While superstars and championship rings dominate the conversation of great NBA players, there's no doubt that we've also seen plenty of players that underachieved because of the personnel decisions around them. These players were all upper-tier, if not elite, but issues with management made their career resumes slight in comparison to some of their peers. For as great of a player as he was, and a confirmed generational talent, Michael Jordan, for example, also had the aid of Phil Jackson and Scottie Pippen; two key factors that many other great players have had to do without.
For whatever reason, many other players have had to deal with management that was simply sub-par. Whether it was not putting quality players around their star, or getting into interpersonal arguments on a consistent basis, sometimes the front office of an NBA team just holds a really good player back. We've seen this time and time again in the league, and it's worth noting that many players could have had their accomplishments mitigated because of an issue in the front office. Let's take a look at some of these examples.
Ranked below are 15 great NBA players whose careers were ruined by management.
15 John Stockton
One of the best traditional point guards of all-time, Stockton (along with Karl Malone) defined the Jazz for the better part of 20 years. Unfortunately, Utah management often became nonexistent in getting help for both of them, and particularly Stockton since he was the one who was often distributing the ball. Other than a pair of Finals appearances they made in the late-90s, they were never able to breach the entirety of the Western Conference.
Surely something could have been done to add to the roster in a productive way. For nearly 20 years Stockton and Malone were the breadwinners on the Jazz's roster, and you would think that eventually there would have been some kind of a shakeup to improve the other personnel. Those upgrades proved to be few and far between.
14 Rod Strickland
Strickland was one of the most outright talented players of his era, but he was put in a poor situation immediately upon entering the league. The Knicks drafted him knowing that there would be position conflict between him and Mark Jackson. Because of this, there was no long-term future for Strickland in New York, and he had to be dealt to the Spurs in 1990.
While San Antonio would have been a worthwhile landing point for Strickland, contract disputes with management soon sent him packing yet again. From then on, he essentially became a journeyman player, and while he was productive for some individual seasons, he was never able to find himself as an integral piece to any one roster over his lengthy career.
13 Antonio McDyess
A former 2nd-overall pick in the 1995 draft, McDyess was once considered to be one of the top young stars in the game. The early part of his career was statistically productive, but it was clear that the Nuggets had little plan in place to build around him. It's no surprise that he was traded so soon into his career. When he was, he was also coming off of an injury that saw his numbers regress immediately afterwards.
This turned McDyess' career into that of a journeyman, and he was never able to latch on anywhere else to find consistent success. While he could have been one of the best players of his era, a lack of a cohesive plan from management, as well as a poorly timed injury, kept him from hitting his peak NBA potential.
12 Larry Johnson
Johnson is a former 1st-overall pick, and was once considered to be a potential generational player. Coming off a run with the great UNLV college basketball teams, Johnson took the league by storm during his first few seasons in the early-'90s. Equal parts scorer and ferocious rebounder, he had a skill set that seemed sure to land him in the Hall Of Fame. Unfortunately, numerous issues came down the pike.
On top of some injuries, management in Charlotte weren't able to get Johnson and center Alonzo Mourning on the same page. It was a talented team for sure, but the personnel decisions led to it being oversaturated, with too much top talent that weren't able to work together. The Hornets would end up shipping Johnson off to the Knicks, and Mourning off to the Heat as a result. Johnson's career slowly took a downturn after that, until he made an early retirement from lingering injuries.
11 Glen Rice
One of the most overlooked elite players of the '90s, Rice started out on the Heat as a 4th-overall draft pick, but was soon sent to the Hornets in the aforementioned Alonzo Mourning trade. While a pairing between Rice and Johnson worked okay for a season or two, it wasn't a long-term solution, and Rice was never the same player when he went to the Knicks a few years later.
The one trade from Miami seemed to precipitate a cluster of negative situations for Rice, who had an extremely short prime of his career. He may have had a stint on the Lakers team that won a title in 2000, but he also sparred heavily with Phil Jackson and only spent two years with the franchise, generally not being considered an integral part of that roster.
10 Gilbert Arenas
Despite retiring at the age of 30, Arenas was one of the best point guards of his era, and truly one of the most dynamic players in the league. Clearly, the Wizards front office expected him to be able to carry the load by himself, because they gave him little in the way of support on the starting roster. He was the lone highlight on a roster that was generally made up of scrubs.
Unfortunately, this may have prompted him to consider an early retirement in the first place, but whatever the reason, it was clear that Arenas never had a competent roster around him. The Wizards were a bad team then, and they didn't value support for their best player, who could have done great things with a talented core around him.
9 Chris Mullin
Mullin was a great scorer on a team that had little in the way of complimentary weapons. Before Golden State became a dynasty, they were a laughing stock of the league almost every season during the '90s. While Mullin did his best to give them a sense of competence, he wasn't able to mask the heavy flaws that were everywhere in the franchise during that time.
He did make a Finals appearance as a member of the Pacers later on, but his time in Indiana was short-lived, and he wasn't able to stick around there very long. With a more cohesive plan in place, Mullin could have won big at an earlier point in his career, and not had only one opportunity for a Championship. Like so many others, he just didn't have the help necessary to win big.
8 Allen Iverson
For a while, it looked like the Sixers were going to be a perennial title contender out of the Eastern Conference with Iverson in their ranks. After all, he was one of the best scorers in the league, and was simply the kind of playmaker you could rely on night in and night out to make an impact. While management in Philadelphia didn't need to pander to him necessarily, they should have been more perceptive to what their star player was thinking.
Iverson slowly became disillusioned with the Sixers brass, and it eventually led to him being traded to the Nuggets roughly ten years into his career. Philly was never able to build a winner around Iverson, and it cost them over the next decade. They are now still trying to correct mistakes, and have a long road ahead, even with "The Process" in play.
7 Jerry Stackhouse
Stackhouse was supposed to be the Sixers' future star before Iverson was drafted, and it became abundantly clear that there wasn't going to be room for both of them on the roster. He was a former 3rd-overall pick, and had already flashed a ton of talent in a few seasons in Philly, but Stackhouse was sent packing to Detroit, which wasn't the best place to maximize his talent.
While the Pistons had their share of talented players, Stackhouse left the team before they hit their peak with a Finals appearance. He would then go on to a journeyman career with multiple other franchises, and while he played well, he was never able to make his mark on a playoff roster.
6 Mitch Richmond
It's not an exaggeration to say that Richmond was one of the most underrated players of his era. His main issue was that he was never on a roster or team that was ever in any kind of real contention, save the final year of his career with the Lakers in 2001. For the majority of his time in the league, he was held back by being a member of the Kings or Warriors.
Richmond certainly had talent. He was a former 5th-overall pick, and was a consistent scorer all throughout the entirety of his career. Ultimately, he did get his title with the Lakers in 2002, but he wasn't a starter on that team, and only spent one year with the franchise, which really isn't enough to undo all the difficulties he faced with every other team he played for.
5 Carmelo Anthony
Look, there's no denying that 'Melo isn't a two-way player, and is really only valuable as a pure scorer. But for anybody that has had to play on the atrocity that has been the Knicks for the past few seasons, they deserve a bit of a break. And he actually is a very good scorer, he just needs to be implemented properly on the right roster.
We may get to finally see that this upcoming season, with Anthony being traded to the Thunder in the offseason. For now though, he's had some bad luck having to play in New York and Denver, and ultimately hasn't been in a situation that was conducive to playoff success.
4 Tim Hardaway
Another player stuck in the NBA purgatory otherwise known as the Golden State Warriors in the '90s, and the third member of "Run TMC" in this list, Hardaway was one of the game's best players, no question about it. Unfortunately, frustrations led to a trade with the Heat, which didn't yield any better results in terms of playoff success. Hardaway had maxed out his production, and wasn't able to do anything more to help either team win.
He's actually become fairly underrated in the present day, when people talk about the best players from past eras. Hardaway was a do-it-all kind of talent that was unfortunately stuck on some middling teams that weren't going to put him in the public eye. He ultimately outperformed his situation.
3 Tracy McGrady
Few players in league history had more sheer athletic ability than T-Mac, and he had no trouble appearing on plenty of highlight reels throughout the entirety of the Y2K Era. While injuries played a role in slowing him down at points, when he was healthy and on the floor, there was hardly a more dynamic player in the league based on his ability alone.
Still, he had to play the bulk of his prime years on the Magic and the Rockets, two teams that each had their share of problems, especially the former. Oftentimes, McGrady was the lone bright spot on a roster that had no legitimate chance to compete for a trip to the Finals. He racked up plenty of accolades and attention, but the front offices he played for were woefully inept.
2 Dominique Wilkins
By every measure, Wilkins was one of the most dominant players of the '80s, and is often forgotten when talking about the true greats of that era, from some segments of the NBA fanbase. He was every bit as statistically amazing as the likes of Michael Jordan and Larry Bird, but never had the team to go along with it. Truly, Wilkins was trapped in a perennially "good but not great" team in Atlanta, and he never left until it was too late and he was decidedly out of his prime.
The Hawks never were able to get by the Conference Semifinal round of the playoffs during his tenure. There were numerous draft busts, and a reluctance to try to land a player that could compliment Wilkins and his elite play. In another situation, Wilkins would have won multiple Championships, and gone on to have a much greater legacy.
1 Charles Barkley
The ultimate example of an elite player who came up short, Barkley dominated the NBA for years, averaging a double-double for essentially his entire career. An elite scorer and rebounder, he played above his size, and was able to go toe-to-toe with anybody in the league during his prime. Unfortunately, the Sixers management often clashed with Barkley, and sent him away to the Suns.
In Phoenix, he finally had an opportunity to play in a Finals, but ultimately they came up short. Barkley would never again make it back to the Championship Series, and while he never fell off the map with his production, he never truly had the kind of player compliment that was necessary to be a perennial contender for a title. That falls on the front office every single time.
Barkley's legacy is still strong, but he never did get the title that his career deserved.
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