NBA players are a different breed among the top athletes in professional sports. Unlike the NFL, MLB or NHL, the stars of basketball dominate the sports. Fans care more about the name value of the players than the uniforms. The top names are responsible for winning, selling merchandise and bringing fans into the arenas. LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant have been the talk of the sports world over the past year. NFL stories typically are more about the on-field product and revolve around the success or failures of a team. The MLB has struggled to build stars and the NHL couldn’t build a true mainstream star if you gave them the blueprint.
The leverage of NBA players has allowed them to make their own decisions. The days of a player having to spend the majority of his career with the team that drafted him are over. We are seeing more super teams and players turning down staying with their established team in favor of playing with other Superstars. Durant joining the Golden State Warriors is the best recent example. NBA players value winning more than ever and that causes their desire to leave a franchise. The organizations aren’t innocent either as they will cut bait with a star the day they stop contributing. We’ll look at some current stars bound to have bitter endings, with fifteen NBA players that will leave their teams on bad terms.
15 Jimmy Butler
The tension between the Chicago Bulls and Jimmy Butler has become an afterthought to Dwyane Wade joining the team. Wade’s leadership and presence will help smooth things over, but there are still many issues in play. Butler publicly criticized head coach Fred Hoiberg last season. The Bulls put Butler on the trade market in the summer. Things like that typically follow up with more drama and bitter endings. The same will come into play here.
Chicago’s organization has been in terrible shape, with recent stars leaving on bad terms. Former hometown hero Derrick Rose was traded to the New York Knicks and beloved star Joakim Noah left to join Rose in free agency. Butler is the last remaining asset from the past era of success. It is a bit preposterous to contemplate trading such a star after his improvements. Butler is one of the better defensive players in the league and has brought his offensive game to a top level. The bad blood will spill over and end horribly in the near future.
14 Rudy Gay
The Sacramento Kings currently have the most dysfunctional organization in the NBA. There is little hope for the team reaching the postseason unless they completely change the environment and add more talent. One impressive player that has stated his unhappiness is Rudy Gay. Recent reports have indicated Gay is quite unhappy with the Kings and is hoping for a trade to a new team. Sacramento is desperately in need of change and their rocky relationship with Gay could end before next season even begins.
Gay often gets overlooked in the NBA landscape due to his bad track record of teams improving after he gets traded away, but he is highly talented. His all-around offense is one of the best at the small forward position in the league. Things are gradually getting worse with Vlade Divac and Gay exchanging criticisms. The Miami Heat are just one team with rumored interest in acquiring Gay. We are no doubt going to see an ugly ending to the Rudy Gay's tenurie in Sacramento.
13 D’Angelo Russell
D’Angelo Russell was supposed to be the next big star for the Los Angeles Lakers when selected second overall in the 2015 NBA Draft. That already appears to be a difficult task with his teammates absolutely despising him. Russell made the mistake of filming Nick Young admitting to cheating on love interest Iggy Azelea and uploaded it to Snapchat. The Lakers players gave Russell the silent treatment for the rest of the season and he’ll likely still be vilified next year.
There have been rumors that the Lakers are already looking at trades for the young star. Russell showed flashes of brilliance but had a rather inconsistent rookie season. Los Angeles fans expected more and had no problem booing him after the controversy began to hit him. With a load of pressure following him and the Lakers franchise turning against him, Russell could be on the way out. A trade at some point within the next year would make the selection of Russell one of the worst top two picks in the last few drafts.
12 Jahlil Okafor
Another player from the 2015 NBA Draft that ended up with a terrible fit is Jahlil Okafor. The Philadelphia 76ers make it tough for a young player to thrive in an environment that wants losing. Okafor struggled to acclimate to the NBA life and actually got into off-court issues. The 76ers have been rumored to already be in talks to trade the first-year player to the Boston Celtics, but no deals have been agreed upon during the offseason... so far.
Okafor will likely see his playing time decline with Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel battling with him for minutes. The friction will definitely continue next season and it wouldn’t be crazy for Okafor to speak out against his team. Philadelphia has a good core of big men and will likely ditch Okafor for a guard. The two parties just don’t fit well together and unhappiness on both ends will start to mount early in the upcoming season.
11 Derrick Rose
New York Knicks fans are still celebrating the summer news that the team acquired Derrick Rose in exchange for very little. The franchise taking a chance on a formerly elite point guard is a good decision. There’s little to no risk involved, but the fan base is starting to get a little too excited. Rose’s injuries have diminished his overall play and he has fallen into the average tier of point guards. His offensive game is not very efficient and his defense is a mess.
Knicks fans don't have much of a filter and turn on a player easily. Rose not being able to play at his past MVP echelon will give them reason to overreact. You can just hear the crowd at Madison Square Garden booing him for only averaging 15 points and six assists. New York is hoping for their next big star rather than another decent player. The potential ugliness will cause Rose to split on bad terms next summer as a free agent.
10 Anthony Davis
The potential of Anthony Davis can make him the best player in the NBA in any given season. Davis has all of the tools needed to lead a franchise to the promise land. New Orleans Pelicans fans desperately want him to stick with them for the long run. Davis did sign a long term contract, but stars hold most of the leverage. Injuries have hit Davis at various points in his young career, but he looks like a true superstar when healthy.
The problem is the Pelicans have done a poor job putting capable talent around him. Davis lacks a legitimate second option that has the potential of playing at an All-Star level. Stars have become more comfortable using their power to change the landscape of the team. Davis could do the same or get upset when they fail to follow his wishes. The notion of a star sticking with a mediocre team is outdated and Davis may very well eventually force a trade out of New Orleans to give the fans a bitter ending.
9 Kevin Love
Kevin Love answered the call on a crucial play to secure an NBA Championship for the Cleveland Cavaliers. With a three-point lead, Love stopped Stephen Curry’s final chance to tie the game in the last minute of game seven. Cleveland fans forgave him for his terrible postseason play and horrendous defense all season. That will last until he has another rough stretch next year. Love is a bad fit on the Cavaliers and struggles to keep up with his teammates.
The Golden State Warriors super team will make it tough but Cleveland has desires of repeating. Love’s weaknesses will stand out even more next season with the team needing to play to perfection if they want to bring back-to-back titles to the Cavaliers organization. The one trade chip that could free up cap space and make sense leaving is Love. Cleveland wants to win as many titles as possible before LeBron James retires and unceremoniously ditching Love is a very realistic possibility.
8 Rajon Rondo
The career of Rajon Rondo fell off its trajectory following the Boston Celtics choosing to trade Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Rondo was the only good player on a rebuilding team and started to regress dramatically. We used to refer to him as one of the best point guards in the NBA, but he is now struggling to find a job. The Chicago Bulls signed him to a short two-year contract when it appeared no other teams wanted him.
Rondo has a bad attitude that tends to rub his teammates and coaches the wrong way. The Bulls are already full of controversy and adding Rondo to the mix is like lighting matches to dynamite. Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade are much better players than Rondo at this stage and the offense should run through them. Expect Rondo to once again become a malcontent when he isn’t able to dominate the ball-handling. It wouldn’t be crazy for Chicago to cut him before the season ends if this scenario plays out.
7 Dwight Howard
Dwight Howard signed with his hometown Atlanta Hawks this offseason with the hopes of getting his career back on track. Everyone believed Howard was the top big man in the sport when he left the Orlando Magic, but his career has suffered due to failed stints with the Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets. It got so bad with Houston last season that you would forget he was on the court due to James Harden dominating the offense.
Howard is looking for redemption in a setting where he feels most comfortable. Atlanta fans are excited and will give him a fair chance. The issue here is Howard has dealt with a variety of injuries that has forced him to become a shell of the player we remember. Howard will still get you rebounds and play solid defense, but the days of him dominating the paint are over. The Hawks are replacing tremendous center Al Horford with Howard and are bound to decline. This will cause resentment towards Howard that forces an ugly breakup in the near future.
6 DeMarcus Cousins
There are always rumors that DeMarcus Cousinsis frustrated with the Sacramento Kings every season. Cousins is arguably the most talented big man in the NBA and puts up All-Star numbers on a consistent basis. Sacramento has done nothing to utilize his greatness and have almost no chance at making the postseason next year unless they make substantial changes. The team has no desire to trade Cousins, but he may start to press the issue.
One big flaw in Cousins’ game is he wears his emotions on his jersey. He doesn’t know how to old back and reacts strongly when upset. The talented superstar publicly criticized the Kings draft picks and shows no faith in the future of the franchise. Cousins is bound to snap sooner or later and could very well demand a trade this upcoming season. The Boston Celtics have a plethora of assets to offer and a strong desire to acquire him. Expect fireworks if Sacramento doesn’t start winning in November.
5 Chris Bosh
Dwyane Wade shocked the world when he left the Miami Heat and it leaves Chris Bosh with a new supporting cast. Bosh’s season has been cut short twice over the past two years due to blood clot issues and scary doubt for his future. The superstar is hopeful to return next season and play his normal minutes. There was friction between Bosh and the Heat during the playoffs when he wanted to return, but they didn’t believe he was in good enough shape.
Pat Riley is a shrewd businessman and he is not a very loyal basketball mind. Miami could be looking a rebuild without Wade, which could see Bosh get dealt. The early success or failure of the team will indicate the future of the franchise. The tension between the Heat and Bosh will carry over into this season and it can easily get ugly. Many would've thought it nearly impossible that all three members of the Miami big three would be gone this soon, but it remains quite likely.
4 John Wall
The Washington Wizards selected John Wall with the first overall draft pick in 2010. Wall has lived up to the expectations and is currently one of the best point guards in the NBA. Washington has not done a good job putting the pieces around Wall to contend in the East. They looked great in 2015 with Paul Pierce’s veteran presence and Bradley Beal at 100%. The dream scenario ended when Beal started to deal with injury issues and Pierce left for the Los Angeles Clippers.
Wall is arguably a top-ten player right now and will not want to see his window close without getting the chance to compete for a title. Wall's contract is incredibly cap friendly and he signed it before the boom of bigger money offers changing the NBA landscape. There’s no doubt he will want to test the market when he becomes a free agent. Wall is at the age where he will become more vocal and it could result in criticism of his franchise’s lack of ambition before he bolts.
3 Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant made a dramatic move from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Golden State Warriors and the rest of the league is terrified. The potential of Golden State dominating the NBA like a force we’ve never witnessed is there, but it is not guaranteed. It is extremely rare for a team to be this loaded with star power, but that usually means having to manage egos. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green will need to share the offensive duties with Durant.
That sounds great in theory but it is probable Durant will see his numbers drop dramatically. His reputation could take a hit from MVP to just a very good player. Durant also made sure to take a short term deal in case he wants to leave the situation. That is pivotal to this whole story, especially with Curry becoming a free agent next season. Golden State and Durant may very well part ways with resentment in a season or two if they don’t find happiness.
2 James Harden
James Harden has been getting criticized for his selfish play. Harden doesn’t like to pass the ball and spends the majority of possessions dribbling until he makes a decision. Normally, his decision is taking the shot instead of passing it to his teammates. Many of the Houston Rockets have anonymously insulted Harden to the media and he is starting to become a vilified figure in the NBA.
Harden’s terrible defensive play also plays a factor in his reputation. Houston is still buying into him being the star of the future, but the honeymoon is definitely over. Another disappointing season like last year could see things start to get testy between the two sides. Harden is set in his ways and it is difficult to imagine him changing his style to appease the front office. The story of Harden is bound to end with him leaving the Rockets on bad terms. It's meant to be.
1 Blake Griffin
Last season completely changed the relationship between Blake Griffin and the Los Angeles Clippers. The young Superstar went from the beloved fan favorite dunking his way into the hearts of Los Angeles to a villain. Griffin injured his hand punching a team employee and suffered an injury for a long stretch of the season. He has apologized on multiple occasions and expressed remorse, but the Clippers organization is still holding him accountable.
The once impossible scenario of Griffin being on the trade market is now possible. Many reporters have discussed the Clippers making Griffin available before he heads into free agency next summer. Griffin will be a hot commodity and teams will fear losing their star like the Oklahoma City Thunder did with Kevin Durant. The ugly turn of events between the Clippers and Griffin will be a fascinating story next season. Griffin does love the Los Angeles market but he won’t appreciate being booed by fans or criticized by the front office. The best bet is Griffin getting dealt or choosing to walk away on bad terms from Los Angeles.