
The bad news: Going nearly two full years without playing so much as a single minute of NBA basketball doesn’t usually bode well for one’s comeback chances.
The good news: Delonte West is only 31, hasn’t been terribly injury-prone, played remarkably well during a one-year stop in China and—off-court concerns aside—has the skills to be a serviceable third-guard option for a team looking for a backcourt boost.
West was recently granted a summer league invite by current Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who coached West while the two were with the Boston Celtics from 2004 through 2007 and then again during the 2010-11 season.
“The biggest thing personally is just to show teams that any off-the-court issues or things like that are behind me,” said West in a recent interview with the Boston Globe’s Gary Washburn. “Those things don’t affect what I do on the basketball court. All I am ready to do is play basketball and win games, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to help the Clippers.”
Whether West’s forgettable summer league stint will be enough to earn him training camp invite, it’s difficult to say. Still, what team doesn’t like a nice redemption story, even if it does happen at the rotational fringes?
Possible fits: Los Angeles Clippers, Portland Trail Blazers, Brooklyn Nets.
Like Elton Brand, Jermaine O’Neal entered the summer of 2013 unsure of whether or not he might’ve already logged his last NBA game. Like Brand, O’Neal found himself a one-year deal with a young team on the rise. And like Brand, O’Neal stepped up in place of an injured starter with professional—if not statistically spectacular—aplomb.
Unlike Brand, O’Neal’s call to action came from a genuine contender at the most crucial of times: the postseason.
Despite playing in only 44 regular-season games, O’Neal’s presence with the Golden State Warriors was an important one: Not only did he provide a much-needed veteran voice; his per-36 numbers made him an indispensable part of Mark Jackson’s frontcourt rotation.
After the team lost Andrew Bogut, O’Neal filled in admirably, charting 18 points and 10.3 rebounds per 36 minutes in seven postseason tilts.
At 35, O’Neal has more mileage and sustained more injuries than just about any player on this list. Still, having a skilled backup big of O’Neal’s caliber—particularly on a minimum tender—is something any team, contender or not, would welcome warmly.
And that’s why, as The Washington Post’s Josh Planos recently posited, O’Neal’s last employer might still offer him the best basketball fit:
Golden State has a burgeoning demand for veteran leadership; only Andre Iguodala [and David Lee have]* eclipsed 30. On a team with a new coach in Steve Kerr, the Warriors need direction on the court, and they should look no further than No. 7.
Possible fits: Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers, Cleveland Cavaliers
* Correction of an error by the original author
For a guy who averaged 10.5 points per game at 26 years old just two seasons ago (albeit for a terrible Phoenix Suns team), Shannon Brown’s NBA future couldn’t be murkier.
Indeed, when you can’t even stick around past summer league on a team run by your former coach, the winds aren’t exactly blowing in your favor. But that’s precisely what makes Brown—recently waived by the New York Knicks—such an interesting case.
To be sure, Brown has never been much more than a fringe contributor, albeit on a Los Angeles Lakers team that snagged back-to-back chips in 2009 and 2010. At the same time, Brown’s open-court athleticism and size alone make him a compelling training camp candidate.
A youngish guy who plays hard, hits threes at a tolerable clip (33 percent), can throw it down with the best of them and has experience playing in one of the game’s most complicated offenses? You’d better believe Brown will be getting a phone call or two in the coming days and weeks.
Possible fits: Los Angeles Lakers, Cleveland Cavaliers, Phoenix Suns, Detroit Pistons
Think we’ve exhausted all possible aging and/or oft-injured 7-footers? Think again.
We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again: Every team can use a solid backup big, even as the 14th man. Nazr Mohammed—he of one of the longest and most statistically unspectacular careers in recent NBA history—fits that bill to a T.
After spelling Joakim Noah for the better part of the past two seasons, Mohammed, 36, is once again on the open market. And with both Pau Gasol and rookie Cameron Bairstow now in the fold, it’s unclear whether Mohammed’s services will be needed in the Windy City anymore.
At the very least, Mohammed’s solid defensive presence—coupled with the fact that he gives you six more fouls to use in a matchup with, say, Dwight Howard—could be enough by itself to earn him a training camp invite.
Possible fits: Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat
Metta World Peace
This time last year, New York Knicks fans were positively abuzz about the impending return of a prodigal son. Unfortunately, Metta World Peace’s hardwood homecoming didn’t turn out quite how he expected, with the firebrand forward being waived at the February trade deadline.
Speculation abounded as to the reasons for World Peace’s dismissal, most of which centered around rumors that he and head coach Mike Woodson hadn’t quite seen eye to eye on…Well, playing time, mostly, per Marc Berman of the New York Post.
Since then, the artist Formerly Known As Ron Artest has kept himself on the spotlight’s outer orbit thanks to both an outstanding social media presence and a lingering feeling among the NBA intelligentsia that 2014 probably wasn’t Metta’s last rodeo.
Not surprisingly, the Knicks were the first to emerge as potential suitors, why with Jackson and head coach Derek Fisher hell bent on a triangle renaissance in the World’s Most Famous arena, according to Marc Berman.
Even if it’s not the Knicks, plenty of teams could use a player of Metta’s unique pedigree: smart, tough and just one calendar year removed from something of a renaissance season.
Unless you believe Metta’s somehow already commenced his lurch into post-basketball docility. In which case, we implore you to reassess.
Possible fits: New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls, Brooklyn Nets
It's been just over a year since Richard Hamilton called it quits from the NBA, this after two, decidedly forgettable seasons with the Chicago Bulls.
But according to a recent interview with HoopsHype.com's David Alarcon, Hamilton sees his retirement as not only voluntary, but temporary as well:
At this stage of my life it's just like, 'Hey, I've done everything, I won a NBA championship, I won in college, I've been in the All-Star Game and I did everything'. So this is like an opportunity for me to say, 'You know what? Let me put my other priorities in perspective – like my family, be around them – and after a year I'll take a look at and see if I still want to play.'
So can he? Judging by Hamilton's final year with the Bulls, the lithe shooting guard probably isn't completely spent. If anything, the fact that there was so much pressure on Hamilton to be go-to 2 guard Chicago so desperately needed—and has needed since You Know Who walked away for good—means even an end-of-bench role would be a welcome change of pace.
Hamilton might not be able to curl around down screens with the same pep in his step, but his ability to can an open corner three alone makes him a viable weapon on a team that prides itself on spacing and shooting.
Possible fits: Golden State Warriors, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets
The list of players past their primes employed by the post-2000 New York Knicks is as long as it is sad. The difference with Kenyon Martin was that no one in New York really expected much from him to begin with.
Martin is nowhere near the rim-racking, paint-filling force of a decade ago. But if his last two seasons in New York prove anything, it’s that the 36-year-old former No. 1 pick can still be a serviceable ninth or 10th man.
The concern with Martin, as it was during his days as a Cincinnati Bearcat, lies in the muscular forward’s susceptibility to injury. Then again, that’s precisely what veteran’s minimum contracts—basically what Martin made these past two seasons—are for: low-risk payout for the sake of a potentially helpful reward.
Even in career twilight, Martin’s ability to both protect and finish around the rim remain his most viable NBA talents—a skill set as in demand today as it was 30 years ago.
Possible fits: Los Angeles Clippers, New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons, Chicago Bulls.