Welcome to this week’s edition of The Friday Five! The Friday Five is a feature that I post every Friday in which I give my thoughts on a topic that’s related to NBA Live, NBA 2K, and other basketball video games, as well as the real NBA, and other areas of interest to our community. The feature is presented as either a list of five items, or in the form of a Top 5 countdown. This week’s Five is a list of five NBA players whose careers petered out, with their final seasons being somewhat forgotten.
Not all NBA players get a big send-off, or season-long retirement tour. Even if they were big stars at one point, some players end up spending their latter part of their careers in relative obscurity. There are many causes of that phenomenon, from injuries and basketball-related reasons to unfortunate personal problems. Whatever the case may be, for some fallen stars, it’s easy to forget the brief stints they had with certain teams towards the end of their careers. Indeed, it sometimes comes as a surprise when you look back and realise how long their careers lasted, or how recently they retired.
You’ll often come to those realisations when you fire up old basketball video games. When I cover those older titles for features such as Wayback Wednesday, I’m not only reminded of the experiences I had with those games, but of what the league looked like at the time. Old games serve as a time capsule for seasons gone by, making them effective reminders of the often overlooked later seasons of many players’ careers. For this week’s Friday Five, I’m taking a look back at the forgotten final seasons of five players who were big names at one point, but became somewhat overlooked as their careers wound down.
1. Glen Rice (2004)
A consistent 20 ppg scorer through most of his prime, Glen Rice established himself as an All-Star by the mid 90s. The 1995 Three-Point Shootout champion, Rice was one of the league’s most prolific and accurate scorers from downtown, though he also had a nice offensive repertoire inside the arc. His fall from superstardom began during the lockout season of 1999, when he was traded from the Charlotte Hornets to the Los Angeles Lakers for Eddie Jones. The third option behind Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, Rice’s numbers naturally declined. He was still effective in his role however, and helped the Lakers win the championship in 2000.
Rice was traded to the New York Knicks before the 2001 season. Although he posted respectable numbers during his one year stint as a sixth man behind Allan Houston and Latrell Sprewell, it was the beginning of his forgotten final seasons in the league. After being traded to the Houston Rockets and becoming a starter again, injuries limited him to twenty games in his first season with the team. He was chiefly a reserve again in 2003 – Yao Ming’s rookie season – and played a final 18 games with the Los Angeles Clippers in 2004. It’s probably safe to say that most fans recall Rice’s time with the Hornets and Lakers, but the rest of his career is generally forgotten.
2. Derrick Coleman (2005)
The first pick in the 1990 NBA Draft, Derrick Coleman was once considered a big part of the NBA’s future, and for good reason. His numbers through his first five seasons with the New Jersey Nets were impressive. He was a good scorer with admirable three-point abilities for a power forward of the era, adept at rebounding, and an adequate defender who could block shots. Coleman’s attitude and competitive drive were often questioned however, and he only made one All-Star team, in 1994. After being traded to the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1996 season, a year where he only played in eleven games due to injury, Coleman was never again a focal player.
Nevertheless, he remained a starter for several years, and was generally the second or third option. Aside from his failure to reach his full potential, one of the main reasons Coleman was somewhat overlooked later in his career was that he had trouble staying healthy. From 1995 onwards, he only played more than 60 regular season games twice, with a total 39 career Playoff games (though his Playoff numbers with the Nets are stellar). It’s a bit surprising to fire up NBA Live 2005 and see Coleman still in the league, as a member of the Detroit Pistons. With so much time spent in street clothes over the years, it seems like he’d bowed out of the league a couple of seasons earlier.
3. Kenny Anderson (2005)
Coleman’s former Nets teammate Kenny Anderson had a similar rise and fall in the NBA. A highly regarded prospect whom the Nets selected second overall in 1991, Anderson ranked amongst the league leaders in assists upon becoming a starter after Mookie Blaylock was traded. Like Coleman, he was an All-Star in 1994, and they seemed primed to be a formidable duo for years to come. It wasn’t to be however, and he was traded to Charlotte in 1996. He then spent a year and a half with the Portland Trail Blazers before being traded to the Toronto Raptors. He refused to report to the team, and was subsequently dealt to the Boston Celtics for a rookie Chauncey Billups.
Anderson spent four and a half seasons with the Celtics, matching his tenure with the Nets. 545 of his 858 career games were spent with those two teams, so most of us generally remember him as a Net or Celtic, and possibly a Blazer (mostly thanks to this play, or maybe this one). What we tend not to remember is that in 2003, he played for the Seattle SuperSonics and the newly relocated New Orleans Hornets. His one season with the Indiana Pacers also tends to go unremembered, as does his final campaign in 2005 with the Atlanta Hawks and the Clippers. There’s an element of “What If?” with Anderson, but he did actually stick around for a while.
4. Vin Baker (2006)
I mentioned Vin Baker in passing in last week’s Friday Five. Another player who had established themselves as a perennial All-Star by the mid 90s, Baker was a bit of an ironman, regularly playing 40 minutes and rarely missing a game. He posted good numbers for some not-so-good Milwaukee Bucks teams, before the three-team trade involving Shawn Kemp and Terrell Brandon gave him an opportunity to play for a Playoff team in Seattle. A weight gain during the lockout and problems with alcohol abuse unfortunately derailed his career. Although he would shed the excess weight, he never regained his All-Star form, and eventually lost his starting role.
As Baker’s career petered out, he bounced around the league a little, finding himself in a much smaller role in his subsequent stops. His last run as a regular starter came with the Celtics, who released him after he was suspended when former coach Jim O’Brien smelled alcohol on him during a practice. His stints with the Knicks and Rockets, totalling 44 games, are largely unmemorable. Baker played eight games with the Clippers in 2006 and did sign with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2007, but was released before playing a single game. Personally, I’ll admit to forgetting about much of his post-Celtics career until recently firing up a couple of old NBA Live games.
5. Nick Van Exel (2006)
If you had to name the teams that Nick Van Exel played for, which ones would you recall? Most likely one of them would be the Lakers, where he spent five seasons and enjoyed an arguably iffy All-Star selection in 1998. You’ll probably remember the Denver Nuggets, where Nick the Quick had some of his best seasons alongside Antonio McDyess. It’s a little easier to forget that he was traded to the Dallas Mavericks for Tim Hardaway, where he became a sixth man. It’s even easier to forget his single season stints with the Golden State Warriors and the Trail Blazers, especially with injuries limiting him to 39 and 53 games with them respectively.
What about his final season in the NBA? If you’ve forgotten that it was in 2006 with the San Antonio Spurs, then I’m right there with you. Looking back on his career, it seems that Van Exel had some very unfortunate timing. After he lost his starting role to Derek Fisher in 1998, the Lakers traded him, resulting in him missing out on their return to championship glory. He signed with the Spurs after they won the title in 2005, only to have them falter in the second round as they attempted to repeat. As with the other players on this list, Van Exel still had quite a respectable career when it’s all said and done. The last few years of it do tend to fly under the radar, though.
Who are some of the players that have stuck around longer than you first recalled? Have you ever had a surprising reminder of a player’s tenure with a team upon playing an old basketball video game? Let me know in the comments section below, and as always, feel free to take the discussion to the NLSC Forum! That’s all for this week, so thanks for checking in, have a great weekend, and please join me again next Friday for another Five.