Run It Back? What NBA's Top Old-Timers Could Still Give Their Teams in 2020

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistApril 18, 2019

Run It Back? What NBA's Top Old-Timers Could Still Give Their Teams in 2020

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    Goodbyes are never easy, and the NBA has churned out more than its fair share of farewells this season. Dwyane Wade has already played his last game. So has Dirk Nowitzki. And Channing Frye.

    Let's agree the swan songs need to end here. We can only handle bidding toodle-oo to so many fan favorites and future Hall of Famers.

    It is with this disdain for the end that we ask other potential retirees to keep going.

    This is not an exact science. Nor are these the only players who might consider hanging it up, either voluntarily or after struggling to find work. This is instead a collection of notable names who have a case for staying put—not just in the NBA, but in their current digs (with one exception).

    Players who will be younger than 35 next season are not eligible for inclusion. (The Brooklyn Nets better bring Jared Dudley back.) Older heads who won't want for another gig are also left off. If the Utah Jazz don't feel like guaranteeing Kyle Korver's salary next year (they probably do), another team will pick him up in a heartbeat.

    Consider this instead an ode—a plea—to cases with less certainty. These players haven't committed to walking away, but their returns are not guaranteed. None are on teams that need them in the traditional sense. One doesn't even have a current home.

    They all, however, have something left to offer.

Carmelo Anthony, Free Agent

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    If you can still remember Carmelo Anthony dropping 42 points on 25 shots—16-of-20 on twos!—during a 2010 playoff win over the Jazz, get ready to feel old: He turns 35 this May.

    Perception of Anthony's game is seldom rosy. His universal popularity peaked before he left the Denver Nuggets. Joining the New York Knicks elevated his profile, but it also set the stage for a six-plus-season assault on his value to winning basketball and his standing relative to other stars.

    Some of the criticism is unfair. Age is kind to no one, and skeptics and supporters alike struggle to adjust expectations for marquee names. Others tend to fall in love with the latest idea of superstardom. Those who don't conform to the trendiest styles become memes.

    Above all, time has a way of eroding memory. Whereas some players are mythologized the further they're removed from their prime (see: Jordan, Michael), others get retroactively denounced for not fitting within a specific superstar mold (see: Iverson, Allen). 

    Anthony is somehow a member of both parties. Struggling in Oklahoma City and flaming out in Houston have done nothing to bridge the divide. His most enthusiastic supporters still fancy him a primary option. Many of his detractors believe, even as he's unemployed, he has overstayed his welcome.

    Whether Anthony can have an impact next season is in the eye of the beholder. Some will hold out hope he can, at long last, transition into role-player duty. More will see his next contract, assuming he gets one, as ceremonial. A select few will cling to the belief that he can be one of the two best players on a really good team. 

    Everyone would be best served to let go of their preconceptions, no matter how reasonable or radical. Anthony is a future Hall of Famer. Going out like this without a season to say goodbye wouldn't feel right. 

    Which isn't to say he's blameless in that scenario. He probably would've found another home this year if he weren't so selective about where he plays and how he's used. He has never come across as someone willing to take on a leadership role for a young upstart without the guarantee of floor time or touches. 

    Still, Anthony needs to play again. Somewhere. Anywhere. He tried fitting in with the Rockets and Thunder, albeit begrudgingly. He deserves the opportunity to leave the Association as a member of a team. It doesn't have to be a conventional farewell tour, so much as a chance for him and us to say farewell at all.

    Here's hoping Miami Heat president Pat Riley has the Bleacher Report app installed on his phone.

Vince Carter, Atlanta Hawks

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    Vince Carter absolutely wants to return for a 22nd NBA season. The Atlanta Hawks should help make it happen.

    It doesn't matter that Carter is 42, or that Atlanta plans to make a leap next year, according to The Athletic's Sam Amick. He just appeared in 76 games, averaged over 17 minutes per contest, canned 38.9 percent of his threes and finished with more dunks (15) than 22-year-old Devin Booker (14).

    Having Carter fill an identical role in 2019-20 isn't conducive to a major turnaround. The Hawks need wing depth with a little more punch and pizzazz. That won't faze Carter. He has adapted to reduction for the better part of a decade. He's now more of a spot-up shooter than someone who needs to while away from-scratch possessions. During the 2018-19 campaign, he used assists on 79.1 percent of his buckets to top his previous career high (72.8 percent) from 2017-18.

    Plus, he has enjoyed playing the part of mentor in Atlanta.

    "I'm with a great bunch of guys," Carter said in December, per the Associated Press' Tim Reynolds. "I enjoy helping young guys who want to learn, who are willing to be coached and let you coach them and ask questions. It's a small thing, but it's a major thing—because if you're asking questions, that means you're trying to learn and grow. And these guys are all great."

    The feeling is mutual among Atlanta's kiddies. Carter has served as a "foil" for Omari Spellman, per The Athletic's Chris Kirschner. Trae Young, who is younger than Carter's career, remains a fan. John Collins just flat-out wants him back.

    "Hell yes," the big man said when asked if he wants Carter to return next season, per Kirschner

    That pretty much settles it. Do the right thing, Atlanta. Bring Vinsanity back for another go. And if you're not up for it, another team better be. (Hello, Toronto.)

Jamal Crawford, Phoenix Suns

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    The year is 2052. The NBA's seven-point line is six seasons old. LeBron James III is the favorite to win MVP. Alex Caruso is wrapping up his ninth year as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. The tanking Knicks plan to end their 39-season playoff drought after signing four star free agents.

    Seventy-two-year-old Jamal Crawford is still getting buckets.

    And...scene.

    Crawford is one of those players who seems like he could hoop forever. His efficiency has waned with time, but he can still dance with the ball in his hands. And while the opportunities to round out a contender appear gone for good, he has successfully transitioned into the player-coach phase of his career.

    "Those guys are guys that you have to keep around forever," Devin Booker told reporters after the end of the regular season. "I'll take the skeleton Jamal Crawford as long as he can talk to me and give me advice that he gives me."

    Playing for the wayward Phoenix Suns could have sapped the 39-year-old of his spirit. It didn't. He has found purpose in his new role and wants to keep at it. As he explained to The Athletic's Gina Mizell when asked whether he's contemplating retirement:

    "Oh, no. That's the part I hate—the perception because of how things went this year. You may look at the numbers and [see] I'm only taking six shots a game. I think it's to be applauded [for me to] say, 'Hey, when I go in, I'm not going to jack up every shot.' This is the most assists I've averaged [since 2008-09]. I'm truly trying to see others grow. I think we should look at that part of it. I'm passing more than I ever have."

    For their part, the Suns should have no qualms about keeping Crawford. His is not a wasted roster spot. They don't profile as a postseason contender next year in the ultra-brutal Western Conference, and strong veteran leadership isn't easy to find. Few elder statesmen could respond to Phoenix's 63-loss slog with some variation of "Let's run it back."

    And hey, it doesn't hurt that Crawford remains an offensive firecracker. He's now the oldest player in NBA history to score 50 points after he hung 51 on the Dallas Mavericks. Until James Harden's beard starts graying, Crawford is our only hope of seeing a 40-year-old drop a 50-burger. He needs to be back next season.

Pau Gasol, Milwaukee Bucks

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    Pau Gasol, 38, has been hampered by injuries all season. A stress fracture in his left foot limited his availability with the San Antonio Spurs, and they never officially reworked him into the rotation. He landed with the Milwaukee Bucks after brokering a buyout but hasn't played since March 10 while recovering from a left ankle injury.

    This parade of absences and inconsistent usage has not changed Gasol's intentions for next season. As he said during a recent interview with EuroHoops.net (h/t HoopsHype): "I want and can continue playing in the NBA."

    Blindly endorsing Gasol's return is easy for all the usual reasons. Two of the 50 best players in league history, Dirk Nowitzki and Dwyane Wade, have already traded in their cups of water and Gatorade for glasses and whole bottles of wine. Losing another top-75 player of all time is too damn much.

    (Fun aside: Gasol's career standing will make for fascinating debates. He was just as valuable to those Lakers championship teams as Kobe Bryant and enjoyed a pretty ridiculous peak. He ranks 37th in NBA Math's career total points added and moves up to 36th when combining both the regular season and playoffs. This isn't everything, but Gasol is certainly a top-75 player ever with a legitimate case for top-50 placement.)

    Specifically rooting for Gasol to remain with the Bucks takes a little more nuance. His arrival didn't make a ton of sense in the first place. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez, Ersan Ilyasova and Nikola Mirotic can handle both the 4 and 5 between them, and a healthy Gasol isn't a surefire upgrade over D.J. Wilson.

    His championship experience sells for the time being but may not mean as much next year. Milwaukee looks poised for a deep playoff push. This core could be working off an Eastern Conference Finals or NBA Finals appearance—or even a championship.

    In a weird twist, Gasol is more useful as frontcourt insurance next season. The Bucks have a path to re-signing Malcolm Brogdon (restricted) and Khris Middleton (player option) while staying under the luxury tax. The bookkeeping gets more complicated when planning around Mirotic and Lopez. 

    Re-signing one without plunging deep into the tax is on the table but not a given. Milwaukee doesn't own Lopez's Bird rights, and Mirotic will be among the most intriguing consolation prizes for teams that whiff on star free agents.

    Gasol doesn't replace Lopez's rim protection and should not be the main 5, but he at least stretches the defense and can help box out for Antetokounmpo on the glass. And if the Bucks ain't it, the Portland Trail Blazers could use some temp minutes at center until Jusuf Nurkic is healthy, while the Philadelphia 76ers might be in the market for backup size.

Tony Parker, Charlotte Hornets

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    Nope. Not happening. Can't happen. Nope, nope, nope.

    Retirement cannot take Tony Parker. Not yet. Too many members of that glorious 2013-14 Spurs team are scattered all over the place.

    Marco Belinelli and Patty Mills are the only holdovers in San Antonio, and the former just returned after a four-teams-in-three-seasons detour. Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard are in Toronto. Tim Duncan and Boris Diaw are years into retirement. Manu Ginobili's bon voyage is still fresh. Squint really hard, and you can see him chasing bats around AT&T Center during timeouts.

    Parker is with the Charlotte Hornets. They are not the Spurs. I get it. And I don't give a flying fudge. Nostalgia is placated in many forms, and seeing Parker in an NBA jersey at all is one of them.

    Pushing 37, he's on borrowed time. He is still slippery in the lane and canned 57.1 percent of his floaters this season. Lineups featuring him and Kemba Walker in the backcourt were, at times, fun and effective. But Parker mustered just 56 appearances while battling rib, right ankle and back problems. His body is wearing down, and Charlotte's direction may run counter to his window.

    "I don't want to play on a rebuilding team," he said, per the Charlotte Observer's Rick Bonnell. "I want to play on a team that fights for the playoffs, at least."

    Walker's return is essential to Parker staying put. The Hornets must also decide whether to guarantee his $5.3 million salary, but that's a manageable obstacle; he isn't getting more than the minimum on the open market. Charlotte can waive him and then re-sign him, although guaranteeing his salary would remove any guesswork from the equation if the ledger can stomach it.

    Parker is backcourt depth for a team that doesn't have any money to spend on more lucrative alternatives and might lose Jeremy Lamb even it keeps Walker. That's assuming the veteran point guard stays healthy, which is a big, fat if. 

    At this point, Parker's value is more emotional. He has championship experience, Walker used to study his film and he has played a pivotal part in Devonte' Graham's development. The latter alone is reason enough for the Hornets to keep Parker around no matter what. He just needs to be willing. If not, in lieu of retiring, Philly is a nice destination should the T.J. McConnell era come to end.

    Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.com, Cleaning the Glass or Basketball Reference.

    Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale) and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by Bleacher Report's Andrew Bailey.