By Cliff Brunt
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Kobe Bryant is still a Los Angeles Laker. NBA fans are anxiously waiting to see what he has left, wondering if this is his last year.
Well, probably not wise to count him out just yet _ or any of the seven former All-Stars who are at least 37 years old and expected to contribute on the court this year as the NBA tips off the 2015-16 season Tuesday night.
Bryant, the 13th pick in the 1996 draft, is back after missing much of last season with a shoulder injury. He joins Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Garnett, Manu Ginobili, Paul Pierce and Vince Carter _ all drafted between 1995 and 1999.
That matches the most former All-Stars at least 37-years old to secure roster spots to start the season since the 2004-2005 campaign, according to STATS.
Between them, they have 80 All-Star appearances, 17 NBA titles, five MVP awards and seven finals MVP awards. They enter this season with varying roles:
Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
This could be Bryant’s final season, depending on how it unfolds. Part of his role will be to mentor D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson. Passing the torch and passing up shots are two different things, though. Bryant is the No. 3 scorer in NBA history for a reason. In the 35 games he played last season, his shot attempts per 48 minutes were the third-highest of his career. Lakers coach Byron Scott likely will limit his minutes at times and rest him in some back-to-backs, but when he’s on the floor, odds are Bryant will be looking to score.
Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
Duncan will turn 40 in April. Old Man River Walk is still a starter, but his minutes will likely be limited again. The Spurs added All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge and 35-year-old former All-Star David West, which should help preserve Duncan for another championship run. He still has great moments, but at this stage, he’s OK with giving up some floor time to be a significant factor in the playoffs.
Kevin Garnett, Minnesota Timberwolves
Garnett’s focus is to set the tone and help No. 1 overall draft pick Karl-Anthony Towns develop. The 39-year-old Garnett can still play _ his rebounds per 48 minutes last season were similar to those he posted in his prime. He started all 47 games he played last season and averaged 20 minutes a contest. He started every game this preseason, but never played more than 17 minutes.
Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks
Nowitzki was the Mavs’ No. 2 scorer last year. Since the top scorer from that team, Monta Ellis, now plays for the Indiana Pacers, Dirk will still carry quite a bit of the load. The Mavericks added Deron Williams and Wesley Matthews in the off-season to help with the scoring, and Chandler Parsons’ role will expand in his second year with the team. Nowitzki, 37, averaged just under 30 minutes per game last season. Coach Rick Carlisle wants to trim that to about 26 per contest.
Paul Pierce, Los Angeles Clippers
Pierce, who just turned 38, brings his usual air of confidence to a team that hasn’t quite gotten over the hump. The clutch shooter who won a title with Boston in 2008 has plenty of talent around him, so he won’t be counted on to make all the big shots. He started 73 games for Washington last season, but he came off the bench in all but one preseason game this season with the Clippers. But if he’s on the floor, and gets the opportunity at the end of the game, look for Pierce to take the shot.
Vince Carter, Memphis Grizzlies
The days of Vinsanity and the routine high-flying dunks have passed, and the 38-year-old Carter has settled into a role as a perimeter-shooting reserve. Last year, an ankle injury kept him out of training camp and he had a foot injury during the season. He started just once last year and played 16.5 minutes per game. He comes into this season healthy, but newly acquired Matt Barnes, a slightly younger perimeter shooter, could cut into his minutes.
Manu Ginobili, San Antonio Spurs
Ginobili benefits from having been a sixth man for so many years. He has only started 10 regular-season games the past four seasons and hasn’t played more than 24 minutes a contest since the 2010-11 campaign. It’s perfect fit for the Spurs, so expect a similar role this year for the 38-year-old wing from Argentina.
AP Sports Writers Schuyler Dixon in Dallas and Teresa Walker in Memphis, Tennessee, contributed to this report.
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP .