Old Vets, New Roles
How former perennial All-Stars have changed their role.
There were some notable absentees from the All-Star Game in Phoenix this past weekend. I’m not talking about wannabes like Mo Williams, Kevin Durant or Al Jefferson but, rather, established players who have been to the shin-dig many times over. We expect some players to be at All-Star, yet they missed the invite this season because of a drastically altered role. Are these guys now irrelevant? No. This, is their story.
Jason Kidd: Selected for eight of the past 10 All-Star games.
As someone who resides in that minuscule portion of the population not totally obsessed with scoring, I still see the beauty in Jason Kidd. Sure, his points have taken a dip of monumental proportions, and yes, at 36 he’s not what he once was, but Kidd is still walking that tightrope of taking oh so few shots and controlling games.
Just listen to Rick Carlisle, who positively gushes when he talks about Kidd. Carlisle surrendered all play-calling (he is a coach, remember?) after a recent evisceration in Boston, handing the reigns to Kidd, and the Mavs have responded by winning six of seven. Coincidence? Mark Cuban, never one for anything outrageous, wrote recently about a statistical formula that Dallas uses to evaluate every player in the L. LeBron is numero uno; Kidd is second. We’re talking every player in the game here. I’m not saying it’s gospel, just saying it’s there.
With Jason Terry on the shelf, Kidd will be forced to produce a little more than usual, so don’t let the possibility of ensuing vintage Kidd lines catch you off guard. (Speaking of vintage, I have to point out an oft-overlooked element of the Kidd Experience: His statistical resume. It has added luster of late—he just passed Oscar Robertson to move into fourth all-time in assists. But think about it, Jason Kidd may be the most well-rounded point guard of all time. Stick with me here. He also just passed 15,000 points, he now has more assists than Oscar, more steals than Magic, and is oodles of boards ahead of Stockton, not to mention only eight players ever have made more than his 1400-n-change 3s, which isn’t bad for a guy who (they say) can’t shoot. Just reporting the facts, people.)
Anyway, perhaps the easiest guy to blend with in an All-Star Game—thanks to NBATV for the ridiculous line-up of old ASG’s and reminding me of this—Kidd can play five minutes with someone and make it seem like they’ve been teammates for 10 years. He will be sorely missed.
Steve Nash: Selected for six of the past seven All-Star Games.
The well-publicized (and fashionable) Nash decline needs perspective. Consider the following: He is, after all, 35 years old—just what are we expecting? This year represents his lowest FGA since 2000; he still shoots 180 combined from 1-2-3; his numbers the last two seasons (non-MVP) were better than his prior two (MVP) seasons. Do the math, then slap yourself. Nash is leading a team trying to wade through incessant trade speculation carrying a palpable identity crisis; he’s third in the League in assists, and should he maintain his pace of late, he’ll probably end up leading the League—this in a “Terry Porter system” which is sometimes referred to as a “non-D’Antoni system.” Just keeping it real.
Look, Nash isn’t going to last forever. And he’s not as good as he was last year, when he wasn’t as good as the year before. But this is to be expected. His nightly rigors include resisting the urge to push the preferred tempo, sacrificing his considerable talents, battling genetic back troubles, trying to please the “many mouths to feed” and surviving nights like the recent one in Charlotte, where he had no business showing up to play against a cellar-dweller, struggled mightily, and left Grant Hill openly wondering why Nash had subjected his aching body to a meaningless game.
All this adds up to no All-Star berth, and by no means are these excuses. He even said so. It doesn’t mean his absence should go unnoted, though. The game’s in Phoenix, largely due to his input into the resurgence the city/team has had, and he’s not going to be there. A role reversal on all accounts.
Vince Carter: Second year out; selected for the previous eight All-Star Games.
Vince Carter has experienced a reawakening. Not as VC circa ’01, or as everything that we have wanted him to be since, but as a—pause for effect—leader. Yep, at 32, with a not so flattering statistical response to his 2007 contract notwithstanding, Carter is living in a different place right now. And it’s somewhat admirable, somewhat eerie.
Two things we could easily define VC with – points per and FGA – are at their lowest ebbs since 2003 and his rookie year respectively, but if we’re going to sit here and debate that his game is off, just know that only five guys are at 21-5-5 or above this year: LBJ, Wade, Kobe, Paul, and Carter. And guess who isn’t an All-Star?
For the second straight year VC will not be partaking in All-Star festivities, and unfortunately we’re not totally sure if that bothers him or not. It‘s easy to proclaim what might have been, what talent may have been wasted, what the heck we expect nightly from this guy, but strangely enough, for every negative element to the 2009 version of Vince Carter there is a rebuttal. An explanation. A reasoning?
VC is no longer the Nets’ leading scorer; the suddenly potent Devin Harris is, and he operates from the top of the key on many occasions, leaving Carter as a bystander. VC’s points may be down, but his assists are up. Carter is shooting the 3 as well as he ever has as a Net. Without purposely sounding “Vescey-esque,” someone in the know told me that Carter is “worshipped” by his younger teammates, and VC is quick to point out his guiding hand and affection for them to the media. So it takes a new turn—Vince Carter: Leader.
All this ego-suppression and teammate-friendly contentment has come at a cost as Carter will not be present in Phoenix. No worries, because his Nets may be present come playoff time, something they missed last season. Sacrificing is fun.
Rip Hamilton: Played in the last three All-Star Games.
Any instance where you perform an act 611 times is a big deal. 611 is a lot. So when Michael Curry asked Rip Hamilton, after 611 starts, to come off the bench for the betterment of his team, shock may not adequately describe Rip’s feelings. This season represents some sort of an opposite day feel for Hamilton: He isn’t winning, he isn’t starting, he isn’t the main offensive weapon, he’s isn’t an All-Star, and he’s (most likely) unhappy. Another trip to the East Finals, where the Pistons and Rip have made their home every May since the halcyon days of Zeljko Rebraca, appears highly unlikely.
Hamilton has said all the right things since his demotion. And his play as a reserve would have Ricky Pierce frothing at the mouth; his points are up (from 16.7 per as a starter to 19.9 as a reserve) and his shooting has increased dramatically. Overall, his numbers this year (made up of a mixture of starting and reserve appearances) are practically identical to his career numbers. Thing is, Detroit is no better off as a team since, which was, in a nut shell, the purpose behind the operation.
“I am sacrificing to win games and I am fine with it,” Hamilton told reporters on day one of life as a reserve. So far, he appears to be a man of his word. If production is any indicator, then the role is ideally suited.
Shawn Marion: Selected for four of the last six All-Star Games.
Sometimes I don’t know what to make of Shawn Marion. Tremendous player, very gifted athletically, with a unique ability to do everything well, when Marion barked for a trade from Phoenix two summers back, threatening to remove himself from possibly the most ideal situation, I thought it was insane. Yet, when I spoke to him just a month back prior to a game in Oklahoma City, it was painfully obvious that he just wanted to be appreciated, oblivious to the not so mere fact that he is.
Things aren’t exactly great for Shawn Marion. His fourth straight year of declining numbers, playing in Miami where his role is the great unknown, operating under the impression that today, or tomorrow, could be his last day in that city, playing for that team. Marion isn’t in the most enviable situation known to man.
Yet for all that, his destiny to be overlooked seems to be his fate. So why not just accept it? His salary indicates he’s valued by his team, those who have played with him never say a bad word, and his league-wide respect amongst the players, for how he plays, is without question. But that has never been enough.
And now, just after being dealt for the second time in one year, suffering through injuries, missing his second straight All-Star Game, and putting up numbers that used to constitute 24 minutes of work instead of 48, Marion finds himself staring at his greatest fear: Being undesirable. Hardly playing up to his usual standard, the perception he felt others had of him when he was a regular at the midseason classic apply now, and whether The Matrix can reload—new team or not—is the real issue.
Todd Spehr is a senior writer at Handle Magazine and contributes periodically to SLAMonline.