The average NBA career lasts 4.8 years, according to Business Insider. That’s not bad considering the average NBA player will earn about $24.7 million in those 4.8 years. However, it is a reminder that longevity and the National Basketball Association do not typically go hand in hand. If you declare for the NBA Draft between the ages of 19 and 22, the law of averages state that you’ll be out of the NBA before you hit 30.
While there are players who are complete outliers, either because they’re future Hall of Famers who have managed to stay healthy or have figured out to adjust their game as they age, a vast majority of promising, young players might not be long for the league.
Unless by some miracle these injury-prone prospects never get injured again or their off-court issues solve themselves, there are players who haven’t even reached their primes that might want to consider a plan B since they might not be playing basketball much longer.
Here are 15 players who will retire before 30.
16 Ty Lawson
This coming November, Ty Lawson will turn 30 and it will be an absolute shock if he’s still in the league. The small, speedy point guard may have been a good scorer and ball distributor in Denver, but disastrous stops in Houston, Indiana and Sacramento since the 2015-2016 season has overshadowed Lawson’s once competent play.
Lawson may have been a star in Denver but his drinking problem is now the thing that comes to mind whenever his name is mentioned. On January 23rd, 2015, Lawson was arrested on suspicion of DUI in Denver. He revealed to the police he had an outstanding DUI situation in Missouri, which has never really been cleared up. Seven months later, he was arrested for the same charge in Los Angeles. This month, the Denver Post reported that Lawson had been ordered to appear in court for three failed tests for alcohol during court-ordered supervision in California, violating his probation.
Some team desperate for point guard depth this offseason may look at Lawson, but the 29-year-old is running out of chances. If Lawson doesn’t seek out and stick to treatment, he could be out of the NBA soon.
15 Festus Ezeli
Festus Ezeli, the 27-year-old Nigerian center, was a key rotation player for the Warriors in their 2015 Championship run. On July 7th, 2016, Ezeli signed with the Portland Trailblazers for $15 million over two years. Before he even suited up for the Blazers, Ezeli was ruled out for six weeks after undergoing a left knee injection.
Two months later, Festus suffered a minor setback in his recovery when his left knee started swelling. By mid-December, the Blazers conceded that conservative treatment of Ezeli’s aching left knee wasn’t working and season-ending surgery was imminent. On March 8th, 2017, he finally underwent surgery on his left knee and was shutdown for the season without suiting up once for his new team.
Ezeli will be a free agent in 2018, if he’s not bought out before that, and you have to imagine GMs will be skeptical about adding his knees of glass to the roster.
14 Chandler Parsons
When Chandler Parsons signed a max contract with the Grizzlies this summer, Memphis thought that they had filled their need for an outside shooter. Others were perplexed at the notion that a team would commit so much many to a man made of glass.
In his brief stint with the Mavs, Parsons only played 66 and 61 games. This year with Memphis, his availability has dropped off a cliff, only appearing in 34 games, a career-low. After dealing with various injuries all season long, Chandler Parsons is now out indefinitely with partial meniscus tear in his left knee, the third knee injury in three seasons. At least Grizzlies fans can breathe easy knowing Parsons’ first two surgeries were to his right knee.
When Parsons was playing at the end of Beale street, his mobility looked shot. There was no lift in his legs and he was air balling shots short. It’ll be a miracle if the 28-year-old can mount a comeback. Otherwise, he may have to take up male modelling full-time.
13 O.J. Mayo
Former Milwaukee Bucks guard O.J. Mayo was suspended from the NBA in July for two years after violating the NBA’s anti-drug program and was last seen hunting in traditional garb somewhere in Africa.
Mayo tried to appeal the league’s decision but was denied. TMZ caught Mayo at an airport in August where he said he’ll, “be back soon.” Mayo is currently 29-years-old and isn’t eligible to return until right before his 31st birthday. In two years, league executives probably won’t be too keen on signing a shooting guard that hasn’t played in two years and whose last NBA season was cut short when he fractured his ankle, having "accidentally tripped descending his stairs at home.”
Mayo is better off finding a new line of work as his NBA comeback seems highly unlikely. China could be another option for him.
12 Derrick Rose
After all the knee injuries, it’s evident that Derrick won’t ever return to his MVP form. He’s shown flashes of his former self with the Knicks, but not enough to command a max contract. Regardless of how he’s actually performing, Rose still believes he is worth a Mike Conley-level deal come July, which would approximately be a five-year $150 million.
Rose doesn’t shoot well from behind the arc and doesn’t get to the foul line any more. He’s an inefficient scorer and subpar playmaker at a position loaded with stars. That doesn’t mean some poor team with holes at point guard won’t justify signing paying him an extraordinary amount of money, but given his injury history, civil sexual assault case, going AWOL from the Knicks earlier this season and general pouting, you have to imagine GMs will be reticent to sign Rose. One more outburst, brush with the law or injury could mean it’s all over for Derrick Rose
11 Lance Stephenson
Lance “Born Ready” Stephenson is living on borrowed time. His career got off to a great start as a key member of the Pacers teams who gave LeBron James and the Miami Heat a run for their money. But ever since Lance was caught blowing in LeBron’s ear, things haven’t been so good.
The Pacers reportedly offered him a five-year, $44 million contract in the summer of 2014 after Indiana was eliminated in the Conference Finals by Miami for the second straight year, but Stephenson turned it down believing he was worth more than that. Turns out, he wasn’t and signed a three-year, $27 million contract with the Charlotte Hornets. After one season in Charlotte, he was traded to the Clippers who traded him in February to the Grizzlies for Jeff Green. He then signed with the Pelicans and was waived after sustaining a groin injury on November 4th, 2016, which subsequently ruled him out for six to 10 weeks.
Now, Stephenson is a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves on his second 10-day contract. The fact that the T-Wolves are content with keeping Stephenson on 10-day contracts suggests that they aren’t interested in him long-term. And once Zach LaVine is ready to go next season, Stephenson will be looking for work all over again. He’s still got four years before he turns 30, but he’s grasping at relevance.
10 Thomas Robinson
Thomas Robinson was projected to be a star when he was drafted fifth overall by the Kings in the 2012 NBA Draft. After a stellar junior year at Kansas where he averaged 17.7 ppg and 11.9 rpg, Robinson was going to a cornerstone of the rebuilding Sacramento Kings.
But given the Kings are the most dysfunctional organization in the NBA, things didn’t really work out that way. Midway through his rookie year, Robinson was traded to Houston. He’s since played for Portland, Philadelphia and Brooklyn. You know things are bad when teams that can’t get double digit wins want you.
This September, Robinson signed with the Lakers. This year, he’s played in only 38 games posted a stat line of 3.8 points and 4.3 rebounds for the season. Though he’s only 26-years-old, Robinson doesn’t appear to be in the Lakers' longterm plans with Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr. ahead of him on the depth chart.
9 Derrick Williams
25-year-old, former second overall pick Derrick Williams is playing the best basketball of his career. However, Williams owes the career renaissance to the best player in the world: LeBron James.
Lebron James has a long history of resurrecting careers. J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert had bad reputations before they arrived in Cleveland. Channing Frye was an afterthought with the Magic. Kyle Korver’s production in Atlanta was dropping off until James started feeding him the ball. Derrick Williams is now benefitting from being in King James’s court.
Maybe Williams was never meant to be a star, like the Timberwolves thought he might be when they drafted him second overall in 2011, and will flourish as a role player if a team desperate for wing depth snatches him from the Cavs. However, if a team thinks they can sign him to a big contract and thereby unlock his potential to be a star, don’t be surprised if Williams finds himself on the waiver wire like he has so many times in the past.
8 Terrence Jones
Terrence Jones was this close to becoming the future of the Houston Rockets. He had emerged from the D-League as an energetic, athletic and talented power forward who didn’t seem outmatched, starting 71 games and averaging 12 points, 7 rebounds next to Dwight Howard. Then LaMarcus Aldridge dropped more than 40 on him in back-to-back games and Kevin McHale had to use the dreaded Howard-Omer Asik lineup that never, ever worked.
After that horrible playoff series, Jones was in a car accident that sidelined with a collapsed lung and freak nerve injury. He was never the same in Houston and signed with the New Orleans Pelicans, who would later waive him following the team’s acquisition of DeMarcus Cousins.
Now Jones is eating up the minutes made available by injuries to Jabari Parker and Michael Beasley on the Bucks. However, don’t expect the 25-year-old to stay in Milwaukee long. If Wisconsin isn’t his last NBA stop, there won’t be too many left.
7 Jimmer Fredette
When the Sacramento Kings chose Jimmer Fredette with the 10th pick in the 2011 NBA draft, scouts didn’t know what to make of the Naismith Award winner. Some projected him to be a starter, some thought he would be an elite sixth man, others thought he’d at least be a regular rotation player. Did any of them know he’d be out of the league by 2017?
After three lacklustre seasons with the Kings, Fredette’s contract was bought out on February 27th, 2014 and he spent the next two years bouncing around the NBA and D-League. Most recently, Fredette has become a star in China, shooting 52.5% from the field on 2-point attempts, 47.4% overall from the field (2 point and 3 point attempts combined), 39.6% from 3 point range, and 93.3% from the free throw line. He ranked first in the CBA in points per game scoring average, over all phases of the season and was named the CBA’s International Regular Season MVP.
Could an NBA comeback be in the cards for the 28-year-old BYU product? Not likely. The name “Jimmer Fredette” carries a certain connotation in NBA circles, one that teams would like to steer clear of. He may be on his way to stardom in China, but his NBA days are all but over.
6 Bruno Caboclo
When the Raptors drafted Bruno Caboclo, fans and experts alike were stunned. While it is standard operating procedure in a weak draft to either swing for the fences or draft a reliable role player, Masai Ujiri chose the former and his gamble has yet to pay off.
He was famously summed up on draft night as, “two years away from being two years away.” But it’s now been three years since the Raptors drafted Bruno and Masai recently amended the quote to say, “Some guys are five years away from being five years away,” at his post-trade deadline press conference. While he has all the physical tools to be at least an NBA rotation player, will the Brazilian project ever make it out of the D-League?
With sophomore Norman Powell and rookie Pascal Siakam proving they are more NBA ready than Caboclo, will his name only be remembered on lists of draft busts? At 21, Bruno has plenty of time to develop into the player Masai thought he could be but time is ticking.
5 Joel Embiid
Let me begin by saying I really, really hope I’m wrong. If Joel Embiid has proved one thing in his long-awaited rookie year it’s that the NBA is better with him in it.
But that’s entirely the point. We have already waited two whole years for our first glimpse at The Process and his rookie year, while memorable, was only 31 games-long before he was ruled out for the entire year due to his “slightly torn meniscus.” Now he’s flying all over the United States to get opinions on his knee.
While it’s probably just the 76ers, knowing that the season is over, taking full precaution of their most valuable asset, the 23-year-old center has spent the majority of his career injured, so it’s hard not to be pessimistic.
4 Donatas Motiejunas
Lithuanian forward Donatas Motiejunas was once a key member of the Houston Rockets team, helping the team finish with a 56-26 record to win the Southwest Division before falling to the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. He played 71 games and things started to fall apart after that 71st game, missing the rest of the season and all of the playoffs.
Motiejunas missed the first 20 games of the following season and 45 overall. He was nearly dealt to the Detroit Pistons during last season’s trade deadline until he failed a physical and the trade was rescinded. Back with the Rockets, Motiejunas struggled until he entered a restricted free agency limbo that lasted for months.
After the Rockets renounced their rights to Motiejunas, he signed with the Pelicans where he’s only played in 26 games. The 26-year-old Motiejunas is probably glad to be back playing professionally after the contract dispute, but he’s failed two physicals and was eventually cleared by the medical staff that can’t keep Anthony Davis or Jrue Holiday healthy. That doesn’t bode well for his future. Could he be out of the league sooner than we think?
3 Alec Burks
25-year-old Utah Jazz shooting guard Alec Burks is arguably Utah’s best player in transition, and their most dynamic athlete…when healthy. He’s also one of the top rebounding guards in the NBA and is elite at getting to the free-throw line…when healthy. Unfortunately, whenever we talk about the young guard, we have to use the “when healthy” caveat because Burks hasn’t played much meaningful basketball in the last two years.
In December 2014, Alec Burks was limited to 27 games with shoulder surgery. The following December, Burks required ankle surgery and only appeared in 31 games with the Jazz. Once considered to be a future-franchise cornerstone in Salt Lake City, Burks’s constant health issues has seen Rodney Hood and Joe Ingles take his minutes.
If Burks plays conservatively, he won’t maximize his strengths as a player. If he continues to be aggressive, he will be toeing the injury line. If he is unable to adapt his game and still be effective, the oft-injured Burks will likely be riding off into the Rocky Mountain sunset before age 30.
2 Anthony Bennett
You knew it was coming. The 24-year-old forward from Toronto is a bonafide bust. Four teams in four years for the former first overall draft pick, with the death knell coming from being waived by the Brooklyn Nets in January.
Yes, the Brooklyn Nets, a team desperate for talent as they attempt the never-been-done rebuild without any draft picks, had Anthony Bennett on their roster in hopes of tapping into the potential Cleveland saw in 2013, decided he just wasn’t worth the roster spot.
On January 13th, 2017, Bennett signed with Fenerbahçe of the Turkish Basketball Super League. If things don’t work out in Turkey, that’s it for Bennett.
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