A 34-year-old tweener forward with ball-handling skills, obvious on-court smarts, and a sometimes-there touch from long range should still be able to contribute in this league, especially if the 6-8 tweener in question is "as fit as he has been for some time." Then you read that the tweener in question is Antoine Walker(notes), and you step back a bit. Like NBA teams have for the last few years.
Which is why Antoine Walker is making a comeback in the D-League, according to Scott Schroeder of FanHouse, and not the NBA. He's hoping his comeback will allow him one more chance at the big league, but until then, Walker is going to have to ply his trade amongst all the other NBA hopefuls, most of whom are a good decade or so younger than the former All-Star.
If everything goes right, this could be the smartest move Walker has made in years. We mentioned his "obvious on-court smarts" above, but he chose to only utilize those smarts judiciously, mixing one drive and kick or quick post-up and score with a litany of poor ball-handling maneuvers and an obsession with the 3-point line that was as destructive as his off-court habits were to his NBA career.
Those off-court habits often ended up with Walker showing up to camp bloated and out of shape every year. As his quickness deserted him as he hit his 30s, Walker (who never bothered to put on the sort of muscle tone needed to bang with the big boys and keep up with the kids) faded quickly. Once you factor in pace, shot attempts, minutes played and his inefficient shooting marks, Walker was an average player from age 26 onward. Despite averaging around 16 points per game, GMs in Dallas, Boston, Miami and Memphis never really bothered to ask how he got those 16 points -- often on nearly as many shots per game.
But as it is with another member of the class of 1996 gone wrong (with both Stephon Marbury(notes) and Allen Iverson(notes) having to work their games overseas), the "what if" is enough for us to keep wondering about a Walker gone right. There have been plenty of flat-footed bigs like Antoine who have managed to hack it at his age, so we can only hope for the best if he shows up in shape and quits with those terrible shooting habits (in eight games in a Mexican league last year, Walker shot 27 3-pointers and made just six). It's a best-case scenario, but who knows?
It's sad that "who knows" is the most Walker has right now, but he is a cautionary tale. Play smart, stay in shape, save your money and understand that you're not going to be 23 years old for the rest of your career.