For all the attributes that have enabled Jose Calderon to carve out a long NBA career—he’s cagey, resilient and downright caring—the one that ties everything together might be the Spaniard’s self-awareness.
Calderon, the 34 year-old who spent seven-plus seasons as a point guard with the Toronto Raptors and is now in his second year running the floor for the New York Knicks, won’t squeeze a water bottle into the wind and tell you it’s raining. He doesn’t hide from the fact that, relative to the miracles of genetics and coordination he keeps company with, he’s not blessed with the kind of high-end ability that translates to gaudy numbers.
“You compare that, I’m losing every battle,” he says.
But there’s a reason Calderon is still starting for an NBA team. He’s not on New York—and possibly a trade target of other clubs with designs on playoff runs—solely for his skills of self-evaluation. Calderon remains an intelligent, capable player whose ball management and composure has been a boon to his club.
“He fits right in to their triangle philosophy,” says Raptors coach Dwane Casey.
Calderon, who skipped the Knicks’ 103-93 loss in Toronto on Thursday night due to a groin injury, is still averaging over 27 minutes per game and committing just 1.1 turnovers in that time for a team that, to the surprise of many, continues to hang around in the Eastern Conference playoff scene.
“He’s always been a good decision-maker in terms of taking care of the basketball,” says Knicks coach Derek Fisher, who won five championships playing the point during his career.
In Calderon’s case, always is a pretty long time. Don’t forget, this is a player who was well established in Europe before making his NBA debut a decade ago with Toronto as a 24-year-old. While the 4.1 assists he’s averaging this year is a far cry from the career-high 8.9 he racked up with the Raps both in 2008-08 and 2010-11, Calderon still knows how to get the ball in the right hands. And when it stays in his—usually off a pick-and-roll where he can get a little space and quickly set his feet—Calderon can make you pay.
“He’s still a knock-down, deadly shooter,” says Casey.
He also remains the kind of teammate whose selflessness and upbeat approach provide value whether the squad has come together on the court or around the dinner table. Affable and honest, Calderon has been a mentor to the New York youngsters, just as he was for emerging Raptors once upon a time—especially one who’ll soon be playing in his second All-Star Game.
“I credit a lot of my knowledge, a lot of my success and understanding the game of basketball to Jose,” says DeMar DeRozan. “He gave me a lot of confidence early on, trusting me, putting me in a position to be a great scorer.
“He was the most positive teammate I ever had. One of my favourite teammates of all-time.”
That, in addition to what he can still accomplish on the floor, has made plausible the notion that Calderon could be on the move again¬—the Knicks are his third team since Toronto traded him to the Detroit Pistons three years ago to the day on Saturday—should New York fall out of the post-season race or commit further to its somewhat serendipitous youth movement built around forward Kristaps Porzingis and point guard Jerian Grant. While stating his preference is to see things through in the Big Apple, Calderon is predictably unruffled by the speculation.
“I’m used to it,” he says with shrug.
Calderon’s three trips to the playoffs—two with the Raps and one with the Dallas Mavericks—each ended in a first-round exit, so it’s safe to assume he’d love to experience a deep run. That said, when the guy who’s never blown by or jumped over a defender does untie his shoes for good—to be clear, he doesn’t plan on doing so for a while—his lasting influence will be seen every time a maturing former teammate makes a smart, coach-pleasing call with the ball.
“I’ve been lucky enough to be here 11 years,” Calderon says, “I want them to be that long in the league as well.”