NBA about to undergo a major generation shift

Over the course of his 19-year career, before retiring this summer, Jason Kidd logged exactly 39 days of his life on the court in NBA games. That’s the equivalent of 56,199 minutes spread across the regular season and playoffs, good for third-most in league history behind Kareem Abdul Jabbar (66,297 minutes, 46 days) and Karl Malone (62,759 minutes, 43.6 days).

Put in those terms, it’s staggering the contributions these men have made to the game, and looking down the lists of players who’ve logged the most minutes both in the regular season and overall in the NBA, the names stick out. These are certainly not scrubs, not even just journeymen. Many are former All-Stars, future Hall of Famers. All are respected, all winners.

Now, Kidd is retired, off to coach the Nets, and with that in mind, another look at that list hints at something even bigger: Kidd may have been the first domino to fall.

Among the players who are in the Top 50 all-time in either overall or regular-season minutes, 14 were active in 2012-13, in roles as varied as Kobe Bryant’s on the Lakers (irreplaceable) to Juwan Howard’s on the Heat (essentially a coach). They’re some of the biggest names in the league, for the most part – some for their contributions even last season, others for what they’ve accomplished over many years in recent memory.

ACTIVE PLAYERS: ALL-TIME REGULAR SEASON MINUTES RANK:

No. 3: Jason Kidd: 50,110 minutes                            (No. 3, 56,199 minutes, reg and post)
No. 6: Kevin Garnett: 47,801 min.                               (No. 10, 52,834 min., reg and post)
No. 12: Kobe Bryant: 45,390 min.                                 (No. 7, 54,030 min., reg and post)
No. 14: Ray Allen: 44,408 min.                                    (No. 15, 49,947 min., reg and post)
No. 20: Tim Duncan: 41,445 min.                                 (No. 16, 49,594 min., reg and post)
No. 25: Paul Pierce: 40,360 min.                                  (No. 25, 45,768 min., reg and post)
No. 27: Dirk Nowitzki: 39,975 min..                               (No. 27, 45,255 min., reg and post
No. 40: Steve Nash: 37,755 min.                                 (No. 37, 42,043 min., reg and post)
No. 42: Andre Miller: 37,572 min..                                (No. 60, 39,357 min., reg and post)
No. 43: Vince Carter: 37,268 min.                                (No. 57, 39,629 min., reg and post)
No. 44: Antawn Jamison: 37,389 min.                           (No. 63, 38,994 min., reg and post)
No. 48: Juwan Howard: 36,652 min.                             (No. 72, 37,511 min., reg and post)
No. 50: Shawn Marion, 36,589 min.                              (No. 52, 40,208 min., reg and post)
No. 54: Rasheed Wallace: 36,243 min.                          (No. 35, 42,082 min., reg and post)

Look at that list, which includes three players for who 2012-13 was their final season: Kidd, Rasheed Wallace and Juwan Howard, who is all but retired but has not formally announced as much. Look at that list and notice that the youngest players on it – Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion – will be 35 when the regular season begins this fall. They’re nearly two decades deep into their careers. They’re old, at least in NBA terms.

An era is about to end.

Realistically, none of these 14 players will be active in five years. At that time, the youngest among them will be 40. In fact, it may take only three years to clear the remaining 11 from the NBA’s rosters. Between them, these men have won 19 championships and earned 112 All-Star berths, and soon, they’ll be gone. Replaced, of course, by a new generation of stars, but with so many of these players still contributing, still winning, their exits are going to leave at least something of a talent void. It will likely alter, at least in a minor way, the power structure of the league today.

Eleven of those 14 players were on playoff teams last season – eight as significant contributors. Two won the championship with Miami. In fact, the Heat would have lost to the Spurs in six games if it hadn’t been for Ray Allen’s miracle 3-pointer. If the Spurs had won, that would have meant a championship for another member of the list, Tim Duncan.

In addition, the three men on the list who didn’t make the playoffs in 2013 played for the Mavericks, and two, Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion, won a championship two years ago.

These are the league’s esteemed old men, except of course that many of them are still playing like they’re much younger – or at least they were last season. Now, though, Bryant is sidelined with a torn Achilles tendon, and Garnett and Pierce were dumped upon the Nets in the hopes that they might be able to give one last good season to Mikhail Prokhorov’s crazy dream. Nowitzki is mired on another likely loser after the Mavericks failed in the Dwight Howard sweepstakes, so who knows what will happen to him. The power shifts are already occurring, even if they’re just a quiet rumbling, and no matter how good many of these men looked just a few months ago, age and wear and common sense say that won’t last long.

If it sounds dramatic, well, it kind of is.

This all gets more interesting when one considers the past five seasons and who among these minutes leaders retired over that span. It’s a much shorter list: Shaquille O’Neal (No. 19 in regular season minutes, No. 13 in regular and postseason minutes combined), Michael Finley (No. 38, No. 38), Allen Iverson (No. 41, No. 43) and Dikembe Mutumbo (No. 47, No. 53). Not only did none of these men log the minutes that Kidd, Bryant, Garnett and Allen already have, but there are only four of them, compared to this list of 14 who will retire in the next half-decade.

It’s a much larger loss of talent that we’re about to see than we have in the recent past, and if this last handful of years has marked an especially high level of talent in the NBA, that could be in part because there simply hasn’t been the attrition. Talent comes in waves, and this wave is in its final years.

That’s not to say the NBA is about to lose its appeal, or even that the talent level will fall off precipitously. Rather, it’s just a signal of a generational shift, and with that shift, some of the youngest generation of stars will mature into bigger roles. They’re former lottery picks, some of whom still play on bad or mediocre teams and who might be able to propel those teams upward. Other teams, like the Lakers, Mavericks and Celtics, will likely see themselves relegated to the lower rungs of the league’s power structure, at least in the short term.

That’s the reality: stars age, talent redistributes, and we move on. It just doesn’t usually happen in such volume.