The previous article mentioned that NBA veterans were of two breeds – ones that continue to perform on a consistently elite level and want to go out on a high and the ones who belong to a bygone age, relics of the immediate past. This feature takes a look at those who belong to the first category, those vets who’ve still got game in them, but might want to call it quits when April dawns.
Known as the “Big Fundamental”, Tim Duncan is one of the best power forwards of all time. Having won 4 championships (and also the Finals MVP in all 4 championship wins) with the San Antonio Spurs, Duncan also made a whopping 14 All-Star appearances and made both the All-NBA and the All-Defensive teams in each of his first 13 seasons in the league. His initial days as a Spur witnessed the birth of the term “Twin Towers”, the duo of Duncan and David Robinson. They formed a formidable frontcourt with their defensive and shot-blocking skills. Duncan went on to become Rookie of the Year and won two championships with Robinson.
Then came his association with a young French point guard by the name of Tony Parker, with whom Duncan would form a deadly partnership winning two more championships.
He is the all-time leader in scoring for the Spurs and almost led them to another championship in 2013 against the Miami Heat but lost in heartbreaking fashion in Game 7 of the Finals. Duncan had the chance to kill the series in Game 6, with the Spurs leading 3-2, but missed a point-blank tip-in. Despite that miss, the legacy of Duncan will be etched forever and the game of basketball will always be grateful to a man who personified hard work and effort and was humble throughout his career.
Another power forward who carved a niche for himself in the 2000s is Dirk Nowitzki. The 7ft German was initially chosen by the Milwaukee Bucks with their 8th pick in the 1998 Draft but was immediately traded to the Dallas Mavericks. His first season saw him mightily struggle in the NBA, with Nowitzki even pondering a return back to Germany. But from his second season onwards, things began getting better as the Mavs ownership changed hands. Nowitzki and Steve Nash became a difficult duo for opponents and they led the Mavs to a 53-29 regular season record in 2001.
They would constantly come up against the San Antonio Spurs, with the Spurs emerging triumphant in every playoff series. Thus Nowitzki could never reach the NBA Finals in his initial years.
The best season for Dirk was his championship winning season of 2010-11. The arrival of Tyson Chandler ensured that defense was catered to and a rim protector was around to mask Nowitzki’s shoddy defensive abilities. On the offensive end, Chandler and Dirk formed a unique frontcourt with Nowitzki as a long range threat and Chandler, the orchestrator of the pick-and-roll. With Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion and Jason Terry in the roster, the whole lot seemed to complement each other. The Mavericks went on to win the Finals against the Miami Heat and Dirk could finally lay his hands on the Larry O’Brien trophy. On a personal front, Nowitzki joined an elite group of NBA players to have been an NBA champion, NBA Finals MVP, an NBA regular season MVP, and a ten-time All-Star. During the 2011 playoffs, Nowitzki averaged 27.7 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game.
Nowitzki’s contract expires this summer and being in the tail end of his career, he would like to retire as a Maverick.
Paul Pierce established his legacy as an NBA player with the Boston Celtics, a team that enjoyed his services for the first 15 seasons of his career. Nicknamed “The Truth”, Pierce made 10 All-Star appearances as a Celtic and 4 All-NBA teams while with the Celtics, also winning an NBA championship in 2008 after joining hands with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. He holds the Celtics’ record for most three-point field goals made and is third in team history in games played, second in points scored, seventh in total rebounds, fifth in total assists, and first in total steals.
Pierce in his heyday was a complete player; he could score, rebound, defend opposing forwards and had a penchant for hitting late-game shots, making him a valuable asset.
Pierce was adjudged the Finals MVP in 2008, after his Celtics defeated the Lakers. But his team would come up short against the same opposition in 2010, losing 83-79 in Game 7 at the Staples Center.
A part of the “Big 3” in Boston, Ray Allen began his career with the Milwaukee Bucks where he played seven seasons. His most successful season in Milwaukee was the 2000-01 season where he, along with Sam Cassell and Glenn Robinson helped the Bucks make the Eastern Conference Finals.
Allen then moved to the Seattle SuperSonics where he played for four seasons. In Seattle he achieved many personal milestones but could not guide the team to postseason success. The SuperSonics who would later relocate to Oklahoma, decided to rebuild their roster and traded Allen to the Celtics. The subsequent season saw the SuperSonics use the second pick in the draft to select Kevin Durant, their current franchise centerpiece.
Allen would form a fruitful partnership with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, with whom he won an NBA championship in 2008.
Allen has made ten All-Star appearances and is the all-time leader in three-pointers made, surpassing Reggie Miller in 2011.
In the 2012 offseason Allen decided to move to the Miami Heat, for he envisioned a better shot at winning a title with LeBron James and co., and the move paid off as the Heat clinched the 2013 title. With the Heat on the verge of losing Game 6 of the Finals, Allen hit a crucial three pointer with 6.6 seconds left to send the game to overtime. The Heat would go on to win Game 7 and their second successive championship.
The University of Colorado standout began his career with the Boston Celtics in 1997 and would go on to represent several clubs in the NBA including the Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers, New York Knicks Toronto Raptors, Minnesota Timberwolves and the Detroit Pistons, where he won a championship in 2004. Selected third overall in the 1997 Draft by the Boston Celtics, Billups has a knack for making late-game shots thus earning him the nickname “Mr. Big Shot.” The most memorable moment in his career was when he led a Detroit team to the 2004 NBA championship, winning the Finals 4-1 against a strong Lakers team that featured Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. He was adjudged MVP of the Finals, a series in which he averaged 21.0 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 5.2 apg and 1.2 spg.
He then joined forces with Carmelo Anthony in 2008, and in his first season led the Nuggets to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history. He was then traded to the Knicks in the deal that sent Anthony to the Big Apple and was amnestied by them in the subsequent offseason. He went on to play for the Clippers and was averaging a solid 15 ppg for the Clips but suffered an Achilles tendon tear, thus putting an end to his season.
The jump shot is still there in his game but the lateral quickness or lack thereof makes him a burden on the defensive end. The latter stages of his career have been marred by injuries, thus preventing him from getting into a rhythm of any sort.
He is currently back in Detroit for a second stint, and has publicly stated his desire to retire as a Piston.