Still Chugging: The NBA’s Oldest Contributors
Despite Manu Ginobili’s retirement this week, there are still plenty of veterans with 15-plus years of experience contributing at a high-level, writes Ben Nadeau.
This week, basketball finally lost the services of Manu Ginobili, a former domestic and international icon. At the age of 41, Ginobili was one of the sport’s oldest players — but as a four-time NBA champion, EuroLeague winner and a 2004 Gold medalist, he also retires with an unbelievably complete resume. With Jason Terry currently sans a contract or training camp invite, the 40-and-over crowd has shrunk to two just names: Vince Carter and Dirk Nowitzki.
While the present league-wide landscape attempts to uncover younger and younger athletes each year, there are a handful of veterans with 15-plus years of experience still making worthwhile contributions. Some on this list play for Finals-level hopefuls and others compete for lottery-bound franchises, but these are the players best-suited to help and assist well into their 40s and beyond.
Pau Gasol, 38, San Antonio Spurs
Although the eldest Gasol has put up back-to-back seasons with his lowest points per game average as a professional, the 17-year veteran is still well-entrenched for a perennially great Spurs side. He’ll spend another season as San Antonio’s likely starting center alongside LaMarcus Aldridge and Dejounte Murray, plus newcomers Lonnie Walker IV and DeMar DeRozan. In a supporting offensive role last season, Gasol took down 10.1 points, eight rebounds and 3.1 assists in just 23.5 minutes per game.
Gasol’s game-to-game reliability isn’t what used to be, but he appears to be an important cog for a team with Finals aspirations once again. There’s the potential for Rudy Gay to steal some of his minutes in a small-ball set-up, though that’s more of an afterthought at this point in the offseason. The Spaniard’s skill set has always leaned heavily on soft touches and efficient, high-percentage attempts, so — like a fine wine — Gasol should age fantastically heading into his twilight seasons.
Given Gasol’s personal accomplishments — two-time NBA champion, six-time All-Star, 2002 Rookie of the Year — he’s a near-lock for the Hall of Fame before even adding his overseas plaudits to the discussion.
Hall of Fame Watch: Near-lock.
Kyle Korver, 37, Cleveland Cavaliers
As the Cavaliers officially transition into a new, LeBron-less era, one of the few players left in the fray is Kyle Korver. In the first year of his new deal, the elite sharpshooter averaged 9.2 points, 2.3 rebounds and 2.2 three-pointers on 43.6 percent from deep over a paltry 21.6 minutes per game. James’ departure leaves an opening at small forward, but that spot will be presumably filled by Cedi Osman, one of Cleveland’s brightest young pieces.
There were some incredibly brief rumors in July about a potential Jerryd Bayless-Korver swap, but those never came to fruition — so now what? Korver has tallied two or more three-pointers in every season since 2012-13, even shooting a blistering 46 percent from three after joining the Cavaliers in 2016. While there’s certainly room for an important Korver role on this Kevin Love-anchored roster, the marksman’s contract seems to be palatable in any potential deal.
Korver has two years left at $7.5 million, but only about half of that guaranteed in 2019-20 if he’s waived prior to July 7. For a contending franchise, Korver could enter the fold on a decent contract and for an inexpensive return — but until then, expect him to keep firing away effectively in the Midwest. Unsurprisingly, Korver will likely finish his career with the third-most three-pointers of all-time, although both Jamal Crawford and Stephen Curry, amazingly, aren’t far behind.
In terms of any future Hall of Fame bid, it seems as if the odds are stacked against Korver despite all of his excellent achievements from behind the arc.
Hall of Fame Watch: Very unlikely.
Zach Randolph, 37, Sacramento Kings
After eight consistent, well-received seasons down south, Zach Randolph opted to leave Memphis last summer for a project out in Sacramento. Notching 14.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.2 assists on 47.3 percent from the field, Randolph provided some much-needed intensity to a young, inexperienced Kings roster. In June, Sacramento selected Marvin Bagley III, a move that’ll probably sit Randolph in a backup role from here on out — both at power forward and center.
And, truthfully, it’ll be the perfect fit for a 17-year warrior that came to define the successful Grind-n-Grind era in Memphis. Despite the budding talents of De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield and Willie-Cauley Stein, Randolph’s bullish style of play still led the team in points and finished second in rebounds. Randolph’s versatility in the paint should afford him plenty of opportunities off the bench — but he’ll toughen up their prized prospects nonetheless.
If Randolph plays at least two more seasons and averages about 10 points over the next 140 games or so, he’d almost definitely reach the 20,000-point plateau. Of course, the only two to reach that mark and not reach the Hall of Fame are Tom Chambers and Antawn Jamison — however, Randolph has already reached the 10,000-rebound mark as well, something that’ll give him a well-deserved leg up down the line.
Hall of Fame Watch: In the conversation.
Tony Parker, 36, Charlotte Hornets
Same face, new place.
After 17 seasons with the Spurs, the Tony Parker has switched cities to Charlotte, where he’ll primarily serve as the backup to Kemba Walker. Just four years ago, Parker was still among the league’s elite point guards — but Father Time has caught up quickly to the French legend as of late. In only 55 games last season, Parker averaged 7.7 points and 3.5 assists in 19.5 minutes per contest, numbers that came in as across-the-board lows for his illustrious career. Regardless, the six-time All-Star should function well as the Hornets’ bench general and, as an added bonus, he’ll reunite with Nicolas Batum, a long-time national squad teammate.
It’s fairly hard to predict exactly what we’ll get from Parker moving forward, but the Hornets could do far worse than the four-time league champion. At the very least, Parker should statistically recover from a down year — although he’ll provide plenty of off-the-court value as well. Either way, it hardly matters how his career winds down out on the East Coast; Parker is a certifiable Hall of Famer already. On top of his fantastic NBA career, the 6-foot-2 guard won EuroBasket MVP in 2013 as France took home the Gold.
Hall of Fame Watch: Near-lock.
Dwyane Wade, 36, Miami HEAT
And there’s Dwyane Wade — a man who has conquered every conceivable professional mountain but hasn’t quite committed to another NBA season just yet. A few days ago, Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald noted that Wade “seems inclined” to play this season — still, he’s been awfully quiet heading into September. Naturally, Wade has begun to slow down after 15 arduous, playoff-filled seasons, but he’s liable to go vintage Flash at any moment. Last November, Wade dropped 25 points, 11 rebounds and six assists on 8-for-19 from the field, nearly carrying the Cavaliers to victory during a narrow two-point loss to Atlanta.
Even though those moments are further and further spread out these days, there’s clearly some all-worldly talent left in the tank for the 6-foot-4 guard. Despite Miami’s crowded backcourt — Dion Waiters, Goran Dragic, Tyler Johnson and Wayne Ellington — there’s always room for a bonafide legend in the rotation. Wade’s minutes have dropped each season since 2012-13 and Miami’s deep roster can allow him to settle into a comfortable, contributing role without a heavy load.
It should go without saying, but there’s not a single reality in existence in which Wade is not a first-ballot Hall of Famer once he retires. He’s a three-time champion, Finals MVP, 12-time All-Star, former scoring champion and a gold medalist — so the only question left is this: What does Wade have in store for his final act?
Hall of Fame Watch: 100% on lock.
Honorable Mentions: Jamal Crawford, 38; Joe Johnson, 37; Tyson Chandler, 35; Nene, 35.
At the end of the day, Ginobili’s sudden departure has left an understandable hole in the NBA but there are other long-standing contributors to turn to in this time of need. These veterans haven’t reached their fourth decade just yet — however, this list of five stalwarts will continue to trek on through their winding, successful professional careers. Not all of them will reach the Hall of Fame or even play in the Finals, but they’re the few remaining gems from a golden generation.
While some have stated their intentions to play for the foreseeable future and others are still on the fence about 2018-19, one thing is for certain — enjoy them while they’re still here!
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