Pete of the North
There are four different sets of circumstances that traditionally lead to a professional player hanging up the high tops for good.
The first is the career that is tragically cut short, sometimes by injury (Greg Oden), sometimes by personal demons (Delonte West), sometimes by pure lack of interest in the game (Andrew Bynum), or even death (Drazen Petrovic).
The second is the player who quits while they are on top. The guy who hits the game winner in game 7, showers in champagne, and triumphantly rides off towards the horizon like a hero in a Western (Michael Jordan, the first two times he retired). Or at the very least, they call it quits while still in their statistical prime (Brad Daugherty, Clyde Drexler).
The third is the player who shows some major physical and statistical decline over time but is still a viable role player when they gracefully bow out. Reggie Miller, Vince Carter, and most one-time superstars seem to land in this category, though the age at which the decline begins and at which they officially retire varies greatly.
The fourth is a tough one to watch. These are the guys that were never actually ready to formally retire, but an overall disinterest from any teams to bring them on board forced them out of the league (see most the of the cast of the Big3, including Baron Davis who I don’t think has ever actually officially retired).
Most of the guys on this list fall somewhere between groups 3 and 4. For some, this is the perfect time to gracefully bow out while saving maximum face and preserving their legacy, while others probably should have pulled the trigger a few years back.
So, without further ado, here are the five elder statesmen of the NBA who should pack up their Icy Hot patches and Bengay ointment, and call it a career after this season:
- Marc Gasol – Gasol is in unique position of having had his physical capabilities become seriously diminished over the past several years, with his stats trailing off at a similar rate, but he remains a useful piece for a contending team due primarily to his outstanding basketball IQ, outstanding passing, and uncanny sense of defensive spacing. However, averaging just a hair over four points, four boards, and 40 percent shooting from this field, it very much looks like this is (or at least should be) the last hoorah for the younger Gasol. In a perfect world for the Spaniard, he rides Lebron’s coattails to his second championship ring, and has an outstanding cherry on top of the sundae of his career. However, with Anthony Davis’ health up in the air, that is looking less likely by the day. Either way, here’s hoping this future Hall of Famer retires to the beautiful beaches of Spain in the offseason before the wheels fall off completely
- Rajon Rondo – I truly wish Rajon Rondo had called it quits after last season. It would have been the perfect close to the epic story arc of his career. After winning a title as the unofficial fourth member of the Celtics “Big 3” in his youth, Rondo briefly became a superstar in Boston before moving on, bouncing around the league and making enemies along the way (see Chris Paul and Rick Carlisle). After one-year stints in Chicago, Dallas, and New Orleans, it was starting to seem like his best years were behind him, and he may not have a place in the new, three-point centric league. That is until he caught on with Lebron James’ Lakers squad last year and the old “Playoff Rondo” exploded back on to the scene, helping the Lakers take home the championship last year. Unfortunately, instead of embracing that awesome finish to his tumultuous but borderline Hall of Fame career, Rondo signed on for one last payday with a young Hawks squad, where he is currently averaging just over three points and three assists per game in very limited action… In a perfect world, the Hawks go on a run this year and Rondo finds one more dose of playoff magic, but that seems like a very long shot at this point… Either way, enjoy retirement, you tough SOB.
- Blake Griffin – Blake Griffin built his career almost entirely on his explosive athleticism. He was such an astronomical athletic wonder that he really never needed to get all that great at any one thing that he could carry into his twilight years. Unfortunately, those twilight years came way faster than we could have imagined, and at just age 31, his game has fallen off an absolute cliff. Averaging just 12 points, 5 boards and four assists, on an abysmal 36.5% shooting and 31.5% from three in Detroit (and now having been benched until the team can unload him), Griffin hasn’t dunked a basketball in TWO CALENDAR YEARS. Griffin is still a good passer, shown by his still decent assist numbers, but along with his major offensive short comings, he is an average-at-best defender. As a role player moving forward, he really doesn’t bring any specific value to a good team to get them over the hump. I hope for Griffin’s sake that he can achieve his buy-out with the Pistons, catch on with a decent team, and have one last run as a reasonably productive role player this year, and then calls it quits. Otherwise, I see things getting ugly, and I fear his career may not end on his own terms. Griffin is a funny, talented dude (see his Comedy Central roast appearance and stand up spots on Youtube), who should have some great career options after basketball. Hopefully, he starts exploring those options sooner rather than later.
- Dwight Howard – Similar to my comments on Griffin, I hope Dwight makes the call to hang it up before the league does it for him. As his career has made a slow but steady shift from superstar to role player, he has hung around due to his rebounding, imposing presence in the middle, and efficient (though limited) offense (he shot 73% percent from the field last season). He won his ring with the Lakers last year, and this year is doing an admirable job backing up Joel Embiid in Philly. However, with no outside game to speak of, and diminished athleticism, he becomes more of a dinosaur in the modern NBA every day that passes. I personally hope the 76ers go on a run this year (they could easily make it out of the East), and Dwight gets one more shot a title before he calls it a career. Otherwise, I foresee a couple of Aron Baynes-esque seasons and his options drying up within the next two to three seasons tops. Quit while your ahead, big man (or at least not too far behind).
- Carmelo Anthony – Carmelo has already proved the world wrong once. After failing to catch on with the one-hit wonder Big 3 in OKC with Paul George and Russell Westbrook, and then quickly being cut by the Rockets in 2018, it seriously looked like that might be it for Melo. His reputation had been ravaged, he was considered an ISO dinosaur of a league past who was unable or unwilling to evolve, and no winning teams seemed to want to risk their own chemistry to take a flyer on the former superstar. However, the following year, the Portland Trailblazers took a chance on Melo and he paid them back by becoming an outstanding role player and teammate, first as a starter and now as a sixth man. He is still good for 13.0+ points per game and an occasional offensive explosion, good for 20 to 30 points when he gets hot. However, his athleticism has continued to erode, and he is as ineffective a defender as ever. He is a one trick pony at this point in his career, and while he is still damn good at that trick, I pray that he makes the decision to retire sooner rather than later, with his new-found dignity and respect across the league fully in tact. He will join Allen Iverson and Charles Barkley in the great players, no rings club, and that is ok. In fact, that is some great (and entertaining) company to be in.
- Bonus – One player I hope DOES NOT give up: Jeremy Lin. I have been a Jeremy Lin supporter from the first second Linsanity took hold of NYC, China, and the world almost a decade ago. His career has been an absolute emotional roller coaster since, getting the big contract from Houston, failing to reach the superstar status they had hoped for him, and then bouncing around the league as a reliable role player and veteran presence until getting cut by the Toronto Raptors after the 2018/19 season (in which he was fortunate enough to ride the bench to a championship ring). However, for reasons I don’t fully understand, he just never got another shot after that. Before going to Toronto and struggling, he was putting up decent numbers in Atlanta, backing up Trae Young, and was a respected locker room favorite, putting up over ten points and almost four assists per game. He’d struggled with injuries throughout his career, and his ceiling seemed to be set as a streaky role player good for 10 to 14 points per game, but there is certainly a market for that skillset in the league, at least for a veteran minimum.
Did he fall out of the league due to his (to no fault of his own) unwarranted fame? Not unlike Tim Tebow’s fall from the NFL? Either way, it is thrilling to see him currently playing well for the Warriors’ G-League affiliate after a stint in China last year. I know that I (along with a good chunk of the population who still has a soft spot for Linsanity) am looking forward to seeing him make a comeback and catch on with an NBA roster, the Warriors or otherwise. Hell, if the Raptors end up moving Kyle Lowry at the deadline, I wouldn’t be mad if he came on as a third string point guard in TampaRonto…
Unfortunately, it is just as likely that none of these predictions work out, each of the first five hanging on for an injury-riddled, depressing limp to an unceremonious end, and Jeremy Lin flames out in the G-League, never to be seen again on an NBA court. However, I am an optimist, and hope all these storylines play out like a friggin Disney fairytale.
Agree? Disagree? Couldn’t care less? Let me know! And as always, thanks for checking out the blog!