As one cable network after another fills air time with horrid compilations of everything we already knew and were hoping to forget about 2007, now seems a good time to look at a bright side of the past. The All-
One of them was lost Wednesday when 37-year-old Heat center
When Miller was 35, he played 81 games and averaged 18.9 points (an improvement over his previous two seasons) in 39.3 minutes for Indiana in '00-01. In that spirit, the five survivors on this list should be celebrated for what they are still managing to do in an era when rules have been adapted to liberate and empower a younger generation of unprecedented athletic ability. In the right setting, each of these old men is still capable of helping a contender to the championship.
In each case, I'll also nominate a comparable player 23 or younger who has a chance to excel in his late 30s more than a decade from now.
O'Neal routinely gets hammered for what he doesn't do, but put him in context of what he's still accomplishing as the league's oldest starting center in his 16th NBA season. He's still hard to defend one-on-one, he can still dominate for stretches, and if Miami had the wherewithal to surround him with scorers, then he surely could be a difference-maker when the games really matter in the spring.
The injury to Mourning is a big loss for O'Neal, who will feel an ever greater burden to carry his position. His numbers are down -- career lows of 14.4 points and 27.9 minutes through Thursday -- but O'Neal has been showing signs of feistiness. When I spoke with him last month, he was snapping back at accusations that he can't stay on the floor.
"We've got to do a better job of playing defense,'' he said. "I've been getting in foul trouble -- but I haven't fouled my man yet.''
While opponents used to complain that Shaq wasn't whistled enough, now in his old age the meter has swung the other way. He is routinely called for fouls that used to be ignored as incidental contact. He needs better players around him to create the kind of space that he can no longer make for himself between the limits of his age and the edicts of officials.
I'm not the only one who isn't ready to write off O'Neal.
"Look, I won three championships with the guy,''
Thomas missed nine early-season games for Seattle with a sore hamstring, but he's been a catalyst since his Nov. 23 return. The otherwise youthful Sonics are 6-7 when he starts and 1-12 when he doesn't.
The 6-foot-9 Thomas has averaged 9.7 rebounds in his last 11 games, including a win against Indiana in which he secured 18 boards. Thomas has taken the high road even though his team objectives plummeted from title hopeful Phoenix (which was forced to trade his salary for luxury-tax reasons) to rebuilding Seattle.
"To go from a team competing for a championship to a team at the other end of the spectrum, that's not what he would have on top of his wish list,'' Sonics coach
Once upon a time, Thomas, as a senior at TCU in 1994-95, was the third player in NCAA history to lead the nation in points (28.9) and rebounds (14.6). But ankle injuries sabotaged his early career, morphing him into a blue-collar rebounder and defender with a reliable mid-range jump shot. Now he is creating opportunities for rookie
"We're just so much better when he's on the floor,'' Carlesimo said. "He is undersized whether you call him a center or power forward, but he plays post people as well as anybody in the league because you can't move him, he's so strong. I remember telling Kevin in summer league one night after Kevin got knocked down in one of the games, 'One of the things about Kurt Thomas, when something like this happens, you're going to appreciate what he's doing at the other end of the court. Because the guy who knocks you down is going to wind up getting knocked down by Kurt next time down the floor, or he'll be laying down holding his arms. Kurt's from the old school. He is going to have your back.' "
A six-time All-Star (and unofficial nominee to become The Next
"The easiest thing to say is he's a great player,'' Suns coach
The Suns hope Hill will put them over the top in their rivalry with San Antonio. This week he came up big with 22 points, seven rebounds, three assists and three blocks in a 100-95 win at San Antonio (though the Spurs were without
How does a player of Hill's age and medical history remain relevant against the league's most explosive perimeter athletes?
"I don't know if it was because he had those seven years [in Orlando] where his body didn't take the pounding, but he still has a lot of spring,'' D'Antoni said. "He's fast, shifty and he has that bounce in his step. He hasn't lost it, and he works extremely hard at getting ready every night in the weight room, the training room and on the floor.''
There isn't a smarter player in the league than Hill, who is able to envision shortcuts on the court to compensate for his age. To fit in with the Suns, he has spent the last four months extending his range to the three-point line (21-of-60 this season), where he has already taken more shots than he attempted over the previous seven years.
Though Bowen is listed as a forward offensively, at the other end of the court he is the league's top defensive swingman at 6-7 and 200 pounds, a stopper of guards and forwards alike for San Antonio.
Of all the players in his 1993 draft class -- including
Offensively, Bowen turned himself into a three-point specialist, enabling him to help space the floor around Duncan. At game-day shootarounds, you can find Bowen spending extra time practicing his jump shot after the rest of his teammates have gone home. He led the league in three-point shooting (44.1 percent) in 2002-03, has never shot worse than 36.3 percent from beyond the arc in any season with the Spurs, and is currently hitting 46.3 percent (seventh best in the NBA).
"Bruce would be in at 9 a.m. virtually every day, whether there was a game the night before or we were just back from a trip,'' recalled Carlesimo, a Spurs assistant coach the previous five years. "When you walked into the facility and heard the ball bouncing, you knew it was Bruce out there shooting with [assistant coach]
Bowen has been on the All-Defensive team each of the last seven seasons, and I always imagined that he must study film of opponents religiously like an NFL quarterback.
"No, I fall asleep studying film,'' he said. "I get tired of it; I don't see how the coaches do it.'' Instead, he watches just enough video to develop an intuitive feel for the opponent.
Bowen rarely tires in the postseason, and despite his age, the Spurs recently extended his contract through 2009-10 (though the last year isn't fully guaranteed).
"He totally deserves everything he gets because of the commitment he makes,'' Carlesimo said. "He figured out what it took to be in the league, to get 10-day contracts or get invited to camps. He goes from that to being an integral starter on a three-time NBA champion.''
Not only is he the second-oldest starting point guard in the league (behind 38-year-old
"Everybody says I've lost a step,'' Kidd said, "and with that I try to use my knowledge of the game to understand my teammates and then also to understand my opponents and their tendencies.''
Note the stubbornness that keeps driving Kidd along. He takes it personally when people say he's lost speed.
"When people say, 'He's older, he's lost a step,' I've always thought that that's to my benefit, that a lot of people are reading that and maybe they think I've lost a step,'' he said. "But if I've lost a step, I've been smarter to use my speed in the right places.''
The point being that he really doesn't think he's any slower.
"I still feel I can run with the best of them,'' Kidd said. "When they always mention the quickest guys with the ball, they never mention my name. But that's something that drives me. At the same time, maybe it is to my advantage if I have slowed down, because I can see things a little bit clearer now.''
It's no secret that Kidd wants to be dealt to a contender, and the Nets are expected to move him by the Feb. 21 deadline. He is averaging a remarkable 11.5 points, 10.3 assists and 8.7 rebounds in 37 minutes, which is far more than should be expected of a 34-year-old who underwent microfracture knee surgery in 2004. But the ambition producing those numbers is the same drive that prevents him from accepting the mediocrity of the Nets' status. If he were happy to remain with a 10-15 team, then he probably wouldn't be so determined to succeed at 34.
The key to remaining an up-tempo guard at Kidd's age is knowing when and how to apply his speed. He doesn't run all-out as he did in the beginning of his career at Dallas.
"I can remember when my coaches were telling me to slow down, to let things develop because I was always in a hurry to go,'' he said. "I didn't quite understand what they meant because I always felt the faster you are, the faster you got to where you want to go. In this league, that tends to be a mistake, but it was hard for me to understand that. Once I got to Phoenix [in 1996] and got to watch
Kidd is hoping to play into his late 30s, and he draws inspiration from older players who preceded him.
"You take away the controversy with
"The guy who I really was studying was
The Suns' D'Antoni notes that both Kidd and 33-year-old Nash are able to continuously push tempo because they can make the correct decision in an instant.
"Sure, other point guards are a lot faster than those two, but Jason and Steve come at you all the time,'' D'Antoni said. "And they're in incredible condition so they don't get tired. That's almost like ability that they have, to be able to keep running and running.''
Kidd was rejuvenated by playing with the league's best young Americans for USA Basketball last summer.
"OK, they tease me about being old,'' Kidd said. "But I also want to be an old guy who can play. And that's the highest respect that you can get from a
While the Nets are playing at a slower tempo, Kidd denies that his age is the reason.
"Let's get out and run,'' he said. "I sometimes get disappointed when I get taken out of the game. I know it's a long season, but if I take care of myself and do all the right things, I still feel that I can play 40 minutes. As much as my agent or other people might say, 'We need to rest him for the end of the season,' I think I can find time to rest on my own.''
This would be a fine question ... except that I have never written, said or thought that Boston's package was the best offer available to Minnesota.
What I've been saying all along is that Boston's package was the most attractive from Minnesota's point of view. There is a big difference.
You're arguing that other teams could have offered a package of superior players for Garnett, and you surely are correct. But very few trades are made on that basis. In most cases, like this one, an overriding dynamic is money.
The Timberwolves didn't want a big longer-term contract like Odom's, because Minnesota owner
After going nowhere with one of the league's highest payrolls the last three years, it makes sense that Taylor would want to cut back and start over from scratch. If they couldn't win with Garnett, then they weren't going to win with Odom or
I never imagined that the Celtics would be able to land Garnett in exchange for Jefferson and little else of proven value. When I mentioned this in September to Celtics director of basketball operations
But I need to amend that now. Almost two months into the season, the trade is making more sense for Minnesota -- because Jefferson is looking more and more like the real thing. He is going to be a star.
They lack scoring, and it's even harder to win when your No. 2 scorer is
"I don't think Wade is in game shape,'' the scout said. "You know how he used to hit tough shots all the time? He isn't knocking them down anymore, and he isn't getting the easy open shots anymore either. He's still getting to the basket, but his in-between game and perimeter game are not up to where they were two years ago. It's not like it's left him; it's still there somewhere. But there is a lot of pressure on him to pick them up and carry them, and he came back weeks faster than I thought he would.''
The other day I mentioned to a league executive that people will soon be saying that the Wizards are better off without Arenas.
"Those are the same people who flunk drug tests,'' he answered.
Since Arenas began missing games (Nov. 16 was his last game), the Wizards have gone 10-6.
But crucial to their last month is that most of the wins have come against struggling teams like Miami, Minnesota and New Jersey, to name three recent victims. If the Wizards can remain above .500 before Arenas' anticipated March 1 return, they'll be positioned a late-season run.
The NBA scout who provided these opinions believes Indiana freshman guard
"He's a monster, especially when you consider there are so many fewer shots in a 40-minute college game and he's still getting 14 rebounds a night. He has a great basketball IQ, and in time he's going to be a really good shooter because he has a good stroke and he steps into his shot. You want him around the basket, but you should be able to play pick-and-pop with him in a couple of years. He's a very good passer, and he doesn't take every shot even though he's a man-child.
"Athletically, he's not
"So what's his NBA position? He has great hands, good footwork, he's relentless and he plays bigger than 6-9. When you're getting 14 rebounds a night, you'd better keep your ass around the basket. I think he needs to be a power forward, even though a lot of guys his age will think being a small forward is more sexy. But I think he understands where he can make his money, because the first college game of his life (Nov. 9 against Sacramento State) he got 24 rebounds. So he'll be a mobile power forward with the ability to step out to the perimeter.''
"I'm a believer in point guards; you win with points and centers, and since there are no centers, I'm going with a point. Rose has been up and down as a freshman, but he's normal person and that alone is refreshing in this day and age. When you watch him play, he's not a chest-bumper; he just plays. Yet he's a ridiculous, insane athlete, and he has great size. He's a similar player -- though this is an unfair comparison for sure -- to
"He's always gotten by because he was the best athlete on the floor -- I can't imagine in high school that he ever had to shoot because he could just dunk on everybody. But when you're that talented, you'll learn the nuances of the game and improve your shooting. A couple of years from now his shooting will improve, because this is the kind of guy who will get in a gym and take 500 shots to get better.
"As a player, he's not selfish at all. One thing that is rare among young players is that he's willing to pass the ball ahead on the break. Most guys want to dribble to show what they can do in the open floor, but it struck me that he's not like that. Sometimes he's a straight-line player because he's so fast to the basket, but as the defenses becomes more sophisticated, he won't be able to do that. That's where he'll sit down with an NBA assistant coach and watch tape and be told that when you get this deep into the lane, you start looking for kick-out passes. And he'll say, 'OK, I get it.'
"He hasn't had any of those 12-assist nights, but that's because he plays on the worst-shooting team in America -- they can't make a shot, and their best play is to go and get the offensive rebound. But he has a very high basketball IQ and with his personality, I think he can be taught anything. He's such a ridiculous athlete, winner and defender that it's hard today not to see him becoming the first pick.''
"What do I think of Alonzo Mourning? I can imagine the joy he felt while he was winning the NBA championship after surviving the kidney disease that might have killed him. It is easy for me to relate to that achievement. What I cannot envision is the life beyond basketball that is still to come for him. That is a gift beyond my imagination.''