The 2014-15 NBA season has been marred so far by injury with star players including Kobe, Durant, LeBron, Bosh, Wade and George all missing significant time. These injuries have cleared a path for more wide open playoff and MVP races, but their absence also hurts the league as one of the best pleasures is to watch these players go against each other. This past week Bulls fans heard the all-too-familiar news that hometown hero Derrick Rose would have to undergo surgery to repair a torn meniscus, the same meniscus that he had repaired just a year ago. Rose's once promising career has been derailed by injuries in recent years as he looks like he may be joining a select group of players whose bodies never allowed them to have the careers they should have.
Advances in treatment and surgery have made injuries like a torn ACL or meniscus much easier to come back from in recent years, and improvements to player's training regiments and diets have led to much fitter athletes in the league today. Teams are also starting to rest their players as much as they can as the toll of the 82-game season and playoffs can leave players drained come finals. Many of the players on this list were touted as the next-someone, the next-MJ, the next-Kareem, but as we know it takes more than talent and work ethic to become those players, you need some luck. The following list includes players who have had great careers that could have been even better and players who careers didn't really get off the ground because of injury.
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10 Elton Brand
Elton Brand has settled into his role as a solid veteran in the lockeroom so well in recent years with Hawks and Mavs that it may be difficult to remember he was one of the best power forwards in the NBA. A number one overall selection by the Bulls, he spent most his early career, being named Rookie of the Year in 2000-01 after averaging 20 PPG and 10 RPG. Brand's athleticism and wing-span allowed him to become one of the best shot blockers and defenders in the league.
In 2002, Brand was traded to the Clippers for Tyson Chandler and would go on to be one the few all-stars in Clippers history at the time. The season before his Achilles injury, Brand posted an impressive: 20.5 PPG, 9.3 RPG, and shot 53.3% from the field. His best season was 2005-06, where Brand dropped 24.7 PPG to go with 10.0 RPG and 2.5 BPG. Brand ruptured his Achilles in 2007-2008 and went on to miss most of that season before declaring for free agency in the summer. Brand signed a massive contract with the 76ers but would struggle with shoulder injuries and the lingering affects of his injury. He was never quite the same.
9 Greg Oden
It may seem difficult to rationalize now in your mind but Greg Oden was taken first overall in 2007, ahead of last year's MVP Kevin Durant. Despite a checkered injury history even before his one year at Ohio State, the Blazers fell for Oden's rare combination of size and skill and decided prospects of nature are too rare to pass on. They were right, but unfortunately for every Hakeem and Kareem there is a cautionary tale of Sam Bowie or Bill Walton.
Big men with injuries tend to struggle to regain their form more so than smaller players, the physical toll of playing in the paint and running with as much as weight as they do is unsustainable for some players. Oden only played a grand total of 82 games and has struggled in recent attempts to make a return. Oden has also spoken openly about his struggles to cope with alcoholism and depression as his once promising career faded into obscurity. Oden is a player that everyone is still rooting for whether its getting back on the court or whatever the next chapter of his life will be.
8 Brandon Roy
Happily for Blazers fans they have a solid contending team led by star players Aldridge and Lillard which helps the soothe the sting of the injury curse on their best players early in their careers as evidenced throughout this list. Roy was developing into one of the best players in the league, and one of the preeminent shooting guards to carry the torch on from Kobe. Roy came out of college with knee injuries but made it through the early years of his career looking explosive and healthy winning Rookie of the Year in 2006-07.
Roy made three consecutive all-star games and was all-NBA two years in a row before the 2010-11 season when he had arthroscopic surgery of both his knees which caused him to miss most of the season. Roy returned in the 2011 playoffs having an 18 point 4th quarter against the Mavericks where he looked like his old self, and thought he may be able to get through his injuries. Roy appears to be done for good now, retiring during what should have been the prime years of his career.
7 Amare Stoudemire
While Amare Stoudemire has still had a very good career its one that could have been much more if not for an onslaught of injuries. Early in his career Amare was an athletic phenom the likes of Shawn Kemp or Charles Barkley. Amare paired with Nash in Phoenix for one the best teams to never to win a title, and made multiple all star games and all-NBA teams. The Nash and Amare pick and roll was close to unguardable and a play that teams have been trying to replicate since.
In the 2005 playoffs the Suns lost out to the Spurs in five games in the Western Conference finals despite Amare averaging 37 PPG during the series. The next season Amare underwent surgery on his knees and missed most of the season. Stoudemire eventually was forced to miss significant time with an injury to his retina. In 2010, the Knicks signed Stoudemire to a massive contract and for the first few months, it looked like a solid move as Stoudemire was playing MVP caliber basketball and led the Knicks back to the playoffs. Back injuries and recurrent knee problems have since sapped Stoudemire of his once intimidating athleticism. He's still an important role player for the Dallas Mavericks after having his contract bought-out by the Knicks this season. It is an uneventful end to the career of someone who could have been the next Karl Malone.
6 Tracy McGrady
Few stars as good as Tracy McGrady fade as abruptly as he has. After starting his career off with the Raptors, McGrady took a leap in his first season with the Orlando Magic in 2000, averaging 26.8 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 4.6 assists per game and quickly became one the league's most dominant, talented players. After years of playoff disappointment in Orlando, the Magic traded McGrady to the Houston Rockets in 2004 where he would go on to team up with fellow injury-riddled superstar, Yao Ming.
Back injuries forced McGrady to adapt his game to realize he would be less explosive. In May 2008, McGrady underwent arthroscopic surgery on both his left shoulder and left knee and missed the rest of the season. McGrady would spent the rest of his NBA career struggling in backup minutes with the Pistons, Knicks, Hawks and Spurs. McGrady was a 7-time all-star, 2-time NBA scoring champion and 7-time all-NBA performer but his lack of playoff success and quick decline make for a disappointing end to a career for a player who was genuinely considered the closest rival to Kobe during his peak.
5 Grant Hill
Grant Hill was marketed as an heir apparent to Magic Johnson. After an impressive collegiate career Hill took the NBA by storm winning rookie of the year and becoming a walking triple-double. While playing for the Pistons in 1996-97, Hill averaged 21.4 PPG, 9.0 RPG and 7.3 APG. He was named first-team All-NBA for the first and only time in his career that season. He was a rising superstar when he was moved to Orlando but the time his injury issues changed the franchise and Hill's legacy.
The Magic had high hopes of teaming Hill with rising star Tracy McGrady for one of the best duos in the NBA but Hill went on to play in only 47 games in a 4-year span because of chronic ankle issues. After his 7-year tenure in Magic ended in disappointment and what ifs, Hill went to play for the Phoenix Suns and found a rejuvenated career as their best defender. Hill finished his career as a solid defensive role player but was robbed of his potential to be a hall of famer.
4 Yao Ming
One of the most important players of this era, Yao Ming did alot to increase basketball's popularity as a world sport, especially in his native China. Ming was the 2002 No. 1 overall pick, arriving in the NBA with alot of hype for his massive size and impressive skill set. He started off slow, but by his third year Ming solidified himself as one of the best centers in the game. Yao's peak was as high as any center since Hakeem, in 2006/07 he averaged 26.6 PPG, 10 RPG and 2 BPG per 36 minutes and had a Player Efficiency Rating of 26.5. Yao injured his foot in the playoffs in 2009 and played just five more games in his NBA career. When he was healthy, Yao was almost unstoppable and had he been able to stay on the court he might have gone down as one of the best big men ever. Yao was an 8-time NBA all-star and remains one of the beloved players in the league.
3 Penny Hardaway
Shaq's running mate before Kobe was a 6-foot-7 guard that drew Magic Johnson comparisons in his early years due his play-making ability and size, but was separated by his athleticism that rivaled players like Kobe and Wade. Penny Hardaway averaged 20.9 PPG, 7.2 APG, 4.4 RPG, and 1.7 SPG in 1995, teaming with Shaq and heading to the NBA finals where they would lose to the Houston Rockets.
The combination of Shaq and Penny seemed destined for a long run as a perennial power for Orlando but Shaq left the Magic to join the Lakers in 1997 and left Penny as the lone star on the team. Penny suffered a knee injury during the 1997-98 season that forced him to miss most of the season. After teaming up with Jason Kidd in Phoenix, Penny continued to be hampered by knee injuries the rest of his career but settled into his role as a veteran mentor for the young talent on the Phoenix Suns before playing his last few years in New York and Miami. Losing his athleticism early in his career held him back for reaching his potential during his peak years. There's no doubt that he would have been a Hall of Famer had he been able to stay healthy.
2 Derrick Rose
Derrick Rose was selected first overall in the 2010 draft by his hometown Chicago Bulls, the city where he had won numerous high school championships, becoming a local legend. Rose's explosion and athleticism were evident from day one of his career and he became the youngest player ever to win MVP in 2011. Rose tore his ACL in Game 1 of the 2012 playoffs against Philadelphia and missed the entire 2012-13 season.
After struggling to return to his pre-injury form, Rose once again injured his knee, tearing his meniscus during the 2013-14 season and opting to repair it instead of remove, which forced him to miss the rest of the season. Rose's recent torn meniscus will sideline him for 4-6 weeks as the surgery was less intensive than originally considered.
It's unclear when Rose re-injured the knee and unfortunate as he had been playing well, averaging 22.6 points over his final 14 games before the All-Star break. Players like Wade and Westbrook have been able to return from meniscus injuries in recent years but the perception of Rose as an injury waiting to happen will persist and Bulls fans will continue to hold their breath every minute he's on the floor.
1 Bill Walton
Many NBA fans may know Bill Walton as the best NBA commentator of all time and the father of Luke Walton, but Bill was also one of the league's best big men during his career. Walton was one of the nation's best collegiate players at UCLA under legendary coach John Wooden and was selected No. 1 overall by the Blazers in 1974. Walton came into the NBA as a rebounding machine who eventually led the team to a title in 1977 and also won the MVP that season.
Walton's career started off rocky with his first two seasons being hobbled by injuries to his feet and nose. Walton managed to return to form and win an NBA championship with the Blazers in 1977, taking home NBA Finals MVP. Walton won MVP the following season but suffered his first of many serious foot injuries and never regained form throughout his career. Walton has the record for most games missed during an NBA career. He ended up picking up another NBA title and the Sixth Man of the Year in 1986 with the Celtics. Walton was elected to the Hall of Fame despite his short NBA tenure but could have been one of the more dominant players of his generation.
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