When the Minnesota Timberwolves brought former league MVP Kevin Garnett back at the trade deadline, it was as though they were trying to erase any memories of his departure eight years prior. Garnett bolted from a 32-50 Minnesota team in 2007 for (Celtic) greener pastures, proving anything was possible in Boston. Two years later, the T-Wolves went through an identical situation with All-Star power forward Kevin Love, who endured the same struggles the “Big Ticket” did. Love escaped the losing situation and chose to join LeBron’s new big three in Cleveland. Fittingly, Minnesota acquired Canadian-born Andrew Wiggins in the Love deal. The Wolves are hoping they can remain competitive enough to avoid losing the promising rookie the same way they did with Garnett and Love.
James made "the decision" to leave Cleveland for South Beach in 2010 because he no longer believed he could win it all with the Cavs' sub-par cast. The King bolted to South Beach, where a Big Three was assembled with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. LeBron brought the Heat two championships, along with four NBA Finals appearances before returning home last summer. This time around, the Cavs brass have shown a much higher commitment to forming a championship team.
Some players have opted to stay true to their original squad despite consistently finishing in the bottom half of the standings. It's a shame that we're not able to see these players on the grand stage that is the NBA playoffs. You wonder just how much longer these players will hold on with their respective teams before either asking for a trade, or bolting via free agency.
When winning is no longer an option in one city, superstars will attempt to chase a ring, like Garnett and Love did, and like some of the players on this list might eventually do. Until then, they’ll continue to put their respective teams on their backs, and attempt to singlehandedly achieve greatness.
Here are the 10 best players stuck on losing teams.
10 Rudy Gay, Sacramento Kings
If this list were an album, Gay would be the title track. Memphis gave the small forward a five-year $82 million contract in 2010 after trading Pau Gasol to the Lakers a year earlier. The Grizzlies were an upper-echelon team but could never take the next step with Gay as their “alpha-male.” While the majority of players on this list are just stuck on bad teams, in Gay’s case, his decision-making and contract are the reason he keeps finding himself on mediocre squads. He always shows flashes of a budding superstar, but just when you’re ready to believe in him, he jacks up an ill-advised shot that rattles around the rim and stays out, like Gay’s attempt to make it as an All-Star.
Gay was traded to Toronto in 2013. Gay set a franchise record by scoring 74 points in his first three games with the Raptors, but the team still finished with a losing record and missed the playoffs. The Raptors traded him just 11 months after acquiring him, sending him to Sacramento. From there, the Raptors went to the playoffs and Gay has found himself with mediocrity. It also seems he will be there a while, as he signed a three-year extension with the Kings this past November. He'll hope that next year, the Kings can end what will then be a 10-year playoff drought.
9 Eric Bledsoe, Phoenix Suns
Eric Bledsoe came off the bench at Kentucky, and backed up Chris Paul in his first three years in the association. When his Suns teammate Goran Dragic demanded a trade less than 48 hours before this year’s trade deadline and was traded to the Heat, Bledsoe was given full reign of the point guard position. However, Bledsoe would have required a supporting cast similar to that of the recently retired Steve Nash during his MVP days as a Sun in order to climb above Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook in the Western Conference standings.
8 Ty Lawson, Denver Nuggets
The North Carolina product has blossomed into one of the league’s top playmakers. Lawson’s assist totals have risen each and every year from 3.1 a game in his rookie season in 2009 to 9.6 this past season. However, despite making the playoffs in each of his first four seasons—losing each time in the first round—the Nuggets failed to make the postseason the last two years. They've failed to surround Lawson with any top talent since sending Carmelo Anthony to New York. And with the talent in the Western Conference, Lawson can expect a tumultuous road back to the postseason as long as he's a Nugget.
7 Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets
Like Steph Curry did, Kemba Walker took his momentum from the NCAA tournament and transformed it into a remarkable NBA career. The point guard has continued to demonstrate his late-game heroics in Charlotte, consistently knocking down cold-blooded shots in crunch time, and even getting owner Michael Jordan to jump out of his seat on at least one occasion.
In Walker’s first four seasons, his Hornets (formerly known as Bobcats) have averaged just 26 wins a year. He’ll need to emulate Curry in more ways than one in order to change that number.
6 Deron Williams, Brooklyn Nets
Deron Williams was the catalyst behind one of the league’s most consistent teams in Utah. The former Illinois point guard thrived under legendary head coach Jerry Sloan, reaching the Western Conference Finals in 2006-07. However, Williams hasn’t enjoyed similar success since being dealt to the Nets in 2011. He seemed poised for a championship in Utah, but doesn’t look like he’ll ever get one in Brooklyn. Yes the Nets are in the playoffs, but that's with a losing record in a VERY weak Eastern Conference.
5 Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves
The first overall pick in last year’s draft has taken the league by storm with his relentless effort on defense, and thunderous jams on the offensive end. Like Kevin Durant, Wiggins has had a greater impact in the NBA than he had in the NCAA, solidifying himself as the favourite for the Rookie of the Year award.
Minnesota brought back its “Big Ticket” at the trade deadline in a nostalgically futuristic deal: the old face of the franchise now teamed up with the face of the future. The Timberwolves are praying Wiggins doesn’t take the same route Garnett did. If they build around Wiggins the right way, the young Canadian can one day find himself off this list, and on a much more flattering list, in simply the "top 10 NBA players".
4 Paul George, Indiana Pacers
The Pacers knocked on the NBA Finals door twice in 2013 and 2014, taking the powerhouse Miami Heat to seven and six games respectively in the Eastern Conference Finals. However, the team missed the playoffs entirely in 2015. Its superstar Paul George suffered a gruesome injury during a scrimmage in Las Vegas with the U.S. National Team and was forced to sit out the majority of the season. He made a miraculous return to the Pacers lineup on April 5th, but was unable to dig the team out of the hole they were in a secure the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Getting George back for the start of next season should help Indiana jump back into the postseason.
3 Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
We're certainly not used to seeing the Lakers on a list with the words "teams that suck" but unfortunately for Kobe Bryant, he now finds himself on the inferior L.A. team. The surefire future Hall of Famer will be remembered as one of the greatest of all time, but his last few years are some he’d prefer to forget. After the big four of Bryant, Gasol, Howard, and Nash failed to coexist during the 2012-13 season, the Lakers' fortunes have made a turn for the worse. The team synonymous with NBA hardware has plummeted to the bottom of the Western Conference standings. Nonetheless, Bryant decided to stay loyal to the purple and gold by signing an extension with the team in 2013. He will become the first player in NBA history to play 20 years with one franchise next season.
2 Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
Melo had the opportunity to remove himself entirely from this list by signing with a contending Bulls team this past offseason. Instead, the prolific scorer preferred to re-sign in his home state and attempt to guide the Knicks out of the Eastern Conference cellar. The Knicks finished with the worst record in the Eastern Conference, even with the great Phil Jackson pulling the strings from the front office. You've gotta wonder if Anthony would like a mulligan on that decision.
1 DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
Immaturity issues on the hardwood have hampered the talented big man’s career. Cousins has led the league in technical fouls twice, and has finished in the top five of that discomforting category in each of his first five seasons. When Cousins has managed to remain levelheaded, he’s blossomed into an unstoppable force in the paint, averaging 24 and 12 in 2015 shooting just under 50% from the field. Despite getting it done on a losing team, Cousins earned an All-Star nod. After signing a four-year $62 million extension with the Kings in 2013, Cousins may stick it out in hopes of achieving royalty in Sac-town.