The National Basketball Association is home to 420 or so of the best basketball players on the planet. Getting there is no small task, involving hard work and even harder decisions every step of the way. Making an NBA roster means competing at the highest possible level, and those who do should be proud of that accomplishment.
However, the NBA is not a forgiving place. Players face a gruelling 82 game schedule and many hours of tiresome travelling, not to mention all the training and dietary discipline that goes into being a professional athlete. Winning is the bottom line, and if you can’t make yourself useful, you’ll find yourself jobless faster than a John Wall fast break.
Players can fall out of favor for any number of reasons. Some catch the injury bug, and just can’t regain the old magic they once had. Others fail to progress as much as teams had hoped, or simply get lost in the shuffle and overlooked. When this happens, every player takes a different approach depending on their unique situation and career arc. Many quietly retire from basketball and pursue other interests. Some enter the D-League to stay close to home, with an eye on getting called back up to the big leagues as soon as possible.
However, many players choose to explore their options overseas, where they can get paid decent coin, receive ample playing time and instant star status, and, if they play well enough, remain on NBA scouts’ radar. Some even fall in love with the lifestyle and remain out of the NBA by choice, especially European players who may dabble in the NBA lifestyle before returning to more familiar territory with money in their pocket and stories to tell. So, if you’ve ever wondered “whatever happened to that guy?” there’s a good chance he’s featured below as one of the most talented ex-NBAers making paychecks abroad.
15 Byron Mullens
A consensus top-10 recruit coming out of high school, Mullens failed to deliver the goods at Ohio State, but nonetheless felt compelled to go pro after his freshman season. Widely praised for his size, athleticism, and shooting touch, Mullens was seen as a raw but high upside talent with the perfect tools for the modern NBA. His high school production and potential made him a first round pick, but unfortunately it was his reputation for disinterested play that ended up carrying over to the NBA, where he failed to make an impact with any of the four teams he played with over five years.
14 Joe Alexander
Alexander first caught the attention of scouts as a sophomore at West Virginia, thanks to his ideal frame and freakish athleticism. Despite having only played organized basketball for about five years, an even stronger junior season catapulted him all the way to Milwaukee’s eighth overall pick in the strong 2008 draft. Surprisingly, despite a reportedly outstanding work ethic, Alexander was written off by the Bucks after just one season, and subsequently dropped by his new team, the Bulls, after just eight games. Injuries further diminished his stock, and he hasn’t sniffed NBA playing time since, instead plying his trade overseas and in the D-League.
13 Patrick O’Bryant
Entering the league in 2006 after two years at Bradley University, O’Bryant was selected ninth overall by the Golden State Warriors thanks to his outstanding physical tools and almost limitless potential. A legit seven-footer with arms for days, he could be a force in the paint at both ends of the floor. Unfortunately, it very soon became apparent that criticisms about his work ethic were well founded, and he found himself out of a job after playing just 90 games over four seasons.
12 Sean Williams
Williams was selected by the New Jersey Nets with the 17th pick in the 2007 draft after averaging an astonishing 5.0 blocks per game in his junior year at Boston College (albeit in only 15 games). Though this one clearly defined NBA skill allowed him to make an immediate impact as a rookie, his progress in other areas of the game stalled and he was released by the Nets after just three seasons. After a year playing overseas, Williams briefly returned stateside to the D-League, earning call-ups to the Mavericks and Celtics.
11 Julian Wright
A jack of all trades, Wright as a college prospect was touted for his versatility, but inconsistency and lack of a single NBA-ready, bread-and-butter skill kept scouts hot and cold on his draft stock. While he had top five talent, the Hornets made Wright the 13th pick of the 2007 draft after he helped the Kansas Jayhawks to the “Elite Eight” of the NCAA Tournament. Though he played reasonably well in very limited minutes as a rookie, Wright failed to crack the rotation over the next two seasons and was traded to the Raptors. He lasted just one year there before being relegated to the D-League, and then overseas.
10 Rodney Carney
Carney’s calling card has always been his incredible athletic ability, and it earned him a selection just outside the lottery in the 2006 draft. However, Carney was already a senior when he was drafted, which caused some to question his upside. These fears proved to be well founded, as the swingman never really developed a good enough handle or shot to justify a roster spot.
9 Jordan Crawford
He may not have played NBA basketball for the last two years, but you might remember Crawford as the kid who dunked on LeBron James during a summer camp, causing a minor fiasco when it was reported that Nike officials attempted to confiscate the footage. At the time, Crawford was a soon-to-be sophomore at Xavier University, and wasn’t considered a serious prospect until the college season got under way. By the time it was over, Crawford had displayed such an uncanny knack for scoring that he decided to turn pro, and was rewarded by being picked in the first round. That began a saga which saw him split four seasons between four different teams, spending a full season with a single team (the Wizards) just once. Crawford’s scoring reputation proved accurate, and he averaged double figure points every year he played.
8 Al Thornton
A late bloomer, Thornton wasn’t considered a top-tier prospect until his senior year at Florida State when he averaged just a shade under 20 points per contest. Scouts were mainly drawn to his elite hops, quickness, and frame, which made him a matchup nightmare at the college level. His production and potential came with one big caveat however: By the time Thornton was drafted, he was already 23 years old, an advanced age for any prospect, let alone one chosen in the lottery. A good rookie season was followed by an even stronger sophomore outing, in which he averaged 16.8 points and 5.2 rebounds as the Clippers starting small forward.
7 Jan Vesely
There were high hopes for Vesely, who was chosen by the Wizards with the sixth pick in the 2011 draft. Unlike a lot of European prospects, he was seen as a versatile athletic specimen rather than pure shooter, more Andrei Kirilenko than Dirk Nowitzki. While Vesely clearly possessed a lot of natural talent, there were a lot of holes in his game that he never managed to address, namely his poor shooting and clumsy dribbling. Too unskilled to play on the wing, and not strong enough to body up NBA bigs, he was cursed with the ‘tweener label and shown the door after just three seasons.
6 Anthony Randolph
In terms of raw talent, few players over the past decade have generated as much buzz as Randolph did leading up to his selection in the lottery of the 2008 draft. He had it all: size, length, explosiveness, agility, and ball skills were all on display in his lone year at LSU. However, much like Vesely, questions remained about his true position, particularly on the defensive end of the floor where his lack of strength became particularly glaring against NBA power forwards. None of the four teams he played for seemed to be able to answer these questions and unlock his potential, and he was waived for the last time by the Orlando Magic without ever playing a game for them.
5 Andray Blatche
A highly skilled offensive talent, Blatche was one of the last high school players ever taken in the draft before the NBA instituted its “one and done” rule. Unfortunately, being selected by the notoriously talented but dysfunctional Gilbert Arenas-led Wizards did little to discourage his immaturity. The power forward seemed to have turned the corner after a strong 2010-11 campaign in which he averaged 16.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game, but the Wizards elected to jettison him the following season as part of a rebuilding effort centred around new star John Wall. Despite playing decently well for the Nets, he lasted just two seasons there, last playing an NBA game in 2014.
4 Jason Maxiell
A four year player at Cincinnati, Maxiell managed to improve each year of his college career, earning him a pace in the first round of the 2005 draft. Making a name for himself based on his gargantuan 7’3” wingspan and aggressive, efficient style of play, Maxiell was always nonetheless extremely undersized for an NBA big man, standing just 6’5” barefoot. He also entered the league at 22 years of age, giving him a shorter window to grow into a productive player. Despite these obstacles, Maxiell’s toughness helped him carve out a 10 year NBA career, but it was only a matter of time before they caught up to him.
He found himself without an NBA job for the 2015-16 season, and opted to continue his career in China. His trademark intensity garnered him mixed results there, as he was involved in a heated altercation when he chased an opposing player across the court after a hard foul.
3 Hakim Warrick
2 Stephon Marbury
The oldest player on this list, Marbury has continued to live out the exploits of his All-Star prime by relocating to China to play against lesser competition. Though he’s many years removed from being a useful NBA basketball player, having last played in the 2008-09 season, there was a time when Marbury was one of the most electrifying guards in the game, up there with his storied draft-mates like Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson and Steve Nash. However, the same gritty disposition that had served him so well on the New York City street courts he grew up on also caused him to butt heads with players and coaches, likely expediting his exit from the league at just 32 years old.
1 Amar’e Stoudemire
Stoudemire officially retired from the NBA at the end of this past season, which means we won’t see him in an NBA uniform again, barring a serious change of heart. Though injuries left him a shell of his former self in his latter years, Stoudemire was once the most feared pick and roll threat in the league, known for posterizing dunks but equally adept at stepping out and splashing mid-range jumpers. The six-time All-Star should be a lock for the Hall of Fame, potentially joining an all-time great class featuring new retirees Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, and Kobe Bryant.
However, unlike most retired players who seem to want a break, Stoudemire’s love for the game and health are evidently strong enough that he wants to continue playing professionally. Shortly after retiring, it was announced that he would join the Israeli team Hapoel Jerusalem on a two year deal. Given that he’s a part owner of the team, it’s hard not to read this as a publicity move done to boost his future source of income. On the other hand, Stoudemire’s self-proclaimed Jewish heritage and long-standing interest in Israel may mean he’s simply looking for an opportunity to get closer to his roots and experience a culture that means a lot to him. Whatever the case, mazel tov on your (semi) retirement, Amar’e!
Leave A Comment
Looking for an AD FREE EXPERIENCE on TheSportster?Get Your Free Access Now!