Landon Donovan, Julius Erving, and the unretirement

Landon Donovan
(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

On Thursday, the internet was captivated by of the news of Landon Donovan coming out of retirement to play, once again, for the Los Angeles Galaxy. Donovan, the best American-born men’s soccer player in history, walked away in 2014 following the Galaxy’s victory over the New England Revolution in the MLS Cup. The United States’ all-time leading scorer knocked back 57 goals for country over his 14 years and, controversially, 3 World Cups, but after just 19 months away from the MLS, he’s returning at 34 years-old.

While the reasoning behind Donovan’s return is potentially simple in nature — Donovan is bored and the Galaxy are absolutely ravaged by injury — it asks a very obvious question: does he have anything left in the tank? In order to adequately decide, we must look back through the annals of New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets’ history to figure out what adding some of the franchise’s best-ever 34 year-olds might do for the upcoming 2016-2017 squad.

If Landon Donovan can decide he wants to walk back through those beautiful arches at Stubhub Center, there’s no reason why Sean Marks wouldn’t welcome back these bizarro versions as well!

Julius Erving, 1985-86, Philadelphia 76ers
20.1 PPG, .494 FG%, 3.0 APG, 5.3 RPG, 1.7 SPG, 1.4 BPG, 2.7 TOV

OK, duh — the doctor is here. Although Erving’s experience as a 34 year-old came with the Philadelphia 76ers, the Nets certainly wouldn’t be picky about it. Alongside Moses Malone, Charles Barkley, and Maurice Cheeks, Erving helped lead the Sixers to the Eastern Conference Finals against those historically great Boston Celtics. While the Nets haven’t made it that deep in the playoffs since you-know-when, his statistical input would overshadow much of this current roster significantly.

In 2015-2016, Erving’s nearly-retired self would have ranked 2nd (barely) in PPG (Lopez, 20.6), 3rd in RPG (Young, 9, Lopez 7.8), 1st in SPG, 2nd in BPG (Lopez, 1.7), and 4th in FG% (Reed, 57.1%, Young, 51.4%, and Lopez, 51.1%). While Thaddeus Young, traded this summer to the Indiana Pacers, provided reliable contributions every night, adding Erving would be a key development. Oftentimes, the Nets would run out of answers offensively, settling into that iso-ball that Nets supporters have come to loathe in Brooklyn. Particularly so after Jarrett Jack’s season-ending ACL surgery in January and Joe Johnson’s buy-out, offense was at an absolute premium, so having a go-to scorer like Erving, even at 34, would change the Nets’ DNA entirely.

Aesthetically, who would give up the opportunity to see Dr. J in black and white? More pointedly, who wouldn’t want one of the league’s greatest freak athletes teaching Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Chris McCullough how to dunk with a little swagger?

Vince Carter, 2010-2011, Orlando Magic/Phoenix Suns
14.0 PPG, .437 FG%, 3.8 RPG, 2.0 APG, 0.9 SPG, 0.3 BPG, 1.2 TOV

Here’s one scenario that could have, theoretically, played out in real life, even just this summer. Generally speaking, Vince Carter wearing a Nets jersey again in 2016 would probably be bad for both sides — but would it be fun? Hell yeah. After the Nets traded Carter in 2009 — with Ryan Anderson too for some reason — for Courtney Lee, a distinct part of the franchise’s history died. With Carter, the Nets had a much-needed flavor, an out-of-the-gym dunker, and an eccentric motorcycle-driver, but since then? The most applicable person might just be Gerald Green’s quick cameo in 2011-2012.

Carter should go down as one of the greatest Nets in franchise history — he outlived the Richard Jefferson and Jason Kidd eras and put forth an honest effort when much of the team couldn’t bother. His departure, combined with Yi Jianlian, Devin Harris, and Courtney Lee not morphing into All-Stars, sent the Nets into a tailspin that they still haven’t totally dug themselves out of.

(Note: Here’s the conspiracy theory: Carter is traded, new trio doesn’t work out, Nets plummet to 12-70, miss out on John Wall, need big splash for Brooklyn and trade for Deron Williams, double down and trade for Joe Johnson, quadruple down and trade for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, no draft picks, life is futile…)

In order to break the Nets’ curse, the answer clearly lies in bringing back Vinsanity to right the franchise’s wrongs. Does anyone have Marks’ number? He’ll be thrilled to know that the mystery is solved.

Oh, you didn’t think we’d talk about Carter for 3 paragraphs and not include this, this, or this, right? Take that, but imagine Hollis-Jefferson doing it. You’re welcome.

Rick Barry, 1978-79, Houston Rockets
13.5 PPG, .461 FG%, 3.5 RPG, 6.3 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.5 BPG, 2.5 TOV

Rick Barry only played two seasons for the then New York Nets from 1971-1973, but they were insane as he dropped 29 and 31 points per game consecutively, dominating the ABA landscape. Although his numbers as a 34 year-old are massively diminished, Barry would be a nice dose of legendary air to this young Nets locker room. Just last winter, ESPN ranked Barry as the 37th best player in NBA history, so the wisdom he could bestow on those like Sean Kilpatrick, Bojan Bogdanovic, Hollis-Jefferson would be immense.

However, Barry’s greatest draw might come at the free throw line for Brooklyn in 2016-2017. Of those we’re arbitrarily qualifying (sorry, Sergey, you shot 93% but only attempted 28 free throws so…), the Nets’ highest mark from the stripe was Kilpatrick’s .898%, closely followed by Jack’s .893%. In Barry’s 14-year career, he shot higher than that 8 times — including his insane line as a 34 year-old: .947% That season, Barry nailed 160 of 169 free throws, but was out of this world the year before, hitting 378 of 409 in his last stint with the Golden State Warriors.

Barry’s season-by-season averages from the stripe are as follows: 86, 88, 88, 86, 89, 87, 90, 90, 90, 92, 92, 92, 95, and 94%. Like a fine wine, he only got better with age and this is a very serious recommendation to Marks, Atkinson, and the entire Nets’ front office: get Barry in the building. If it’s got to be granny style, whatever, but Bogdanovic (83%), Lopez (79%), Hollis-Jefferson (71%), and McCullough (48%) could all benefit from an uptick there.

Note: Thomas Robinson shot an appalling 47 for 109 in 2015-2016, good for 43% — what?!

Bernard King, 1990-91, Washington Bullets
28.4 PPG, .471 FG%, 5.8 RPG, 4.6 APG, 0.9 SPG, 0.3 BPG, 4.0 TOV

Admittedly, Bernard King did return to the Nets 13 years later during the 1992-1993 season, but we’re sticking with the theme here. Even at 34, King was a beast. Many youngsters know King from that Christmas statistic that ESPN always pops up during the holidays because his 60 points — against the Nets no less — in 1984 is the all-time record, but make no mistake, this four-time All-Star did a little bit of everything. Of course, the Nets could terribly use a perimeter player that could score at-will. His crafty, slash-heavy game at 34 would complement Lopez’s arsenal of post moves and King’s ability to carry a team offensively would greatly open the floor for the seven footer.

Put it this way: the Nets have needed a consistent, reliable scorer since the aforementioned Carter was traded in 2009. Sure, Deron Williams and Joe Johnson could cook at times, but their points per game by season? Williams only eclipsed 20 points per game 3 times in his career, Johnson did it 5 times — but King? Well, the explosive small forward did it 11 times in a 14-year career. King had a creative nature to his game, something that Bogdanovic and Hollis-Jefferson sometimes lack with the ball in their hands.

For head coach Kenny Atkinson, the job would be simple: Jeremy Lin + Brook Lopez + Bernard King = Pick and Roll Heaven.

Kenyon Martin, 2011-2012, Los Angeles Clippers
5.2 PPG, .441 FG%, 4.3 RPG, 0.4 APG, 1.0 SPG, 1.0 BPG, 0.8 TOV

OK, fine, 2011 Kenyon Martin is a huge step down from the prime monster we saw alongside Jason Kidd during the franchise’s back-to-back NBA Finals, but still, he deserves a spot on this list. Although we’re unsure if K-Mart still has the ability to throw down an alley-oop, his freakish athleticism is something that Chris McCullough and (gasp!) Anthony Bennett possesses, they just must learn how to use it right. Even if Martin can’t show the young power forwards how to roll off a Lin pick perfectly, the least he can do is get them in the gym and toughen up.

Notably, Martin holds the distinction for the first kidney-related fight in league history, as once detailed by The New York Times in 2003:

Martin responded by mocking [Alonzo] Mourning, muttering, ”My kidney, my kidney.”

Mourning did not immediately react to that comment. But when the players separated into groups for the next part of practice, he suddenly charged toward Martin before being restrained by teammates as he yelled, using more profanity: ”What did you say about my kidney? Don’t talk about my kidney. I’ll put you on your back.”

Both McCullough and Bennett have been bullied in the post through this point in their careers — so getting them both to the School of Kenyon’s Hard Knocks seems like a win-win situation for all.

Jason Kidd, 2007-2008, New Jersey Nets/Dallas Mavericks
10.8 PPG, .384 FG%, 7.5 RPG, 10.1 APG, 1.7 SPG, 0.3 BPG, 3.3 TOV

You can’t really talk about the Nets and K-Mart without gravitating towards Jason Kidd. Despite the sour taste Kidd’s departure from Brooklyn left for many supporters, the 34 year-old version of this star was still a damn fine piece to the puzzle. In fact, Kidd was the missing piece to the Mavericks’ title-drought mystery and they’d take home an NBA Championship with that smooth operator at point guard just a few seasons after the trade. If you’re a Nets supporter, you likely don’t need much of an introduction to Kidd — but much of his late-career contributions often go unnoticed.

While some may debate Kidd’s qualities as a leader — he was a great one until he wasn’t — he consistently ranks as one of the league’s best point guards ever. Even after he left New Jersey, he helped bring out the best in Hall of Famers like Dirk Nowitzki and Carmelo Anthony, his vision for the game long outlasting his speed and quickness. Kidd loved to work out of the pick and roll could do wonders teaching Jeremy Lin and Lopez the ins and outs of that skillset as a duo. As Lin moves into a serious starting role this season, he’ll need to pull the strings just like Kidd did in order to keep the team afloat. It’s a tad ironic to say that Kidd leading Lin could be magical since the former left town two years ago for more control with Bucks, but it’s still a truth worth speaking.

Before he was mercifully traded to the Mavericks in 2007, Kidd was averaging 11.3 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 10.4 assists with a roster that highlighted Josh Boone, Bostjan Nachbar, Stromile Swift, and Sean Williams. Hate him or love him, but Kidd was a maestro of the rock, something that the Nets’ have only replaced in short bursts since then.

While the dream of Kidd returning has come and gone, we’ve still got you Vince Carter — so please, come on home, be our Landon Donovan.