It’s not uncommon for older NBA players to try and find a way to stay around the game as long as possible. While we witness players in leagues such as the NFL retiring at an increasingly early age, a basketball player retiring early is becoming rare. Even if they aren’t able to keep playing in the NBA until they’re hovering around the age of 40, the rise of international professional leagues has allowed many to continue playing overseas to finish out their career. There have been some notable examples of this over the past decade, and it’s now a consistent option for players on the bubble in the NBA.
Of course, there are some veteran players who are able to stay in the NBA for the long haul. It gets to the point where they’re nothing more than peripheral bench players (after playing starter-esque minutes for their entire career), and it can be difficult to remember that they’re still active. These players are the true iron-men of the league, and have defied the odds to remain in the NBA, long after their expected expiration date.
Ranked below are 10 basketball players you forgot are still playing overseas, and 7 still in the NBA.
17. Andray Blatche: Overseas
A former hopeful for the Wizards in the mid-2000s, Blatche actually had a fairly successful NBA career considering he almost wasn’t drafted at all. When he hung it up with the Nets in 2014, he went to play in China for the Xinjiang Flying Tigers, where he is still active to this day. It’s safe to say that he’s been more statistically impressive overseas than he ever was in the NBA, even if he was a solid contributor during his heyday in Washington.
He’ll probably end up retiring there, but at the age of 31, Blatche still has a fair amount of time to continuing playing the game, if he wants to. Getting drafted into the NBA out of high school allowed him to change the trajectory of his career while he was still young enough, and has found a niche situation that is working out well in him for the moment, in China.
16. Udonis Haslem: NBA
One of the true NBA success stories of all-time, Haslem went from being an undrafted rookie, to having a consistent spot as a contributor on the Heat since 2003. It’s easy to forget how long he’s not only been in the league, but been on the same team this entire team. He was never a star, not even close, but Haslem is the kind of role player that is an integral part of every winning team. At the age of 37, he’s still going strong in Miami, against all odds.
Sure, he’s not even the player he was a few years ago, but he’s definitely still a key piece to the Heat just because of his tenure with the team. He won’t be making any headlines for his play anymore, but Haslem still deserves more credit as a notable NBA veteran.
15. JJ Hickson: Overseas
Another washout for the Cavaliers as a 1st-round pick, Hickson had both good and poor NBA seasons alike. He would occasionally show flashes of brilliance, and then be completely anonymous in some games. That lack of consistency eventually led to him being. journeyman player, and now he’s out of the league all together, now playing in China for his second season, for the Jiangsu Tongxi.
Still under the age of 30, Hickson still has a lot of game left in him, and a return to the NBA can’t be ruled out entirely. He may not have been a great player, but he was good enough to stay around the league for over five years, which has to count for something. Still, you won’t be hearing much of him if he decides to stay in the CBA, which is probably the most likely scenario.
14. Samuel Dalembert: Overseas
Dalembert was a quality defensive center for many years in the NBA, and was able to see the Sixers through a good portion of the Allen Iverson period, and man down the paint. At the age of 36, however, there’s just not a market for him in the current status of the league, and he’s been in China for the past three years, lacing it up for the Shangxi Zhongyu.
His NBA days are definitely done, but Dalembert can look back on his career with pride, knowing that he was at least able to stay in the league for over a decade, which is an accomplishment in and of itself. He’ll finish off his career overseas, and then have a wealth of options to continue working in basketball if he so chooses. For now, he’s still active in the CBA however.
13. David West: NBA
Once one of the best all-around players in the league, West held up his end of the bargain when he was drafted in the 1st-round by the Hornets in 2003. He stayed almost a decade in New Orleans, and while the team never achieved massive success, he was by far their most steady player during that time, and gave them an elite presence when they had no others to their name.
Predictably, he’s now playing the role of a journeyman to give elite teams some presence on the bench. He was with the Spurs last season, and has made his way to Golden State, for what may end up being his final season this year. You won’t find his name popping up on many post-game reports, but West still has value as a veteran player who’s been there and done that.
12. Jason Thompson: Overseas
Thompson wasn’t an outright disaster in the NBA, but he definitely didn’t live up to his 12th-overall draft position during his time with the Kings. This led him onto a few different league rosters, but he was a decided backup by that point. With his playing time dwindling by the year, it’s tough to blame him for signing with the Turkish team Fenerbahce for this season, and possibly beyond.
He definitely could have stayed on an NBA roster, but still at a relatively young 31, playing time is desirable for Thompson, and ultimately that will give him the most fulfillment. A return to the NBA is still possible, but for now Thompson is doing just fine playing in Turkey, in all likelihood.
11. Nick Collison: NBA
Whether or not Collison has lived up to his 12th-overall draft selection is up for debate, but there’s a reason why he’s been such an effective player off the bench for so many years now. It’s easy to forget that he’s still in the league, and he’s still on the same team he’s been on since his entrance into the league. The Thunder have been lucky to have such stability on the back end of their roster for this amount of time.
Collison’s time is probably coming to an end soon, given that he’s in his late-30s. He’s not really a candidate to play overseas for any amount of time, but he should be able to finish out his NBA career in Oklahoma City with his head held high.
10. Robert Sacre: Overseas
After holding onto a spot with the Lakers for four years after they took a flyer on him as a late 2nd-round pick, Sacre has finally made the move overseas, which is probably the best thing for his career at this point. He got marginal minutes with a rebuilding L.A. roster during that time, and now that they have acquired more legitimate talent, there really wasn’t a place for him going forward.
He signed on with the Hitachi Sun-Rockers Tokyo Shibua of the Japanese B-League this year. While that’s not exactly a great endorsement of his game, it at least gives him a chance to work his way back into a prominent role with some kind of a notable team. His NBA days do seem to be over, however.
9. Jeremy Evans: Overseas
Like so many others, Evans was only able to hang on as a bubble player on NBA rosters for so long before there just wasn’t a market for him anymore. A former 2nd-round pick, the odds were always long for him to make any kind of a long-term impact on any one roster. He signed with Russian club BC Khimki during last season, ostensibly to begin his run playing overseas.
While he had a brief resurgence this season for the Hawks, he’s since been released yet again, and you can bet that he’ll be returning to some overseas team for the remainder of this season, or as the NBA season winds to a close. Evans simply can’t be counted to contribute in the U.S. anymore, at any level.
8. Damien Wilkins: NBA
Another undrafted success story, Wilkins admittedly has spent some significant time playing overseas in combination with his history in the NBA. It looked like that was there he was destined to spend the rest of his career, until the Pacers inked him to a deal for this season. It’s his first NBA action since 2013, and will give any overseas player hope of one day playing more time at the highest level.
He won’t be making significant contributions at the age of 37, but it’s a noteworthy story nonetheless. This may be the last year we’ll catch Wilkins in the NBA, but it proves that a comeback is possible for anyone, even if they were a marginal NBA talent to begin with.
7. Josh Childress: Overseas
He had a few decent seasons in Atlanta, but make no mistake, Childress is an NBA bust. With a 6th-overall selection, you should feel comfortable in getting a player that can be an integral part of your roster for the long-term, and Childress was anything but that for the Hawks. Upon his departure in 2008, it wasn’t long before he was out of the league all together, not even being able to remain a peripheral player of any roster.
He’s spent time in the Japanese B-league since then, and he’s currently playing in Australia in the National Basketball League. It’s his second stint down under, and it’s beginning to look increasingly less likely that he’ll land back on an NBA roster at any time. Childress was a massive disappointment in the NBA, no two ways about it.
6. Jason Terry: NBA
Talk about a player that’s defied the test of time, and been able to be a contributor all the way through his lengthy carer, Terry is simply one of the best point guards of his generation. Playing on a Bucks team that’s now dominated by a ton of young talent hasn’t given him the recognition that he deserves, but he’s been a pillar of durability in his NBA career.
His best years of course came with the Hawks, and then he was able to help lead the Mavericks to an NBA Title. Even in his less-important roles, he’s still been a key veteran leader, and every so often can still flash the brilliance that he displayed for so many years. Terry is one of the best to do it over the last 20 years, and he’s been generally overlooked for a while now.
5. Josh Smith: Overseas
There’s no denying that Smith was a talented NBA player for a long time, and helped make the Hawks a contender in multiple seasons. He was a former 1st-round pick, and mostly lived up to that billing with Atlanta, at his height almost averaging a double-double. He’s only 31-years-old, but he was drafted coming out of high school, so it’s not a surprise he’d want to take his career in a different direction.
He’s played in both China and Israel in recent years, and done quite well for himself all things considered. He’s back in the NBA for now, having just very recently signed with the Pelicans, but there’s a good chance that this is just a stopgap signing, and that he’ll be released before the end of the season. Smith’s future seems to remain overseas.
4. Jamal Crawford: NBA
Once considered to be the player that would help lead Chicago out of the Michael Jordan era the first time around, Crawford instead just became a really solid NBA player for a bunch of different teams. He’s now lending his services to a young Timberwolves team that figures to compete for the foreseeable future, and that’s probably the best use of his skills at the moment.
He’s not going to be the one getting the press on that team, but his insight and veteran leadership has to be invaluable. He’s near the end of his rope in the NBA, but he’s been able to remain a viable force for so long, and now is able to impart his wisdom onto a young team that will be contending in the near future.
3. Jimmer Fredette: Overseas
Formerly a darling of March Madness while with BYU, Fredette was predictably never able to succeed at the NBA level. His game was based too much off of unorthodox shots and a playing style that wasn’t sustainable. He slowly deteriorated at the NBA level after being a 10th-overall pick, and was out of the league shortly.
If he still wants to play however, the CBA is probably his best option, and you can find him on the Shanghai Sharks right now, essentially admitting that. It’s tough t0 blame Fredette for his overall NBA failure, because the hype train wasn’t something that he asked for, but the reality is that he just wasn’t going to be able to play long-term in the NBA. His skill set and playing style were never compatible.
2. Stephon Marbury: Overseas
It’s been a tale of two careers for Marbury, who was undoubtedly one of the biggest stars in the league during his time with the Timberwolves, Nets, Suns and Knicks, the former 4th-overall pick was definitely a dynamic player. Although he never led any team to the postseason success that some thought he should have, there was no denying that his ability was up there with the best the game had to offer.
The decision to start an entire new run in China was ahead of its time, but it’s been beneficial to Marbury’s career on the whole of it. Many NBA fans may not be aware of the extent of the success he’s achieved in the CBA, which includes a fair amount of crossover appeal as well. Marbury served as a precedent for players who want to move internationally in the present day.
1. Vince Carter: NBA
Unbelievably, one of the best players of his generation is still going in the league after a career that has spanned nearly two decades. Carter has served the role as both an elite player who received the bulk of the headlines, and a veteran leader whose value resides more in his experience and teaching ability. The latter is where he stands now in Sacramento, and his versatility is a large reason why he’s been able to play for such a long time at the highest level.
Carter will no doubt soon retire, but he’ll likely be a Hall Of Fame player when it’s all said and done. He’s certainly done enough to warrant such an honor, and is one of the more notable players of the last 20 years. It’s easy to forget that he’s still active on a roster right now, but at the same time it’s not surprising to see such an elite player still going strong, albeit in a reduced role.
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