Every team, no matter how strong or weak has a player or group of players that they rely on to make the team strong or watchable. The NBA is no different; one player can make a team better with their play. Players such as Lebron James can create with their athleticism, Michael Jordan was able to function with his and change a team with his ability to create off* his own shot from anywhere on the court. Then you have the players like Isiah Thomas (Detroit Pistons) who were one of the most dynamic basketball players who could elevate his teams play on the court and create on his own, but with building a team around a player like Thomas you run the risk of disaster happening with press or off the court issues. With Allan Houston and the Knicks the teams had a strong player on the court, then created a monster by signing him to a contract that the team is currently still paying for and from that deal a slew of poor choices with trying to work around the remaining cap space. Of course players like Eddy Curry who were drafted to create a new culture with a team and became the center piece of all the proceeding moves during that offseason for the Dallas Mavericks but became the latest draft bust that can be dedicated to memory as a large waste of talent. These players all had their time come and go, but the stories that each player went through with their respective teams are still being played out with new faces. Some of these teams have been on the gracing light of this generation of basketball talent while others have constantly stewed in sub-par mediocrity from some superstar like failures, and let it begin!
15 Elevate Team: D’Angelo Russell (Brooklyn Nets)
D’Angelo Russel has the potential to make the Lakers regret ever trading him. In L.A Russell averaged just over 15.6 PPG with 4.8 AST. There was no time for him to grow and find his footing in the NBA; this is a league where we found that rookie point guards are having the hardest time adjusting over from college. In Brooklyn, Russell will have all the time he needs to grow into the strong efficient passer and three point shooter with a full NBA offseason under his belt. The addition of having a familiar face in Timothy Mazgov he will also have the ability to learn from a once rising star in Jeremy Lin. If Russell can’t learn from Lin’s mistakes and his success then there’ll never be a better opportunity for him to help bring credibility to a floundering Brooklyn Nets organization.
14 Bring Down: Dwight Howard (Charlotte Hornets)
Dwight Howard was once the most dominant center in the game, with the sense to bring seven-foot plus centers to the ground and the height to make smaller power forwards crumble during a game of banging and bruising down low. Howard averaging an underwhelming 13.5 PPG, 12.7 TRB and just a shade over one block. He went from being a force on both ends of the court to becoming a liability. Houston made the call to ship him out to Charlotte; and the Hornets have decided to take on a player that each year has decreased his scoring output. Howard has shown that he doesn’t care about being an All-Star anymore but the potential of him having one more monster year is too great for a team to pass up. This is also the same reason he will be bringing the Hornets down they’ll be hoping for a big season but instead will be in treat for a big letdown.
13 Elevate Team: Nerlens Noel (Dallas Mavericks)
Nerlens Noel is in prime position to have a break out year alongside an aging Dirk Nowitizki and with the coaching of Rick Carlisle. Noel has the potential to turn his 8.5 PPG next year into a consistent double-double average with a young center with the ability to grow into his own and a new young point guard to groom with him he already has more going forward with his new team then he did with the 76ers. Noel can blossom into a star in Dallas playing batman to Dennis Smith’s Robin and using his experience so far to build his career into a strong presence. Noel as the opportunity to be the everyday show stopper that can shut it down on the defensive end and bring a monstrous energy to grabbing boards.
12 Bring Down: Dwyane Wade (Chicago Bulls)
Dwyane Wade scored 18.3 PPG last year, second lowest total that he has had in his career. Wade is not the scorer he once was and that shows. His body is breaking down and he can’t be counted on for a full season worth of games and if by some off chance the Bulls make it to the playoffs the team cannot lean on him like his previous team use to. To make matters worse, Wade is being paid like a star. His name may sell tickets but it doesn’t bring in wins. With close to $24 million tied up into Wade, this team is trying to get younger and build up through the draft with Kris Dunn and Zach Levine on the team through trade there is a good chance they may win enough games to push themselves out of the top ten in the draft. So this year every game winning shot Wade hits brings his team down a little further especially with his departure pending next year.
11 Elevate Team: Chris Paul (Houston Rockets)
Chris Paul will always be Chris Paul, there’ll be no taking that away from him, as he’s become older his game has evolved with his age. Only scoring 18.1 PPG this past year, is a downside but putting Paul next to one of the most prolific scores in the game has raised his stakes his 9.2 AST a game are surely to go up making him an easy double-double candidate for his season average. The beauty of adding Paul with James Harden takes the ball out of Hardens' hands every single possession and puts the ball in Paul’s hands to allow the rest of the team to become more involved in the game and make the Houston Rockets far more dangerous of a team then they were last year.
10 Bring Down: Draymond Green (Golden State Warriors)
Draymond Green is an excellent piece to the puzzle, but after a few championships and a strong run Green has begun to run his course with the team. With the addition of Kevin Durant the team is no longer in need of a second stretch four, especially with Green only scoring 10.2 PPG with addition of a strong center and another young wing player the Warriors can prepare for another strong run. With Draymond set to make around $17 million a year that money can go to adding depth to the team, and taking some of the pressure off of the big three as the season goes forward. Trading Green could be an excellent tool in bringing in a group of talented young players.
9 Elevate Team: Isaiah Thomas (Boston Celtics)
With Isaiah Thomas averaging 28.9 PPG, and playing with a toughness that hasn’t been seen in nearly a decade, Thomas has something that most players lack these days this young player plays with miles of heart and pure passion for the game. Everyone knows about his skills, dribbling the basketball and his creativity with the ball in his hand, with an outside shot that kept his team in the playoffs longer then they should have been there. This young man also found himself a new fan base, even people who grew up hating Boston teams fell in love with him as a player and a person playing through his own emotional pain of losing his sister while supporting his family and his team. Thomas’ contract is also a plus he’s well worth the sticker price while playing in his prime.
8 Bring Down: Al Jefferson (Indian Pacers)
Al Jefferson is the definition of not being able to play out his contract. The Indian Pacers brought in Jefferson to give them a veteran presence. Jefferson is owed $10 million over the next two years, with a young Myles Turner playing as a strong center overall. With the team building around Turner it makes no sense for the team to keep a $10 million backup center. They could also use that money to start their full rebuild they need to bring in as much young talent as they can. with Jefferson occupying a roster spot and a good hunk of money only scoring around 8.1 PPG with 4.2 TRB doesn’t make a good use of space.
7 Elevate Team: Austin Rivers (Los Angeles Clippers)
Austin Rivers came on late this past year even after sitting behind Chris Paul this past season. With the Paul trade Rivers only has Patrick Beverly in his way now. Rivers averaging 12.0 PPG and 2.8 AST will be sure to go up even if he’s splitting time with Beverly going forward adding an outside shooting wing like Danilo Gallinari. Spacing the court with a 6’10 wing can add to an already tall line up. With a healthy Blake Griffin heading back to the roster and a strong seven-foot center in Jordan Rivers to go along with a 24-year-old guard with a ton of potential and a coach with a father-like temper to keep him on the straight and narrow, Rivers will help elevate the Clippers.
6 Bring Down: Reggie Jackson (Detroit Pistons)
Reggie Jackson is a talented player, with the ability to have a bright future. He is currently treading water with a team that he truly can’t help in a positive fashion at this moment. Though the Pistons have built a team that can win it is no secret they are not a contender and can’t hold up against a team like the Cavaliers, Raptors or Celtics which means they can’t beat any of the western teams in a best of four. With Jackson making roughly $16 million this year and 17+ over the next two, he’s sure to find himself on the outs during the rebuilding years after the weak east run that the pistons will continue to have no matter which management team is in the place.
5 Elevate Team: Brook Lopez (Los Angels Lakers)
Brook Lopez averaged 20.5 PPG, 5.5 TRB, and 1.7 BLK last season. Though he was traded to the Lakers this wasn’t a deal in which he was sent away because of lack of ability, talent or team first mentality. The Nets traded Lopez because they were stuck at the bottom of the NBA talent pool and need to trade away there only star to begin to build on a younger future. Brook Lopez has a skill set for a seven-footer that is hard to find with a new change of scenery and a young talented roster around him he now has the chance to play out his current contract on a team with the potential to have a large amount of upside and potential to begin challenging teams in the tough Western Conference.
4 Bring Down: Carmelo Anthony (New York Knicks)
This slot was a tough choice to make. It was going to Joakim Noah, who has played very few games as a Knick but with the recent information coming out of Carmelo Anthony it made it tough to not put him here. Carmelo averaging 22.4 PPG is always nice, but with the Knicks looking to get younger and Anthony wanting out he’s made it increasing difficult to find a trade partner with his no trade clause and limiting the teams the Knicks could come to terms with. While Carmelo is busy trying to hold an organization hostage, he’s becoming the anti-Knick following in the footstep of his ex-president. While Carmelo Anthony is still a top scorer in the league he now needs a partner that can create off the dribble to make his shooting ability a highlight again.
3 Elevate Team: Justise Winslow (Miami Heat)
Justise Winslow as the small forward that made letting Dwyane Wade go easier is due for a breakout season after only playing in 18 games this past season and averaging 10.9 PPG over that short sample size. Winslow is surrounded by Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside. Having these two South Beach stars should lighten the load on Winslow but the time has come for him to use his athletic ability to build on his slashing techniques and begin to average closer to 20 point games and seven rebounds. This is not out of the realm for him. On the defensive end he can begin to show the prowess and be a lock down wing defender and in the weakest version of the Eastern Conference that my memory can conjure to date the heat can make push to challenge the three primary bullies of the east.
2 Bring Down: LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers)
LeBron James will finish as one of the greatest players of all time. He averaged 26.4 PPG last year in the regular season and 32.8 PPG in the playoffs. James has the ability and size to be a game changer every night until he retires. The issue here is James’ presence causing civil unrest amongst his teammates. Kyrie Irving wants out of Cleveland and may just get it via trade or waiting out his contract but it’s clear he’s not happy with management. LeBron James has the option to leave at the end of the year and it sounds like he has the idea in his mind to finish his career with his friends sailing off on the banana boat. This Cleveland team, however, is so good that in this weak Eastern Conference they almost guarantee themselves a position in the Eastern Conference Finals if not a return to the championship. With them succeeding now it slows their process of building back up after James.
1 Joel Embiid
With Joel Embiid, we were all treated to a budding star on a limited minute’s restriction. This seven-footer dazzled us with 20.2 PPG, 7.8 TRB, and 2.5 BLK. Embiid did this with a limited young roster around him in this next season he will have the pleasure of playing with the number one overall pick in Markelle Fultz, who will be stepping in with his creative ball handling skills to feed the ball inside the paint to a dominant Joel. Also, with a top flight shooting guard in J.J Reddick who keep the wing players from trying to step in and double team, him Embiid have the ability to certainly see his stock and the teams on the rise with so much potential here he can Elevate his team to heights they haven’t seen since they started the process. Now trusting the process will finally show what it can yield in the forms of on the court success.