Heading into the 2014-15 NBA season, there are a lot of veteran players who are trying to keep their careers going for at least one more year. Whether the motivation is from being on a good team capable of competing for one last championship, silencing the critics who say they can no longer play or just proving it to themselves, some of the game’s greats are trying to battle Father Time and extend their playing career.
Here’s a look at some players who could be down to their last season or two:
Steve Nash (40 years old) – After hearing the latest news regarding Nash’s health, it may be time for the former MVP to finally hang it up. Nash’s future is in doubt once again, this time after experiencing more back pain caused by carrying some luggage. Nash has played in just 65 games through two seasons in Los Angeles, and doesn’t appear to be on his way back any time soon. Nash is said to be anxious to return again, but even if he does return there is no telling what kind of impact he’ll have. Nash had previously said that he wouldn’t retire until he collected all of the money he was due on his current contract, but now he’s in the final year of that deal (making $9,701,000 this season).
Kobe Bryant (36 years old) – After playing in just six games last season, Bryant is set to return for the Lakers. Bryant is coming off of two significant injuries and is determined to return to form against all odds this season. The 36-year-old was ranked as the 40th-best player in a recent ESPN poll, leaving many people, including Bryant himself, questioning the ranking. When Bryant re-signed with the Lakers for two more years, many were left wondering if he’d even be able to make it through the first season of that deal. Now that Bryant is back to playing ball again, it’s time to find out if he can be productive for another season and keep the Lakers competitive in the Western Conference. Bryant is signed through next year.
Paul Pierce (37 years old) – The Washington Wizards are counting on Pierce to be productive this season. The problem is that Pierce is entering his 17th season in the league, and while he hasn’t showed any signs of slowing down yet, he is nearing the end of his career. Pierce averaged a career-low in minutes last season, playing just 28 minutes per game. He should continue to see those types of minutes in Washington. The Wizards have already had an injury scare with Pierce this preseason, after he briefly left Friday night’s game with a knee injury. Pierce would return to the game, but this will definitely be something the team will monitor throughout the season. Pierce’s contract has a player option for next season.
Kevin Garnett (38 years old) – Many were surprised over the summer when Garnett decided that he would return for another season, especially after the campaign he endured last year. Garnett played in just 54 games last season, averaging just 20.5 minutes a game and battling various injuries. Minutes will again be a concern for Garnett and the Nets, but Brooklyn head coach Lionel Hollins has stated that Garnett’s situation will be fluid and he’ll monitor it closely. Hollins has assured Garnett that he’ll be in the starting lineup, but that could change as the long season progresses forward. Garnett is in the final year of his contract (making $12,000,000 this season).
Dwyane Wade (32 years old) – In recent years, the Miami HEAT really stuck to a game plan when it came to how much time Wade saw on the court. The team was afforded that luxury by having LeBron James hold it down while Wade was out, but now that James is gone, the HEAT will be counting on Wade to contribute. Wade played in just 54 games last season and averaged a career-low 32.9 minutes per game. Wade was still able to remain effective during the time that he was on the court, but it’s clear that Wade is entering the final few seasons of his career and may not be able to average 19 points a game again as he did last season. Wade’s contract has a player option for next season.
Vince Carter (37 years old) – Carter entered the NBA in the same season as Pierce and is also nearing the end of his career. Carter spent the last three seasons in Dallas and is heading to Memphis for his 17th season. He is coming off of a season in which he averaged the fewest minutes per game in his career at 24.4, but he is going to a Grizzlies team that may only need him to play 15-20 minutes a game and hit a few threes a night. Depending on how this season plays out, this may be one of the last for Vinsanity. Carter’s contract is guaranteed through next season, with one last non-guaranteed year in 2016-17.
Andre Miller (38 years old) – Miller’s time on the court has decreased significantly over the last few seasons and his production has begun to decline as a result. Miller finally got his wish to leave Denver in February and now finds himself in Washington, where he’ll have the opportunity for more minutes in the backcourt with Bradley Beal sidelined for the next several weeks. For Miller, the ultimate payoff would be to play very well in this increased role and have one last playoff run with the Wizards. Miller is in the final year of his contract.
Manu Ginobili (37 years old) – So much of the Spurs’ success rests on veterans like Ginobili, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker. Ginobili showed a great resurgence last season during the Spurs’ run to another championship, but has fallen back a bit after a stress fracture in his right fibula. Ginobili missed the FIBA World Cup over the summer and has showed a lot of rust thus far in the preseason, as evidenced by his 27 percent field goal percentage (4-of-15) during three games. While it may be too soon to start becoming concerned with his slow start, it’ll be something to look for during the beginning of the season. Ginobili is in the final year of his contract.
Tim Duncan (38 years old) – Duncan has managed to fool Father Time many times, but will he be able to do it again this season? After watching Duncan in the playoffs last season, the answer is likely yes. With that said, Duncan opted into the final year of his deal after the Finals, so this really might be his last go-around. If the Spurs’ big three of Duncan, Ginobili and Parker can all stay healthy again and the team can repeat as champions, it’d seem like a great time to go out. However, Duncan has fooled us before.
Jason Terry (37 years old) – Last season was the first time since his rookie year that Terry didn’t average double-digit scoring – a span of 13 seasons. Terry is now in Houston and hopes he can improve his play and go on another deep playoff run. He’ll be on a team that will need him to contribute and lead behind James Harden, as he’s expected to play a key role off of the bench. Terry has previously admitted the thought of retirement has crossed his mind and if his situation in Houston doesn’t pan out, he might be calling it a day sooner than later. Terry is in the final year of his contract.
The G-League is a Path Back to the NBA
The G-League has become an avenue for several player types toward the NBA, writes David Yapkowitz.
When the NBA first instituted their development league, its main purpose was two-fold. The first was to give experience to young players who perhaps were not seeing regular playing time on their respective NBA teams. The second was to give undrafted players a chance at getting exposure and ultimately getting to the NBA.
With the growth in size and popularity of the development league, now known as the G-League, it’s begun to serve another purpose. It’s become a place for older veterans who have already tasted the NBA life to get back to the highest level of basketball that they once knew.
One player in particular who has a wealth of NBA experience is Terrence Jones. Jones is currently playing with the Santa Cruz Warriors, the G-League affiliate of the Golden State Warriors.
Jones was originally drafted by the Houston Rockets with the 18th overall pick in the 2012 draft. He was part of a vaunted class of Kentucky Wildcats that year, which included Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague, Doron Lamb, and Darius Miller. During his four years with the Rockets, he emerged as a dependable reserve and part-time starter. He averaged 9.5 points per game on 49.5 percent shooting and 5.3 rebounds.
“It was just a lot of excitement and a lot of joy, being part of the Houston Rockets was a lot of fun,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “We had great memories and great seasons, a lot of up and downs, I just enjoyed the journey.”
Jones’ dealt with injuries his last two season in Houston, and when he was a free agent in the summer of 2016, the Rockets didn’t re-sign him. He was scooped by the New Orleans Pelicans, however, and he made an immediate impact for them. Prior to the trade deadline, he played in 51 games for the Pelicans, including 12 starts while putting up 11.5 points on 47.2 percent shooting, and 5.9 rebounds.
When the Pelicans acquired DeMarcus Cousins, however, they cut Jones. He didn’t stay unemployed for long, though, as he was signed by the Milwaukee Bucks to add depth for a playoff run. He was unable to crack the rotation, though, and the Bucks cut him as well before the playoff started. After a brief stint in China, he’s now back stateside and using the G-League to get back to the NBA.
“That’s the goal. Right now, I feel I’ve been playing pretty well and just trying to help my team get wins,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “I think I can play multiple positions offensively and defensively. Whether that’s creating plays for myself or for others, I think I can help contribute on the offensive end.”
He’s been the second-leading scorer for Santa Cruz with 19.9 points per game. He’s pulling down 7.1 rebounds, and even dishing out 4.5 assists. In the G-League Challenge against the Mexican National Team at All-Star Weekend, he finished with eight points on 50.0 percent shooting, six rebounds, four assists, and two steals. He’s definitely a name to watch for as NBA teams scour the market for 10-day contract possibilities.
Another player who’s had a taste of the NBA is Xavier Silas. Silas is currently with the Northern Arizona Suns, the affiliate of the Phoenix Suns. He went undrafted in 2011 and started his professional career in France. That only last a few months before he came back the United States and latched on with the Philadelphia 76ers.
He played sparingly with the 76ers and was ultimately cut before the start of the 2012-13 season. Since then, he’s played summer league with the Bucks, and been in two different training camps with the Washington Wizards.
“It was amazing, any time you get to go and play at the highest level, and I even got to play in the playoffs and play in the second round and even score, that was big,” Silas told Basketball Insiders. “It was a great time for me and that’s what I’m working towards getting back.”
While his professional career has taken him all across the globe from Israel to Argentina to Greece to Germany and even Ice Cube’s BIG3 league, he sees the G-League as being the one place that will get him back to where he wants to be.
He’s done well this season for Northern Arizona. He’s their third-leading scorer at 19.3 points per game and he’s one of their top three-point threats at 39.9 percent. At the All-Star Weekend G-League Challenge against the Mexican National Team, Silas had a team-high 13 points for Team USA including 3-5 shooting from three-point range.
It’s isn’t just what he brings on the court that Silas believes makes him an attractive candidate for an NBA team. At age 30, he’s one of the older guys in the G-League and one with a lot of basketball experience to be passed down to younger guys.
“I think it’s a little bit of leadership, definitely some shooting. I’m a vet now so I’m able to come in and help in that aspect as well. But everybody needs someone who can hit an open shot and I think I can bring that to a team,” Silas told Basketball Insiders. “I think it’s the best place for anyone who’s trying to make that next step. We’re available and we’re right here, it’s just a call away.”
NBA Daily: Lillard Playing For Something Bigger
Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard has his eyes set on a bigger prize than just being an NBA All-Star.
Playing For Something Bigger
The NBA All-Star Game is a spectacle.
By design, the game is meant to be a showcase, not just for the players selected to compete, but for the league and all of its partners, on and off the floor. It is easy to get caught up in how players selected actually play, but the reality is while most see the game as important for a lot of reasons, Portland Trail Blazer star Damian Lillard understands it has to be put into perspective.
“I don’t think it’s fair to expect people to go out there and treat it like they are playing for the team they’re under contract for,” Lillard explained this weekend.
“It’s the one time in an 82-game season plus playoffs, preseason and training camp that we actually get a break. It’s necessary to take a mental break, along with a physical break from what we do every day. There’s nothing wrong with that, so I don’t think it’s fair to ask guys to go out there and play like it’s for the Trail Blazers. My loyalty is to my team; I got to stay healthy for my team. I got to do what’s best for my team. Obviously, go out there [during All-Star] and not mess around too much and that’s how people get hurt and stuff like that. You got to go out there and play and have respect for the game, but I don’t think it’s necessary to go out there and go crazy like it’s a playoff game.”
Lillard notched 21 minutes in Sunday’s big game, going 9-for-14 from the field for 21 points for Team Stephen, a roster that included three Golden State Warriors players. Lillard believes that eventually, he’ll get the chance to share the weekend, his third, with teammate C. J. McCollum.
“Each year you see teams are getting two to three, Golden State got four this year,” Lillard said. “But you look at it and say ‘why is that happening’ and it has a lot to do with team success. Me and C.J. just have to take that challenge of making our team win more games. I think when we do that, we’ll be rewarded with both of us making it. If we really want to make that happen, then we’ll do whatever it takes to win more games.
“I feel like this season we’ve moved closer in that direction. In the past, we haven’t even been in the position to get one, because I did not make it the past two years. I think if we keep on improving we’ll eventually get to the point that we’re winning games and people will say ‘how are they doing this’ and then hopefully our names come up. Hopefully, one day, it’ll happen.”
Another issue that got addressed during the All-Star Weekend was the growing tensions between the NBA players and the NBA referees. Representatives from both sides met to address the gap developing on the court, something Lillard felt was necessary.
“We’re all human,” Lillard said. “As competitors, we want to win. If you feel like you got fouled, you want them to call the foul every time. I think sometimes as players, we forget how hard their job can be. At the pace we play, it’s hard to get every call, and then you got guys tricking the referees sometimes, we’re clever too. It’s a tough job for them. I think when we get caught up in our competitive nature, and we forget that they’re not just these robots with stripes, they are people too. You have got to think, as a man if someone comes screaming at you every three plays, you are going to react in your own way. Maybe you’re not going to make the next call; maybe I am going to stand my ground. It’s just something that I think will get better over time. I think both have to do a better job of understanding.”
With 24 games left to play in Lillard’s sixth NBA season, the desire to be more than a playoff team or an All-Star is coming more into focus for Lillard, something he reportedly expressed to Blazers management several weeks ago.
“There are guys that have this record and guys that have done these things, and I want to at least get myself the chance to compete for a championship,” Lillard said. “If I get there and we don’t win it, it happens. A lot of people had to go see about Michael Jordan, a lot of people had to go see about Shaq and Kobe. You know, those great teams, but I have a strong desire to at least give myself a chance to be there. Take a shot at it.”
With All-Star out of the way, the focus in the NBA will switch to the race to the playoffs. As things stand today Lillard and his Blazers hold the seventh seed in the West and are tied with Denver, and just a half of a game back from the five seed Oklahoma City Thunder.
If the Blazers are going to make noise this post season its going to be on the shoulder of Lillard, and based on what he said, it seems he’s up to the challenge.
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NBA Daily: James Harden on the new All-Star Format and Chris Paul Being Snubbed
James Harden shared his thoughts on the new All-Star game format and teammate Chris Paul not being selected as an All-Star
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver made a bold decision to alter the All-Star game format. By allowing the two highest voted players in each conference to be team captains, Silver did away with tradition and the usual West versus East format. While there were a few complaints about the switch, fans were seemingly more vocal about the decision to not televise the selection of players by the team captains.
Well, the results are in and praise for new format has been nearly universal. With players more invested in the new format, and perhaps the $100k per player bonus for the winners, the effort level was up, plays were being drawn up and executed and defense made a surprise appearance in an exciting game that came down to the final possession.
2018 NBA All-Star and Houston Rockets guard James Harden spoke about the All-Star game and the new format.
“I think it is exciting. You get an opportunity, you know, for a mixture of guys to play on the same team together. We’re trying to win though, it’s competitive,” Harden stated. “Obviously, the All-Star game has a lot of highlights but we’re trying to win, we’re going to go out there and prove we’re trying to win.”
Harden, who played for Team Stephen, did not get the win. However, Harden also made it clear that playing in the this year’s All-Star game meant even more having grown up in Los Angeles.
“To be able to play in the big boy game means a lot. I grew up, especially being from LA, you grew up watching Kobe, watching Shaq every single year. You see how fun, you see how exciting it was,” Harden said. “Now to be here, to be in the city is more special.”
While Harden made it a point to talk about what it means to play in Los Angeles, another factor he seemed excited and appreciative about was being the first player picked for Team Stephen.
“Man, that’s a great feeling. Just because in middle school I was the last pick. So, to be the number one pick in the All-Star game, that’s what the swag champ is for,” Harden said.
Harden wasn’t universally positive about All-Star Weekend. Specifically, he was not happy about being the only Rockets All-Star – especially considering Houston’s standing in the Western Conference playoff race.
“I have a lot to say about that. What are we talking about? Everyone knows Chris Paul is with the Rockets and the Rockets have the number one [record]. How does that not happen?” Harden asked rhetorically. “It’s frustrating. I know he’s frustrated. He never brings it up. That’s why I did say what I said. He’s never going to bring it up. But, I’ll defend for him. He should be here with me in LA as an All-Star.”
Harden had some success as he led his team in minutes and logged 12 points, eight assists and five rebounds. He spoke after the game and confirmed the reconfiguration of the All-Star game produced a competitive game and a fun product for the fans.
“Felt great. I hope all the fans enjoyed [the All-Star game] as well. It was very competitive. Guys got after it from the beginning of the game. Usually All-Star [games] there are a lot of dunks, a lot of freedom. Tonight was intense,” Harden said.
Harden was not wrong with his conclusion that there was less freedom. With less freedom and better defense played, Harden went 5-19 from the field and 2-13 from three-point range while finishing the game without a single free throw attempted. The lack of free throws may have irked Harden, who is renowned for his ability to get to the line (9.9 free throw attempts per game this season). Adding to that frustration, Harden had the opportunity to put his team ahead with a three-pointer late in the game but failed to connect on the shot. Unsurprisingly, Harden expressed his disappointment with the result.
“I was pissed we lost. I’m still mad,” Harden stated.
On the final play of the game, while ignoring Harden, Curry kept the ball with the chance to tie the game. Curry dribbled into a LeBron James/Kevin Durant double team. Curry wasn’t able to get a shot off and Harden was left with his hands up waiting for a pass and a chance to win the game that never came.
Looking toward next year, Harden was asked if as a possible captain he would prefer to have the player selection two weeks before or right before the game. He thought about it and then smiled.
“Probably right before the game,” Harden answered.
Commissioner Silver has spoken on the subject and is sending strong signals that next year’s selection will be televised. That will potentially add another layer of excitement to the new All-Star game format, which is already paying off for the NBA.