The decade of the 2000s is looked upon by many NBA enthusiasts as a bit of a down decade, but I don't see that to be the case at all. Perhaps everyone was still upset at the retirement of Michael Jordan (and no, Jordan will not be on this list as I really like to pretend that those years in Washington never happened), but in my mind, new stars emerged and brought the NBA to the next level.
We saw the best dunk contest performance that we'll likely ever see to start out the decade (more on that with #15) and some of the guys that we looked at as kids during the 90s grew up and became some of the most dominant and influential players in NBA history, winning MVP awards and NBA titles and setting records and everything in between.
Now, I know the title of this article is "Where Are They Now?", but some of these guys are actually still playing in the league so I'll fill you in on where everybody is at this point in time. As for those guys that are retired, they're not too far removed from the game and will always be a huge part of the legacy of this great decade.
15 Vince Carter
THEN: Vince Carter started out the year 2000 with a bang. Yes, he was on a pretty lackluster Toronto Raptors team, but he was becoming a star and his display in the 2000 dunk contest was arguably the greatest display that the contest has ever seen...and yes, I'm putting that above any dunk contest that Jordan or Dominique ever won. I mean, the guy put his arm through the rim.
But outside of his dunking ability (let's certainly not forget that he jumped over a 7-footer at the Olympics in Sydney), Vince Carter became a very good basketball player. Unfortunately, people just weren't able to see it due to the fact that he played in Toronto, although he did help lead the Raptors to their first playoff berth. His jumper developed as the decade went on and after going to the Nets, he was on display a bit more but his teams just could never make the jump to that next level.
14 Ray Allen
THEN: I don't care if it's then or if it's now, Ray Allen has the prettiest jumper the world has ever seen and three teams were lucky enough to have him during this decade of his career. He started in Milwaukee, the team that drafted him in 1996, moved to Seattle and had some great individual success there, scoring a career-high 26.4 points per game in the 2006-07 season. He also broke the NBA record for most three-pointers made in a season (a record which has since been obliterated by Stephen Curry) and scored a career-high 54 points in a 2007 game against the Jazz. Following that season, he was traded to the Boston Celtics to and would be a major part of Boston's Big Three that also included Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. The trio would lead the Celtics to their first title in more than two decades in 2008. In the Game 6 clincher against the rival Lakers, Allen tied an NBA record with seven triples in the blowout victory.
13 Tony Parker
THEN: The first on this list not to play all 10 seasons of the decade, Tony Parker certainly made the most of his eight years in the NBA in the 2000s. Taken with the 28th pick of the 2001 NBA Draft, the Spurs found a gem in Parker as he became the floor leader of the San Antonio Spurs and the Frenchman quickly became a star and won three NBA Championships during the decade, also winning the NBA Finals MVP in 2007 after averaging 24.5 points and shooting 56.8% from the floor to go along with a 57.1% mark from the three-point line. He became the first European-born player to win the award.
12 Tracy McGrady
THEN: Tracy McGrady may have never turned into the leader that everyone wanted him to be, but he could put up points in bunches and do it with style. After signing a six-year deal with the Orlando Magic following his three-year tenure in Toronto, where he felt he played second fiddle to Vince Carter, T-Mac was the focal point in the Magic offense after Grant Hill went down with yet another injury and he flourished in the role, averaging 26.8 points per game in his first year, 25.6 in his second year and won the scoring title in his next two seasons. But problems with management led him to being traded to the Houston Rockets in 2004. McGrady continued to produce but injuries began to slow him down towards the end of the decade and his teams just couldn't get anything done in the playoffs.
11 Paul Pierce
THEN: In the long and storied history of the Boston Celtics, Paul Pierce (who actually grew up as a Lakers fan) will go down as one of the top five to ever play for the franchise...and that's saying something. He made an immediate impact on the team and along with Antoine Walker, Pierce led Boston to their first playoff berth in seven years in 2002 and got as far as the Eastern Conference Finals, a series in which he played extremely well, before falling to the New Jersey Nets. Pierce would only get better as the decade rolled on and was finally given some help prior to the 2007-08 season when the team acquired Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. Boston's Big Three would go on to win the NBA Finals by defeating the rival Lakers and Pierce was named the NBA Finals MVP and called out Lakers star Kobe Bryant by proclaiming that he and not Bryant was the best player in the world. That may have never been true, but he's certainly one of the best players of the decade.
10 Steve Nash
THEN: Some might put Steve Nash higher on this list, but the fact that he couldn't win an NBA Championship or even get to the NBA Finals puts him in this spot for me. Yes, he was the winner of back-to-back MVP awards in 2005 and 2006...and deservedly so. When Nash returned to Phoenix following six seasons in Dallas, the Suns won 33 more games than they had the previous season. Nash, perhaps the best of all-time in the pick and roll offense, was the first non-American to win the MVP but perhaps an even more impressive stat is that throughout the 2000s, he actually shot a better percentage than Ray Allen. He was the floor leader for the highest-scoring team in the league for many years but his teams could only ever make it as far as the Western Conference Finals.
9 Dwyane Wade
THEN: The Miami Heat had existed for nearly a quarter of a century when Dwyane arrived in 2003 and had some notable players such as Glen Rice, Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway come through, but if there's anyone that will forever be linked to the franchise, it's Dwyane Wade. For six seasons in the 2000s, Wade became an immediate star and led the Heat to their first NBA Championship in 2006, just his third season in the NBA and took home Finals MVP honors in the process, averaging 34.7 points per game, including 42 in Game 3 and 36 in the Game 6 clincher over the Mavericks. Wade's ability to get to the rim, combined with great defensive play easily gets him in the top ten of the decade.
8 Dirk Nowitzki
THEN: Dirk Nowitzki may go down as the greatest international player in the history of the NBA. I mean, a 7-footer isn't supposed to be able to shoot like that, right? Given Dirk's field goal percentage in the 2000s, you'd think that he was simply playing the center position like a lot of big men that came before him, but the majority of his time is spent on the perimeter (more like Larry Bird than Bill Russell, am I right?) and he proved for all 10 seasons of the decade that he could hang with anybody and be a premier player in the NBA, evidenced by his MVP win in 2007, becoming the first European player to win the award. The Mavericks made the playoffs nine of those ten seasons, including a trip to the NBA Finals in 2006 and Nowitzki only got better as the decade went on.
7 Jason Kidd
THEN: Jason Kidd, although he'll be a Hall of Famer as soon as he becomes eligible, may be one of the most overlooked stars of the decade and perhaps one of the most overlooked in NBA history. It's hard to even get close to averaging a triple-double over the course of a season, but look at those stats above and you'll see that Jason Kidd, a 6'4" (at best) guard came really close to accomplishing that for an entire decade. His ability to see the floor, his passing and rebounding ability, along with his defensive prowess, made him a threat on both ends of the floor and an improved jumper as the decade went on only made him more dangerous.
6 LeBron James
Accomplishments: 5x All-Star, 1x NBA MVP, 5x All-NBA, 1x All-Defense, 1x NBA Scoring Champion, 2003 NBA Rookie of the Year
THEN: When the history of the NBA is written someday, LeBron James will likely be higher than sixth on an all-time list, but seeing as we're talking about one certain decade, I think this is where he belongs...and part of that is due to the fact that he only played in six of the ten seasons I'm talking about. But what an impact he made. The NBA has never seen an athlete like LeBron James and he almost immediately turned around the Cleveland Cavaliers. A team that had gotten close to glory in the late 80s and early 90s had turned into a laughing stock until LeBron arrived, leading the Cavs to the NBA Finals in just his fourth season. He also would win his first MVP during this decade and also become the all-time leading scorer in Cavaliers history.
5 Allen Iverson
THEN: Love him or hate him, Allen Iverson was incredible. And if he had won even one NBA title, he might be even higher up on this list than number five. In 2001, the season when he won MVP, A.I. put the Philadelphia 76ers on his back and carried them all the way to the NBA Finals, even taking Game 1 in L.A. in dramatic fashion before losing to the Lakers. Iverson won his second consecutive scoring title the following season but injuries derailed the team's season and they were never able to follow up the success they had at the start of the decade.
In 2006, 10 ten years in Philly and the highest scoring average in team history (yeah, that's a franchise that saw Julius Erving, Moses Malone and Charles Barkley roll through town), Iverson was traded to Denver, where he spent a few seasons before bouncing around to Detroit and Memphis. Allen Iverson's drive and toughness are what made him and while the center of a lot of controversy at times, there's no doubt that he made his mark on the NBA in the 2000s. And if nothing else, he's got the single greatest rant in the history of sports.
4 Kevin Garnett
THEN: Kevin Garnett helped redefine what it was to be a seven-footer. I'm not saying that he had the complete range of Dirk Nowitzki, but he could hit that jumper from the top of the key when he needed to and I don't know if there's ever been as fierce of a player as KG. Just ask those who played against him. For years and years, the Minnesota Timberwolves were never thought of as a serious contender. But Garnett changed all of that with his winning mentality and actually led Minnesota to the Western Conference Finals in 2004 during his MVP-winning season. But they could never follow up that success and missed the playoffs altogether the following year and only won 33 games the year after that. Fed up, Garnett would finally listen to trade offers that he said he never would and was eventually dealt to the Boston Celtics in 2007 and won that elusive title in his first year there, also winning the Defensive Player of the Year.
3 Shaquille O'Neal
THEN: I might catch a little heat for putting Shaq at number three but I'm prepared to deal with that. Shaq had himself one hell of a decade, beginning with three consecutive titles to start the 2000s, winning NBA Finals MVP in each of those series. He and Kobe Bryant seemed to be destined to become the most formidable one-two punch in NBA history, but some controversy with a toe injury, a loss in the NBA Finals in 2004 (remember when Karl Malone and Gary Payton were on the Lakers?) and trouble in paradise with rising star Kobe Bryant got Shaq sent packing to Miami. But that didn't stop the big fella as he teamed with Dwyane Wade to win his fourth NBA title of the decade. As the years went on, Shaq's production became less and less as he bounced around the league as his career came to an end, but there is certainly no denying that Shaquille O'Neal was one of the biggest forces the NBA has ever seen...no matter what decade it is.
2 Tim Duncan
THEN: Is he a center? Is he a power forward? It doesn't really matter, does it? Tim Duncan was one of the the most fundamentally sound players in NBA history and it was on full display during his prime in the 2000s. Learning from David Robinson certainly didn't hurt as Duncan would win two NBA MVP awards, win three NBA titles, two NBA Finals MVP trophies and was named to the All-NBA and All-Defense teams every single year of the decade. And as you see from the numbers above, he averaged a double-double for the entire decade as well and cemented his place as one of the greatest players in NBA history.
1 Kobe Bryant
THEN: On the opposite end of the spectrum from Tim Duncan is Kobe Bryant, who played with a fire perhaps not seen since Michael Jordan in his prime, especially during his prime in this decade. While playing what some would call "second fiddle" to Shaquille O'Neal at the start of the 2000s, the Lakers do not win any of those titles without Kobe and he certainly pulled his own weight, so much so that the Lakers saw their future in him and moved Shaq out of town, which was probably a mistake as L.A. probably had a few more titles in them if those two huge egos could have co-existed. Nevertheless, after a few down years, Kobe would lead the Lakers to another title at the end of the decade and one more as the decade turned. While mainly known for his offense, Kobe was often overlooked by fans as one of the better defenders in the league during a decade in which defense was often overlooked as a whole. Like Duncan, he made the All-NBA and All-Defensive Team all ten years of the 2000s, won an MVP, two scoring titles, an NBA Finals MVP and had an 81-point game against Toronto in 2006, which was just enough to put him slightly above Duncan for player of the decade on this list.
NOW: Kobe Bryant was never beloved in opposing NBA arenas but was always respected and that was on display during his final season in 2015-16 after injuries had forced him out of the three previous seasons. He scored 60 points in his final game on April 13, 2016 against the Utah Jazz and retired as a five-time NBA champion. Since his retirement, Kobe has been seen on numerous commercials and recently launched Bryant-Stibel, a venture capital firm focused on numerous businesses in the media and technology world.
Leave A Comment
Looking for an AD FREE EXPERIENCE on TheSportster?Get Your Free Access Now!