The NBA’s 2009 offseason has seen movement of some of the league’s most dynamic, influential, and franchise-changing players.
If you’re stuck in 2001, that is.
The names of Shaquille O’Neal, Vince Carter, and Rasheed Wallace don’t strike fear into teams’ hearts like they used to, yet they’ve each convinced a front office that they’re the missing piece of a championship run.
Even Ron Artest and Lamar Odom—involved in some of the league’s other biggest transactions—could be seen as in the twilight's of their respective careers.
Let’s break down some off these offseason also-rans.
Years in the League: 17
Statistical Peak: 1999-2000 season
First, the Cleveland Cavaliers picked up Shaquille O’Neal via trade. While he had a renaissance of sorts in Phoenix last season, it’s clear that his best days are behind him. His 1999-2000 stat line of 29.7 points, 13.7 rebounds, and three blocks per game has since sloped gradually downward to 17.7 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks.
An aging Shaq is still an upgrade over an aging Zydrunas Ilgauskas, but the Big Shacquisition may not be the blockbuster move that brings the Larry O’Brien Trophy to Cleveland.
From Cleveland’s perspective, he’s still a physical center who can rumble against Dwight Howard down low, should the Cavs meet the Orlando Magic again in the playoffs. But that’s ignoring the fact that Orlando’s pick-and-roll was perhaps even deadlier than Howard alone, and O’Neal has gotten his feet in molasses to the point that he won’t be any help defending the pick-and-roll.
And speaking of Orlando…
Years in the League: 11
Statistical Peak: 2000-2001 season
Upon entering the league, Vinsanity made his living above the rim. At the age of 32, he’s still a contributor, but anyone expecting the old Vince to show up to the Amway Arena is going to be disappointed.
It’s been nine years since Vince jumped completely over 7′2″ French center Frédéric Weis for a dunk in the Olympics. It was a fine moment to be an American, for sure, but it’s ancient history now.
While Vince is a bigger, flashier name than Hedo Turkoglu (who the team gave up to get him), it’s questionable how much he can improve the team.
Turkoglu was a 6′10″ walking mismatch who could shoot the three all day long, and carved out a niche of being a clutch late-game shooter. It was the combination of him and Rashard Lewis, who possesses similar perimeter skills, that gave the team a unique offensive structure and allowed their Cavalier-killing pick-and-roll.
The aging Carter, however, looks more and more every year like a traditional two-guard who just needs the ball. Look at the number of free throws he’s taken per game in the past few years and it becomes clear that he’s settling for jump shots instead of attacking the rim. The Magic’s lineup of mismatches just got a lot more matchable.
And another superstar who needs the ball in his hands, no matter how big a name, might not be the right ingredient if Dwight Howard is already griping about not having enough touches.
Years in the League: 14
Statistical Peak: 2001-2002 season
The Celtics picked up ‘Sheed for the mid-level exception, which makes them look a lot smarter than Orlando (who gave up both Courtney Lee and Rafer Alston for Carter), though out of the three Cleveland probably got an even better deal (giving up only Sasha Pavlovic and a retiring-anyway Ben Wallace for the Diesel).
Wallace does fill a weak roster spot for the Leprechauns, but may be flying on his reputation more than his recent performance. His scoring and field goal percentage are at career lows (okay, he scored fewer points as a rookie, but we’ll let that slide), and he’s not getting fouled at the same rate.
His embarrassing 6.5 points per game in the playoffs, while his Detroit Pistons were getting defiled by the Cavaliers, should tell the whole story.
For Boston’s sake, hopefully the Stephon Marbury experiment wasn’t a fluke and they really do have the chemistry to handle poor locker room guys. Because if Rasheed doesn’t produce in the middle, he’s just a handful of technical fouls and some pre-game trash talk.
There are plenty of big-name players—Artest, Odom, Antonio McDyess, Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, Grant Hill—who have found themselves to be hot commodities this NBA offseason even in their advancing years.
It’s as though GMs have forgotten what year it is.
Most of these players will still have something left in the tank, it’s likely, but when superstars age they can become surprisingly mediocre. Some, like Jason Kidd, adapt to their age and find a new calling in a modified role.
Others, like Allen Iverson—perhaps the only free agent that nobody wants—do not age gracefully, and simply become a shell of their former selves.
For us, we’ll just have to wait and see which transactions work and which ones fail.
Or close our eyes and pretend it’s still 2001.