Michael Jordan is gone. Charles Barkley is leaving. Hakeem Olajuwon isn't the player he once was. The late-night highlight reels no longer feature MJ, Sir Charles, and the Dream, but Vince Carter, Kobe Bryant, and Allen Iverson.
The NBA is changing and so is the NBA card market. The new superstars are not only pushing the old guard out of the league, but out of the price guides as well. Rookie cards remain a solid investment for most aging all-stars, but subsequently released cards and inserts are virtually unsellable. Fifty-dollar cards of players like Shawn Kemp, Alonzo Mourning, and even Karl Malone and Shaquille O'Neal routinely sit in dealer showcases and bargain bins without the slightest interest. Instead, collectors are pouring their money into the cards of players who have yet to prove their long term worth. Collectors are gambling on which players are going to live up to their hype.
So which young players have the games to maintain long term hobby interest and value? Which players won't live up to their billing? Here are a few ideas:
Slam Dunks: Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Allen Iverson, Vince Carter, Lamar Odom -- Garnett and Duncan have already proven that they can take over all facets of a game. Both are mature and court-savvy beyond their years. Carter and Iverson are electric scorers and the types of players that fans and hobbyists crave. Odom has the potential to be a mixture of all four. (Let's just hope he isn't always a Clipper.)
Mid-Range Jump Shots: Stephon Marbury, Larry Hughes, Wally Sczerbiak -- With more discipline in their games and improved team performance, Marbury and Hughes could be future all-stars. Hughes and Iverson have the potential to be the best backcourt in basketball for years to come. Sczerbiak has a sweet shot, decent rebounding skills, and is on one of the most exciting teams in the NBA.
Airballs: Baron Davis, Jason Williams, Elton Brand, Antawn Jamison -- Repeat after me: Point guards never retain their value. Unless they're the featured scorers on their team (Marbury), or statistical anomalies (John Stockton), court generals are a money pit. Need proof? Check out the card values of Gary Payton, Tim Hardaway, and Rod Strickland. Baron Davis and Jason Williams may be exciting, but they don't score enough points. Elton Brand will be a good player, but so is Glenn Robinson, and the "Big Dog" isn't setting any secondary market sales records. As for Antawn Jamison, it's unfortunate that he was traded for Vince Carter and to Golden State -- not a healthy hobby comparison.
A few players' values remain in question. Guys like Keith Van Horn, Ron Mercer, Paul Pierce, and Antoine Walker have shown moments of greatness, but have been unable to maintain consistent hobby interest. Steve Francis, despite rookie mistakes, has a game similar to Marbury's and could be a good investment. Of course, winning is an important factor, too. David Robinson cards were in limbo until the San Antonio Spurs won the 1998-99 NBA title. Collectors crave champions, and that's one thing that will never change.