Until someone finds the fountain of youth (or a new undetectable steroid), aging NBA players will be forced out of their job every offseason. Basketball is a young man’s game, and a failure to compensate for lost athleticism will guarantee an early retirement.
T̶r̶a̶c̶y̶ ̶M̶c̶G̶r̶a̶d̶y̶, Gilbert Arenas, and Michael Redd washed out of the NBA this year, despite none of the three being older than 33. General managers now prefer to run an untested body rather than play a has-been who commands a higher salary (veteran minimum deals for a 30-something are roughly $1.4 million, compared to $490,180 for an undrafted rookie, according to Hoopsworld). Injury histories and oversized egos are also major factors.
Whose NBA career will be cut short in the next six months? Excluding Grant Hill, Jerry Stackhouse, and Rasheed Wallace (all expected to retire), here are the most likely candidates:
Jason Collins - 34 years old
What can Collins still bring to the table? A wide frame and six cheap fouls. (He has 83 personal fouls in 368 minutes this season, averaging a penalty every four and a half minutes.) Collins made his living through the years effectively defending back-to-the-basket threats and hacking them on open looks, but a steady decline in dominant offensive low post threats in recent years has caused the Washington Wizards center’s role to become endangered.
NBC Sports reports coach Doc Rivers and Collins have shared interest in a reunion next season, but Boston Celtics G.M. Danny Ainge will consider: is a limited Dwight Howard/Andrew Bynum stopper who plays a handful of contests worth a roster spot? Probably not. With Jermaine O’Neal, Kurt Thomas, and Marcus Camby looking for work in 2013, Collins may join his brother Jarron on permanent vacation.
Josh Howard - 32 years old
Howard’s condition can be attributed to bad luck, likely stemming from a black cat crossing his path during his Dallas Mavericks stint. The Texas club dealt the star at the 2010 trade deadline to the Wizards, where he tore his left A.C.L. after four games. Howard was beginning to find his groove again with the Utah Jazz in 2011-12 before season-ending knee surgery in March. To compound his misery even more, the wing shredded his right A.C.L. in December after 11 appearances with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Despite what modern medicine has to offer, it’s realistic to expect Howard will be a shell of his All Star self with the Mavericks. His plus man-to-man defense and rebounding skills have been eroding for some time, along with his jump shot anywhere outside the paint. At best, Howard will be able to pass a physical by the 2013-14 midway point, and it would take a desperate fringe contender to take a chance on walking, talking china glass.
Troy Murphy - 32 years old
It’s been a hard fall for the former double-double machine, since he broke the Indiana Pacers’franchise record with 48 in 2007-08. Injuries have forced Murphy to dial down his aggressiveness in traffic, so nowadays the stretch four is commonly found drifting around the perimeter. The ex-Golden State Warrior found success in limited minutes with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2011-12, hitting 41.8% of his three point attempts and not embarrassing himself on the defensive end. But Murphy’s inability to drive was clear, which partly led the Mavericks to release him (in favor of Derek Fisher) this season after appearing in 14 games.
Murphy still holds value as a long distance specialist, but he is strictly a spot-up shooter, which are a cinch to recruit around the world. The lack of interest in his services following his dismissal from Dallas may prove the power forward is on his last legs.
Matt Carroll - 32 years old
Carroll carved out his NBA niche as a dead-eye shooter, which led to a six year, $27 million extension with the Charlotte Bobcats in 2007 (he rewarded their loyalty by connecting a career-high 43.6% from deep the following season). But a string of horrific offensive performances starting in the 2008-09 campaign cost the swingman his spot in the rotation, and his contract became a burden. In January 2009 Carroll was traded to Dallas and curiously flipped back to Charlotte less than two years later, logging garbage time when fortunate. The Bobcats re-signed the veteran in 2012 to provide depth, but traded him two weeks after the opener to the New Orleans Hornets, who promptly waived him.
Carroll could rediscover his stroke, but his 18.6% three point accuracy in 2011-12 hints there are problems beyond his form. Combined with his underwhelming defense and inability to contribute in other areas (which Raja Bell and Josh Childress can provide), his chances of returning to the association are close to zilch.
Kenyon Martin - 35 years old
Martin left the NBA once to fatten his bankroll (in Chinese currency), so is it unreasonable to assume he will do it again? Credit is due to the big man for continuing to play effective NBA ball after suffering so many leg injuries (including two microfracture knee surgeries), but he has nothing to prove on the court at this point.
Martin held out for the first four months of the current NBA campaign because he wouldn’t accept the veteran’s minimum, until the 2000 first overall pick was persuaded to join his old Denver Nuggets partners on the New York Knicks’ title run. Still collecting bumps and bruises, his fragile reputation, combined with his price tag, misunderstood personality and questionable shot selection may make him difficult to employ in the big leagues next season. Like many old timers, it’s likely Miami Heat or bust for Martin.