5 NBA Players Whose Careers Might Be Over

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistSeptember 24, 2020

5 NBA Players Whose Careers Might Be Over

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    Sam Ortega/Associated Press

    Vince Carter has played his last NBA game. Ditto for Marvin Williams. Who could be next?

    The sentimentalist in me hopes it's nobody. Nostalgia is a helluva drug.

    And yet, that's our mission: to suss out the most notable veterans who may have played—or are on the verge of playing—in their final NBA games.

    This compilation could get a little crowded if we overthink it. Let's not do that. We're strictly on the hunt for elder statesman who have carved out long, illustrious careers and, whether by circumstance or under their own volition, could retire before the start of 2020-21.

    And let's get this out of the way: Carmelo Anthony isn't here. Last year's contractless stint, it turns out, was not a harbinger of the end. He just averaged 15.4 points for the Portland Trail Blazers while converting 38.5 percent of his treys and logging 32.8 minutes per game. Is he second- or third- or even fourth-best-player-on-a-title-contender material? Or even a decidedly plus player? No, no, no and no. But he can hoop.

    Contemplating retirement on his behalf would be an insult. This "Here's why he's not included" riff is borderline disrespectful itself. He will be on an NBA roster next season.

    Our other notable exclusions include J.J. Barea and Jared Dudley. Barea gave the Dallas Mavericks some good spot minutes when he wasn't dealing with ankle problems and wants to keep playing. A one-year deal that keeps him in Big D before they go star-stalking during 2021 free agency seems likely.

    Dudley doesn't sound like someone who plans to walk away even if the Los Angeles Lakers win a title. The team could try replacing him with someone it considers more playable, but combo forwards who are shooting 39.3 percent from downtown for their careers shouldn't want for work—or at least a roster spot.

    Now, we're off.

Tyson Chandler

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    Michael Wyke/Associated Press

    Age: 37

    Seasons Played: 19

    Career Per-Game Averages: 8.2 points, 9.0 rebounds, 0.5 steals, 1.2 blocks, 62.6 true shooting percentage

    Resume Notables: one-time NBA champion; one-time All-NBA; three-time All-Defensive; one-time All-Star; 2011-12 Defensive Player Player of the Year

    Tyson Chandler is "open-minded" about returning for a 20th season, per The Undefeated's Marc J. Spears, but "opportunity and the state of the world will have a lot to do with his decision."

    Talk about beyond fair. The NBA doesn't have a set-in-stone start date for 2020-21. That it's on the verge of finishing this season amid the coronavirus pandemic is encouraging, but nothing is guaranteed these days.

    Opportunity may be an equally hard box for Chandler to check. His inconstant spot in the Houston Rockets rotation this past season was phased out once they committed to microball—various injuries didn't help—and odds are he won't find a super bubbly market in free agency.

    No, not all teams are steering away from traditional centers. Rim-running rebounders and defenders still have their place. But casting aside questions about Chandler's age—he'll be 38 in October—and his capacity to shoulder more than third-string minutes at the 5, the free-agency landscape is teeming with centers. He won't be any franchise's first or second priority.

    That's different from saying he has zero value. Roster construction is about far more than what happens on the court. Chemistry matters, and Chandler has long been a strong locker room presence. A young squad willing to throw him minutes if he keeps the kiddies in check could come calling. Certain contenders could also use a steadying voice behind the scenes.

    Whether the role of rebuilding- or contending-squad chaperone interests Chandler is a separate issue—though he sure didn't seem to mind it this year.

    "I'm keeping myself ready and talking to guys," he said ahead of the late-July Disney World restart, per Hoops Habit's Dorothy J. Gentry. "My presence, especially with this team, is a lot in the locker room; a lot of the day-to-day things, a lot in practice. But I always tell Coach, when you want to switch it up, I'm right here and I'm ready."

Jamal Crawford

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Age: 40

    Seasons Played: 20

    Career Per-Game Averages: 14.6 points, 2.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 0.9 steals, 52.9 true shooting percentage

    Resume Notables: three-time Sixth Man of the Year; 2017-18 Teammate of the Year

    Jamal Crawford continues to have no quit in him.

    He spent almost the entire regular season as an unsigned free agent before landing with the battered and bruised Brooklyn Nets ahead of the restart. His chance to stand out on a roster desperate for bodies lasted all of one appearance, for six minutes. A left hamstring injury sidelined him for the rest of the year.

    If you think that setback served as some sort of epiphany, think again. Crawford has every intention of trying to play again next season and would love a chance to stick with the full-strength Brooklyn squad.

    "With a whole, healthy roster," he told New York Times' Marc Stein, "anyone would love that opportunity."

    The Nets don't profile as a great fit for Crawford unless their roster undergoes a major face-lift. He remains most valuable for his shot creation, and they have plenty of that from Spencer Dinwiddie, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Caris LeVert.

    That's not a huge issue. More than a few teams could use an off-the-dribble bucket-getter. But that was true before the NBA restart, and Crawford still went unsigned. His prospective fit pretty much anywhere is complicated.

    On the one hand, he has the unchecked confidence and derring-do handles of a 20-something. Lest we forget, as a member of the Phoenix Suns at the end of 2018-19, he became the league's oldest player to drop 50 points (39 years, 20 days). On the other hand, what he does best isn't scalable. He's not someone you run through for long periods, and his efficiency off the bounce doesn't warrant a ton of usage. 

    Maybe there's a suitor who just needs someone who can shoot and dribble in theory and cannot afford to pay a higher-end option. (Sup, Philly?) Or maybe Crawford waits out the market yet again, like he did this season. I'm pulling for him. We should all be. He's pure, unqualified fun. But if this is the last we've seen of him in the NBA, he'll be remembered as one of the most animated, entertaining, walking buckets the league has seen—and a Sixth Man of the Year legend to boot.

Pau Gasol

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    Sam Ortega/Associated Press

    Age: 40

    Seasons Played: 19*

    Career Per-Game Averages: 17.0 points, 9.2 rebounds, 0.5 steals, 1.6 blocks, 56.5 true shooting percentage

    Resume Notables: two-time NBA champion; 2001-02 Rookie of the Year; 2001-02 All-Rookie; four-time All-NBA; six-time All-Star

    Pau Gasol shouldn't have an asterisk next to his 19th season.

    He began this year on the Blazers, a team that needed front-line minutes with Jusuf Nurkic recovering from compound fractures in his left leg and then needed them even more following Zach Collins' Oct. 27 left shoulder injury. But Gasol was rehabbing a surgically repaired left foot himself, and Portland subsequently waived him when it became clear he wouldn't be game-ready anytime soon.

    This could be it for the future Hall of Famer. Navigating the center revolution isn't a young man's racket, per se; it's merely a tough racket in general. His age just doesn't help. Nor does the long line of serviceable 5s—and 4s who teams will trot out as 5s—that awaits spenders of all types in free agency.

    Then again, his extended break—including the unscheduled shutdown, delayed start to next season and Olympics postponement—might benefit Gasol. It gives him more time to get healthy, and while he hasn't guaranteed anything, he didn't sound ready to retire as recently as May.

    "One step at a time," Gasol told Forbes' Michael LoRe. "Everything is still up in the air. There's still so many unknowns, so until we start getting more answers and more clarity from my personal health standpoint and in the professional sports view and stage, it's too early to put some thought into that."

    Gasol is better equipped to stand out amid the big-man free-agent heap than Chandler. Scorers are inherently more coveted, and he has actual stretch to his game. In 2017-18, his last healthy(ish) campaign, he churned out 15.4 points per 36 minutes while hitting 35.8 percent of his threes and rebounding at a relatively high clip.

    At least one team can talk itself into deploying him for 10 to 15 minutes every night—but only if his body allows it.

Udonis Haslem

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    Kim Klement/Associated Press

    Age: 40

    Seasons Played: 17

    Career Per-Game Averages: 7.6 points, 6.7 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.5 steals, 53.3 true shooting percentage

    Resume Notables: three-time NBA champion; 2003-04 All-Rookie; Miami Heat franchise leader in total rebounds

    Contrary to that of everyone else on this list, Udonis Haslem's retirement feels like a foregone conclusion. The expectation has always been that this would be his last year. He didn't even decide to return for his 17th season until last August, by which point the Heat had already offered him an assistant coaching gig.

    Haslem's future felt less final when it wasn't clear whether the NBA would reopen its doors before the 2020-21 campaign tipped. As he told NBA TV in May (via Miami Herald's Anthony Chiang):

    "It has been a great run, man. It has been something that I've been thinking about. From everybody that I've talked to and from everything that I've done and sacrificed, one thing that I've always wanted is to be able to leave this game on my own terms. Another thing that I've always wanted is to be able to have the opportunity to create a pathway for the next generation as far as passing on the Heat culture. The third thing that I wanted to do was to be able to leave this game with an opportunity to make a good playoff run. All three of those things have been taken out of my control right now. So we'll just have to see."

    Not only is the last point no longer a concern, but the Heat have also set the stage for a triumphant departure. They're two victories away from the NBA Finals at this writing. Haslem has a legitimate shot at walking away after winning a fourth ring.

    Even if he doesn't—even if Miami fails to make it out of the Eastern Conference Finals—the smart money is on his retiring. He made just four appearances, for 44 minutes, during the regular season and has yet to see a lick of action in the playoffs.

    Granted, this is by design. Haslem didn't return under the guise he'd be a prominent part of the rotation. He hasn't registered as a nightly mainstay since 2014-15, a full half-decade ago. He's on the roster because of what he represents—the epitome of Heat culture.

    Therein lies the strongest argument for an 18th season: Haslem is an emotional boost, a reminder of everything for which the Heat stand, summed up best by maniacally hard work without ego. And though Jimmy Butler is clearly ready to carry that effort-obsessed torch on his own, having Haslem only helps if Miami doesn't need the roster spot.

Kyle Korver

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Age: 39

    Seasons Played: 17

    Career Per-Game Averages: 9.7 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.7 steals, 60.2 true shooting percentage

    Resume Notables: one-time All-Star; four-time league leader in three-point percentage; fourth all-time in made three-pointers

    Kyle Korver had made no decisions about his future as of the Milwaukee Bucks' second-round playoff exit Sept. 8, according to The Undefeated's Marc J. Spears. And rest assured, unlike the rest of the vets on this list, his is an actual choice.

    Knockdown shooters who can fly around in the half court won't go unsigned or be brought back in strictly mentorship capacity. Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer apparently suffered from Atlanta Hawks nostalgia and went with him far too often in the playoffs, but Korver still put down 41.8 percent of his triples on 4.1 attempts per game for the year.

    Only eight other players cleared those benchmarks. Korver will have a roster spot, somewhere, waiting for him—including with the Bucks. Probably. Their perimeter rotation is less than peachy keen outside the starting lineup, and Sterling Brown (restricted), Pat Connaughton and Wesley Matthews (player option) are all slated to join him in free agency. The opportunity to not just continue his career, but actually play, will be there if Korver wants it.

    Does he want it? That's the (likely veteran's minimum) question. He has nearly two decades of NBA miles on his treads, many of the pinballing variety, and is a constant target of opposing offenses. You have to figure the grind (and payday) isn't much worth it unless he lands on a bona fide contender.

    The Bucks are just that, or at least, they're supposed to be. Their second-round flameout may have him window shopping. He also may not want to put up with the relentless speculation about Giannis Antetokounmpo's future should the two-time MVP opt not to sign his supermax extension.

    Either way, returning anywhere other than Milwaukee would land him in his fourth different jersey in three seasons. That, more than anything, may be a turnoff.


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

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


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