Time Running Out on Stojakovic
It will be bigger news in his homeland when Stojakovic decides after next season what he does with his future.
Retire? Keep playing in the NBA? Head back to Europe for his final years?
In an interview with FanHouse, the New Orleans forward with one year left on his contract, didn't rule any out as options. Stojakovic, who hasn't been the same player since undergoing back surgery in 2006, said it's too early to contemplate his future, but, when he leaves the game, wants it to be on his own terms.
"I am going to be 34 after this contract,'' said Stojakovic, 32, who has 13,108 career NBA points, putting him in line in March to break the Serbian NBA record of 13,398 set by Vlade Divac, his former Sacramento teammate. "I want to make sure I play out (the current contract) on my own terms as far as being healthy and not being forced to stop playing because of injury.
"I love to play. I still enjoy playing. But also sometimes it's (tough) to be out there if you're in pain and just to take the pain medicine to get on the court.''
Stojakovic, whose two missed games this season were due to personal reasons, said his health recently has been "pretty good.'' But he was asked if there's a chance next season could be the final one for the three-time All-Star.
"I don't know,'' he said. "It's a tough thing to accept for a player like, 'OK, is this the last year or not?' I don't know. When you're a player you always think that it lasts forever. But you have to understand when you're at certain age what can you do to be helpful for that team?''
One thing is for sure. Stojakovic, who received a five-year, $64 million sign-and-trade deal to go from Indiana to New Orleans in 2006 after 7 ½ seasons with Sacramento and a half-season with the Pacers, has had his role change dramatically from his days of four times averaging 20 or more points for the Kings.
Stojakovic's scoring average of 11.7 and field-goal percentage of 39.4 are the lowest since his rookie season of 1998-99. He's averaging 29.9 minutes, the least since his second season of 1999-2000.
"It's a different role,'' said Stojakovic, speaking before point guard Chris Paul was lost over the weekend for about a month due to a knee injury. "I understand what my role is on the court and what I have to do for this team. It's a process. It's a transition for me.
"After I had the back surgery, my game was in danger. I was a little up and down. And we have two great players on the team in Chris and David (West), and we have to support them... Here I'm more of a spot-up shooter than (in Sacramento).''
Injuries and age have robbed Stojakovic of the athleticism he had with Kings. But he said he's "learned to accept the role that I'm given right now.''
Stojakovic has only eight 20-point games all season. In 2003-04, he had 59 during a season in which he averaged 24.2 points, second in the league, and was named to the All-NBA second team.
"He understands his body more than anybody,'' West said. "He tries to get the most out of it. Some nights, especially when it's a back, you're going to have some issues and aches. But, for the most part, he gets through them and we depend on him to play well for us when he's out there.''
Stoyjakovic has pretty much become a designated 3-point shooter for the Hornets. A career-high 57 percent of his shots this season have been from beyond the arc. His 3-point percentage of 37.2 is respectable but lower than his 40.2 career mark entering the season.
Don't be surprised if New Orleans' offense without Paul consists of Stojakovic jacking up even more long jumpers. In the seven games Stojakovic has played this season without Paul, he's averaged a whopping 8.6 3-point attempts compared to 5.4 in his other 38 games.
"He's still capable at this time of his career,'' Hornets forward Julian Wright said. "He's kind of I think accepted his role of being somebody to be depended upon but the burden isn't all on him... Every scouting report (says) you're going to have to make sure you get out on him because he can shoot the ball. That's the last thing to go. Your athleticism may be the first.''
Wright figures Stojakovic has "maybe two years'' left as an NBA player. Of course, how long Stojakovic sticks around New Orleans remains to be seen.
Stojakovic, making $13.92 million this season and $14.26 million next season, would like to finish out his contract with the Hornets. But he knows his expiring deal makes him a more attractive trade piece starting next summer.
"Exactly,'' said Stojakovic, whose contract contains a 10 percent trade kicker. "I've been reading about other guys so I figure I'll be answering the same questions (after this season). That's part of the business... It's up to the front office... But I have no problem (staying in New Orleans). I really like the guys on the team. I'm having a good time. My family loves living in New Orleans.''
With the Hornets having made a number of deals since last summer to get under the luxury-tax threshold, look for Stojakovic to still be with them past the Feb. 18 trade deadline. As for whether anybody hands him the game ball when he sets the Serbian scoring record, that's another story.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter@christomasson