Almost two decades into his NBA career, Miami Heat forward Udonis Haslem isn’t retiring yet. According to Shams Charania of The AthleticHaslem recently announced at his youth camp he will be suiting up for his 20th NBA season with the Heat.
Haslem, 42, becomes only the third player in NBA history (after Dirk Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant) to spend an entire career of at least 20 seasons with one franchise. He holds Miami’s franchise record for seasons played with the team and is second behind Dwayne Wade for most games played.
Haslem’s impressive longevity got us thinking at Blazer’s Edge about who the longest-tenured Blazers are in franchise history and star Damian Lillard’s ascent up the record books. How far will his climb reach?
The all-time list begins — like a lot of franchise records do — with the great Clyde Drexler. Let’s take a look:
Most Played Games in Franchise History
- Clyde Drexler—867
- Jerome Kersey—831
- Terry Porter—758
- Damian Lillard—711
- LaMarcus Aldridge—648
Watching Lillard try to catch the Glyde — in career games and points, in which Lillard ranks second — will be a compelling storyline during the next few seasons. 157 games away from taking the top spot, if Lillard doesn’t miss a single regular season game, he’ll claim the record on Game 75 of the 2023-24 season. This means, barring serious injury, he’s likely three seasons away from becoming the franchise leader in games played. Lillard’s $122 million contract extension signed this summer, which in theory keeps the franchise star in Portland through the 2026-27 season, will help his chances to see the record through.
Maybe a more debatable question is whether Lillard will join Haslem’s near-exclusive club of players who’ve logged at least 20 seasons with the same franchise. Lillard is halfway there at 10 seasons played in Portland, but the back-half of that milestone is a much dicier road. (If you’re wondering, Lillard’s 10 seasons ranks third-most in franchise history, trailing Kersey’s 11 and Drexler’s 12, according to Land of BasketbalI).
By now, Lillard’s “don’t run from the grind” brand doesn’t sound like cheap talk. He could’ve gotten out of dodge by now — and maybe had good reason to — yet he hasn’t. Lillard has even liked himself to Nowitzki and the All-Star’s dogged title pursuit and loyalty during his 21-season tenure with the Dallas Mavericks.
The front office giving Lillard that mammoth extension this summer shows it’s willing to invest in its aging star. As general manager Joe Cronin said at a press conference announcing the deal, the extension furthers the organization’s commitment to “making him a lifetime Blazer.”
But despite motivation from both sides to remain together, 20 seasons still seems like a pipe dream for the partnership. Unlike Nowitzki and Bryant, who entered the NBA at ages 20 and 18 respectively, Lillard was 22 during his first NBA season. After Lillard’s extension ends in 2027, he’ll turn 37 that summer and still be five seasons away from the 20-season milestone. This means he’ll have to play through his Age 42 season in 2031-32 to catch Haslem, Nowitzki and Bryant.
Haslem saw his first NBA action at 23 and will be playing as a 42-year-old this season, but his battle with Father Time has been helped by a severely reduced role. Over the last six seasons, Haslem has only appeared in 58 regular season games, acting more like a glorified assistant coach than a player. If Lillard is to last as long, he’d likely have to assume a similar role. Lillard’s more enduring skills of shooting, leadership and taking care of his body makes a run at 20 seasons maybe more possible than for most small, score-heavy guards. Still, Lillard has clocked a ton of mileage dragging Portland rosters to the playoffs during his career and a bench mentorship role may be a tough ask for someone with that much star power and ambition.
Along with Lillard, the two other most likely candidates to join Haslem’s ranks and play at least 20 seasons with the same franchise are Stephen Curry and Bradley Beal. Curry, 34, is entering his 14th season with the Golden State Warriors. Beal, 29, is entering his 11th season with the washington wizards.
Blazers fans, what do you think? Will Lillard break Clyde’s franchise record for most games played? Will he do the near-impossible and play 20 seasons as a Blazer? And what would either milestone do for his legacy in Portland?