All things must come to an end. It is a rule of life and a basketball career is not different. This year, already, we have witnessed the end of one of the great NBA careers of all time in Kobe Bryant and there are going to be more names to add to that list.
Kobe’s retirement has a profound effect on the Lakers franchise as they now move forward into the future unhindered and with a roster full of youth, in D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and Brandon Ingram.
Who else might hang up their sneakers this year though and what will the impact of their retirement?
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Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili - San Antonio Spurs
There was only one place to start. The Spurs have long been the gold standard of consistency with their core of Duncan, Parker, Ginobili, but they’re end is nigh. Duncan, with his five rings and two MVP trophies, is now 40 years old and Manu, with his four rings, is only two years his junior.
It is unclear at this point, whether either of these will retire this offseason, or both. They both hold player options for the next year but, despite their long-established friendship, their decisions will be made individually.
For Manu, reports indicate that he will opt out of his contract but there is no indication as to whether that is to re-sign or retire. Duncan, The Big Fundamental, seems to still be thinking it over.
For the Spurs, either or both of these two retiring would be an end of an era. Parker, Ginobili and Duncan have been playing together since 2002 becoming the most successful trio of all time with four NBA championships since then.
Manu averages 14 points, four assists and 1.4 steals for his Spurs career, while Timmy averages 19 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.2 blocks, while both improved their numbers in the playoffs, which has been an annual event for them.
They have been completely central to San Antonio, but their time is coming. Last term, Duncan couldn’t top nine points per game or eight rebounds, Manu couldn’t put up double figures in points and both put up career lows in minutes per game.
For San Antonio, their retirements would be sad, but not all that damaging. The team now is largely carried by Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge and their future seems secure, with the latter’s acquisition proving that Greg Popovich had turned this team into one capable of luring the biggest free agents.
If they retire, the Spurs should survive as a top team for as long as they have Kawhi and Pop, as well as Aldridge and Parker. They are a tremendous franchise and players who play there will often stay there.
That being said, The Big Fundamental hanging up his sneakers is enough to bring a tear to the eye for us and for the Spurs. It will signal the end of their most successful era and the end of their greatest ever player. His presence will be missed in the locker room and on the court. Even if they do survive, the San Antonio Spurs won’t be the same without them.
Kevin Garnett – Minnesota Timberwolves
Love him or hate him, KG has had a Hall of Fame career. The 40-year-old big man is a former NBA champion, Defensive Player of the Year and MVP. After a successful stint with friend Paul Pierce (I’ll come back to him) in Boston and a difficult time in Brooklyn, Garnett returned home to Minnesota, where he began his career.
Retirement, however, seems to have been looming over him for some time. The Timberwolves were not even sure if Garnett was going to play this season but he did. That does not say much, though, as he has only played in 43 games since returning to the T’wolves in 2015. His contributions on the court this year have been an absolute minimum. In 38 games, he managed 3.2 points and 3.9 rebounds on 14 minutes a night; a far cry from the 24-point, 14-rebound player of old.
KG has another year on his contract and no one is quite sure as to whether he will return or not. Between his dwindling contributions and injury troubles last year, it is difficult to find many reasons for him to return, but it seems like he will. That is certainly what the Minnesota owner Glen Taylor thinks:
For the Timberwolves, losing KG might not seem like a big deal but it would most definitely be. Although he might not play much of a role on the court anymore, his off-court role on this young team has been and will continue to be vital.
Garnett is the veteran leader that steadies this young ship and he makes all of his teammates better with his example, bestowing them with the same gritty mindset that helped him become a champion. Jared Sullinger, who played with Garnett in Boston, knows how much the big man helps the prospects.
“He helped me out,” Sullinger said, via Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe. “Every little minor mistake and every little good thing I did in my rookie year, he would point it out and try to help me become better and understand the game even better.”
If a bit of Garnett can rub off on Karl-Anthony Towns, for example, a good player and future star will be getting even better and more prepared to compete. Towns’ father called KG “the best thing to happen” to his son and Karl-Anthony is aware of the influence, as he wrote in GQ:
“Nothing he does surprises me anymore. KG is one of a kind… I think everyone needs his energy. It pushes us to be great. When you have someone who is so energetic, so passionate, that passion starts to flow through you. For us, it's a big boost when we make a layup to see how happy he is. It makes us want to keep making our brother happy.”
Losing Garnett might not hurt Minnesota much on the floor but it will hurt their development in so many other ways. It would be devastating.
Paul Pierce – L.A. Clippers
Like everyone on this list so far, The Truth has had a long and glittering career. The 38-year-old is a former NBA champion and is high up in many categories in Celtics history and in NBA history. He is one of three players to put up 20,000 points with the Celtics alone and has their record for three-pointers, in which he is also fourth in NBA history, and steals, while sitting only behind John Havlicek in points. There is a reason Shaq called him ‘The Truth.’
Like everyone else, though, his role is diminishing. After a solid year with Washington, he returned to California to reunite with Doc Rivers on the Clippers and to push for another title, having been successful together with Garnett in Boston. Pierce, for the first time in his career, was not a regular starter and could only score 6.1 points per game; well below his career average of 20.
This role is something that will be on Pierce’s mind when he considers retirement.
“I thought I had one more good year [this past season], but obviously I didn’t like how it all went with my role,” he said to Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe. “To come back and sit 82 games, I don’t know if I can do that.”
Pierce certainly seems to be in two minds.
“Right now, it’s 50-50,” Pierce said to Rowan Kavner of NBA.com. “If I don’t feel that feel, that fire’s not there, then it’s going to be tough (to keep playing).”
“Really, it’s all about how I feel mentally, getting up and I’m thinking about the grind… You can take the grind once you are in it, but getting ready for the grind is the hard part,” Pierce said, via Washburn.
And even if The Truth feels up to it, his family plays heavily on his mind.
“I get 51 percent of the vote and the rest of [the family] gets 49,” he said to Washburn. “[My wife’s] input carried a lot of weight. We’ll figure out some things… If I come back, it will be one more [season] and that will be it. No doubt.”
For the Clippers, the loss of Pierce should not be much of a problem. While skilled veterans play a key role on every contender, like Richard Jefferson on the Cavs, Pierce is hardly irreplaceable, as sad as it is.
The Clippers struggle to make deep drives into the playoffs, sparking rumours of a potential fire sale, so clearly something more is missing from this team than veteran wingmen.
Still, the loss of The Truth would be sad for the league.
Can you imagine an NBA without Kobe, Duncan, KG or Paul Pierce without crying?