The NBA in some ways is like Hollywood. It seems like at some point in time, everyone has found themselves working with everyone else. There is definitely a seven degrees of separation in the league, meaning if you name two players, regardless of when they played, you can connect the two through teammates in seven moves or less (this is actually a really fun game to play with your basketball nerd friends).
This link between players happens many different ways. Sometimes a team trades for an aging, overpaid superstar at the end of his contract in hopes of putting the team over the top, and then discard the player after the season. Other times, aging greats spend their final seasons playing the role of mentor to an up-and-coming star. Also, there are times when superstars just don’t know when to call it quits, and they end up bouncing from team to team at the end of their career racking up a bounty of teammates in the process.
With these crossing of paths inevitably happening every season, it is hard to pick the 15 best combinations of players who spent little time together. With that said, this list will shed light on some of the greatest combinations of superstar players that shared the court for only a short period of time. In a different universe, these 15 pairs of teammates could have changed the entire NBA landscape forever.
15. Allen Iverson and Marc Gasol
Allen Iverson had one of the more tumultuous endings to a great career in the NBA. Iverson was never able to find stability after leaving the Philadelphia 76ers in 2006. Iverson was a league MVP and was the sole reason for the Sixers 2001 NBA Finals appearance. Gaol has been a force for the Grizzlies since 2008, and in 2013 Gasol was the Defensive Player of the Year. Iverson and Gasol spent only three games together in 2009. The reason for such a short stint was Iverson, who left the team after only three games, citing “personal issues” for his departure, but widespread belief is that Iverson was not satisfied coming off the bench. Regardless of the reasoning, it was clear the addition of Iverson was not going to help the team in any way, so leaving the team quickly was ultimately a win for both parties.
14. Penny Hardaway and Stephon Marbury
If you remember the 2005 Knicks, you remember that Stephon Marbury was the team’s leading scorer. You may not remember that Penny Hardaway was the team’s lowest scorer. Penny and Stephon played three seasons together with the Knicks from 2004-2006. During their first season together in New York, Marbury and Penny helped lead the Knicks to the playoffs, with Marbury leading the way, averaging 20 points per game that season. The following year, the Knicks were still a solid squad but losing some key contributors meant Penny would have to increase his output, which he was unable to do.
By their third season together, Penny was a shell of his former himself. The Knicks would ultimately trade Penny to the Orlando Magic along with Trevor Ariza in exchange for Steve Francis. If Penny and Marbury could have teamed up in their primes, the NBA would have been a lot more fun to watch during the early 2000s.
13. Pat Riley and Jerry West
Two old timers make the list. These two pillars of the NBA were teammates for four seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers. West and Riley actually won an NBA championship together in 1972. Obviously these two are a couple of the greatest basketball minds the game has ever seen, and apparently they were pretty damn good players in their day as well. Riley was a solid role player who could have flashes of all-star talent, the exact player a championship team needs to have. West, as you should know already, is the face of the NBA. No, literally, he is the figure in the NBA logo. West was a 14-time All-Star, and in 1969, he did something that had never been done before and has never been done since. He was named the NBA Finals MVP, while playing on the losing team (some people argue that Lebron James should have been the second person to accomplish such a feat in 2015). These two guys now battle it out in the front office as West works as a consultant with the Golden State Warriors, and Riley is the President of the Miami Heat.
12. Rasheed Wallace and Carmelo Anthony
Two of the most diverse basketball players in the last 20 years, Melo and Sheed were teammates for part of the 2012-13 season. Rasheed came out of retirement in 2012 to join Melo and the rest of his New York teammates. Wallace played in 21 games for the Knicks before breaking his foot, causing him to miss eight weeks of the season. When his foot healed, Wallace played one final game, recording only three minutes before he re-retired. Wallace was a beast in his days with the Portland Trail Blazers, and later with the championship-winning Detroit Pistons. Wallace was one of the original stretch fours, helping pave the way for the new breed of shooting big men. We all know how talented Carmelo has been since his breakout rookie season in 2003, and paired with a healthy and hungry Rasheed Wallace, New York basketball would have been back on the scene in a major way.
11. Kevin Garnett and Spud Webb
It’s hard to find a couple of NBA legends that are more dissimilar than KG and Spud Webb. For starters, Spud is a 5’7″ mild mannered point guard. Kevin Garnett is probably the fiercest player in NBA history, and at 6’11”, he is over a foot taller than tiny Spud. Spud and Kevin spent part of the 1995-96 season together in Minnesota. Spud played the final 26 games with the T-Wolves before ending his career the next season in Orlando. Kevin Garnett, on the other hand, was just getting started. Garnett would ultimately become the greatest player in Timberwolves history before being traded to the Boston Celtics, where he would team with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen on his way to an NBA Championship. Between the two of them. they stake claims to 15 All-Star Game appearances, one MVP Award, one NBA title and one Slam Dunk Championship.