NBA players can be unprofessional for numerous reasons. Constant clashes with officials, players, teammates, fans, and team staff, as well as sloppy and undedicated play are among those reasons. Neither superstars nor role players are immune from unprofessionalism, and it also does not matter if the public has a positive or negative opinion of the player. Unprofessionalism is unprofessionalism. The following ranks the 15 most unprofessional players in the NBA today.
15. Hassan Whiteside – C, Miami Heat
The budding superstar big man has made some impressive strides in his career. Going from being a second-round draft pick that got bounced out of the NBA in two seasons, to the league’s best shot blocker last season, Whiteside has finally tapped into his potential as an athletic seven-footer.
That being said, the reason why Whiteside took a circuitous route to stardom (sliding in the draft and playing in the D-League and overseas while out of the NBA) is because of his unprofessional attitude. Andre Buck, Whiteside’s agent when he turned pro in 2010, said that Whiteside’s slid because he refused to take medication for ADD – though Whiteside denied that at the time. Even as he has risen to stardom, his ascent has not been without incident. Over the last couple of seasons he has been suspended for elbowing Boban Marjanovic and nailing Kelly Olynyk from behind with a forearm shiver, while getting fined for performing a wrestling takedown on Alex Len.
14. Dwight Howard – C, Atlanta Hawks
The new Atlanta Hawk big man can be seen as unprofessional for reasons on the opposite end of the spectrum from Whiteside. Howard has not been a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde type that maliciously attacks opponents without notice. He, instead, has had a laid back approach to the game that he only has seem to drop for arguing and being petulant with officials, as evident by his February one-game suspension for striking the arm of referee Mitchell Ervin. He also inexplicably had five technical fouls during the 2014-15 playoffs that caused him to be suspended for one regular season game last season.
However, it was Howard’s loosey-goosey and carefree attitude that caused the rift between him and former Los Angeles Lakers teammate Kobe Bryant. Bryant’s win at all cost attitude clashed with Howard’s you-play-to-have-fun demeanor. Howard has often taken on the light-hearted personality of his Superman predecessor Shaquille O’Neal, but O’Neal has something Howard does not – championship rings.
13. J.R. Smith: SG, Free Agent
There is a reason a player who was a valuable piece to a championship team is put on the backburner when that team make plans for its future roster. That reason is often that the team probably does not trust that player to operate in a consistent manner going forward. J.R. Smith’s unprofessionalism is reason enough for the Cleveland Cavaliers to feel that way about him.
Off-the-court issues aside, Smith’s game and attitude concerning the game has been unprofessional for practically his entire career. He has garnered a well-deserved reputation for hoisting contested three-point shots that has killed the flow of his teams’ offenses. Describing his stint with the New York Knicks, Phil Jackson criticized Smith for being late to and missing meetings. Ironically, it was against the Knicks in 2006 that a young Smith was suspended 10 games for his role in a humongous brawl. Some of Smith’s issues subsided with playing next to LeBron James, but apparently not enough for the Cavaliers to feel comfortable going all-in on him.
12. Isaiah Thomas – PG, Boston Celtics
Named in honor of the Hall of Fame point guard, Isiah Thomas, Isaiah Thomas displays an attitude similar to the former Detroit Piston, and at times that can come across as unprofessional. Standing at only 5-foot-9, it is safe to say that Thomas sometimes suffer from the little-man complex.
The whole country got a chance to see the chip that Thomas plays with last season during the NBA playoffs. Thomas picked up three technical fouls during his Boston Celtics’ series against the Atlanta Hawks, including the most infamous one in which he slyly put the smack down upside the head of Hawks’ point guard Dennis Schroder. After Schroder retaliated by knocking Thomas to the court as he ran off of a screen, Thomas had to be restrained from going after Schroder. At the conclusion of the series, Thomas even had a parting shot for Schroder, offering to meet him out back to settle their beef. It is no surprised that Thomas tied for second in the NBA in technical fouls last season with 17.
11. Russell Westbrook – PG, Oklahoma City Thunder
Speaking of having a chip, Russell Westbrook is one point guard with a gigantic chip on his shoulder. Westbrook having such a chip is a good thing if you’re an Oklahoma City Thunder fan, as his relentlessness and all-out effort to prove he is the best has led to outstanding statistical performances and wins. However, if you are anybody else besides a member of Thunder nation, Westbrook’s actions makes it be known that you are the enemy. Besides the media, no groups of people understand that any better than the officials, and opposing fans and teams.
After not getting a foul call after missing a layup in Oklahoma’s City Western Conference Semifinal Series against San Antonio last season, Westbrook angrily confronted referee Danny Crawford and had to be restrained. Westbrook received five technical fouls during last season’s playoffs, including one in which he cursed a Dallas Mavericks’ fan in the Thunder’s first-round series against the Mavericks. Kevin Durant, consider yourself warned.
10. Chris Paul – PG, Los Angeles Clippers
The run of point guards continue with the Los Angeles Clippers’ Chris Paul. Unlike Thomas and Westbrook, Paul hardly ever comes across as an unpleasant individual, but that is exactly what makes his unprofessional acts even more unprofessional. You really get the feeling that he should know better. Yet, the funny commercial pitchman with the choir boy looks has been one of the dirtiest players in the game for years.
Paul was sixth in technical fouls last season in the NBA, and has ranked in the top 20 in technical fouls in five out of the last six years. Dating back to his college years, he has also had three incidents caught on camera in which he hit an opposing player in the groin. Paul did get negative feedback for suggesting that the NBA’s Lauren Holtkamp, the league’s third-ever full-time female referee, might not be cut out for officiating. On top of that, some like former Clipper Glen Davis thinks Paul is a bad teammate.
9. Draymond Green – PF, Golden State Warriors
Draymond Green has gone from a player that not many diehard NBA observers thought would make a great impact as a pro, to a player that even the casual basketball fan knows. Unfortunately for him, the increased notoriety is not solely due to his abilities on the court. Green has become an indispensable member of the back-to-back Western Conference Champion and 2015 NBA Champion Golden State Warriors, but his straddling the line of basketball professionalism has been just as noteworthy.
Green led the NBA in technical fouls last season with 21, after finishing second in 2014-15 with 15. The bruising power forward penchant for nefarious behavior was also on display during last season’s playoffs when he was fined for kicking Oklahoma City’s Steven Adams in the groin, and then in the NBA Finals when he hit LeBron James in the groin. Often compared to Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman for his dirty work, Green has taken that role to heart by setting aside money for future technical fouls.
8. Rajon Rondo – PG, Chicago Bulls
Ask anyone who has spent any considerable time around the new Chicago Bull point guard, and they will tell you he is extremely thoughtful and cerebral. After spending a lot of time around him, they will also likely tell you he can be handful to deal with. Just ask former head coaches Doc Rivers, Rick Carlisle, and George Karl. Despite winning an NBA Championship as part of one of the best NBA teams of their era, Rondo did not always get along with Rivers when he played for the Boston Celtics. He even is said to have shattered a video screen with a water bottle during one altercation with Rivers during a film session.
His disagreements with Carlisle and Karl were even worse as Carlisle eventually benched him after the Dallas Mavericks acquired him with the hope of being the missing piece to a title run, and Karl and the veteran point guard had clashes even before the start of their first and only season together in Sacramento. Rondo has also exuded poor professionalism by clashing with officials, most notably calling referee Bill Kennedy a derogatory slur.
7. James Harden – G, Houston Rockets
James Harden’s stats tell you that he has emerged as one of the NBA’s better players over the last several seasons while playing for the Houston Rockets. Well, if that is indeed the case, why is his name found at the punch line of jokes more often than it is revered. The easy answer for that, as you can probably tell by the title and theme of this article, is his lack of professionalism.
For Harden, that lack of professionalism specifically manifests itself in Harden’s defense or lack thereof. Harden made the lowlight reel on several occasions last season by expertly dodging offensive players attempting to score like an expert bullfighter dodges a bull. Not only does Harden does not seem to play any defense, he does not seem to care that he does not play any defense. His actions were so bad last season in Houston that the No. 14 player on this list, Dwight Howard, turned an occasional eye, and flashed a smile, at Harden’s sometimes aloofness on the court.
6. DeMarcus Cousins – C, Sacramento Kings
When George Karl was trying desperately to get on the same page as Rajon Rondo, he had an even bigger challenge in the Sacramento Kings locker room. That black hole-size of a challenge was to appease DeMarcus Cousins. The Sacramento big man has not displayed a lot of professionalism in his young, but quickly aging career.
Before Karl, Cousins clashed with head coach Paul Westphal, which led to Westphal’s firing. Cousins has also been suspended for among other things, aggressively confronting former San Antonio player and current color analyst Sean Elliot after a game over comments made by Elliot during the game, punching Houston’s Patrick Beverly in the stomach, hitting O.J. Mayo in the groin in a game against Dallas, and of course unprofessional behavior and conduct detrimental to the team. Cousins’ relationship with Karl was so bad that Rondo said that it was the worst he has ever seen.
5. Blake Griffin – PF, Los Angeles Clippers
The run of unprofessional players occupying a locker room together continues as Blake Griffin joins his Los Angeles Clippers’ teammate Chris Paul on the list. Like Paul, Griffin may seem to be very likeable to many as he has also has had a very successful off-the-court career, but upon closer inspection, the unprofessional side of the high-flying big man can be seen.
Ranked in the top-13 for most technical fouls per game in each of the last three NBA seasons, Griffin is no stranger to altercations. While he has had disagreement with referees, it has been his clashes with rival players and others that have been the most unprofessional. Rival players are often upset with the 6-foot-10, 250-pounder’s flopping and acting for the referee. If that is being too harsh, Griffin is at least unprofessional for his treatment of his friends. He was suspended four games last season for striking former Clippers’ assistant equipment manager Matias Testi during a disagreement. The incident caused Griffin to miss more than four games because he broke his hand during the strike.
4. Matt Barnes – SF, Sacramento Kings
This season, DeMarcus Cousins will have a teammate who has been more unprofessional in the NBA than he has. Matt Barnes became known to a lot of basketball fans for his failed intimidation of Kobe Bryant on an inbounds play during the 2009-10 season. Barnes pretended to inbound the ball directly at the face of Bryant during a game between the Orlando Magic and Los Angeles Lakers, but Bryant did not flinch.
Since that moment, Barnes has been suspended for desperately trying to following Milwaukee’s John Henson into the Bucks’ locker room after the two of them was ejected following an on-court altercation, and fined for promoting violence against then-New York Knicks head coach Derek Fisher because Fisher was dating his estranged wife. He has also slapped a coach during a Pro-Am event, cursed out the owner of the Phoenix Suns, and cursed out James Harden’s mother. The latter he says he did so unknowingly.
3. D’Angelo Russell – PG, Los Angeles Lakers
The reason most human beings, not just basketball players, know the talented Lakers’ second-year guard is for his recording of teammate Nick Young’s confession that he had cheated on his then-fiancé Iggy Azalea. The recording led to the breakup of the couple, but that incident was not the sum total of Russell’s lack of professionalism as a rookie. He never lived up to the expectations he had as the No. 2 overall pick of the 2015 NBA Draft, and a big part of that was his lack of professionalism.
Russell was never on the same page with Byron Scott, who served as Los Angeles’ head coach last season. Scott even benched Russell for being of all things too cocky. Russell’s final stat line of a rookie of 13.2 points per game and 3.3 assists on 41 percent shooting did not suggest a reason to be cocky. That shows as a rookie that Russell was not ready to handle being a professional.
2. Markieff Morris – PF, Washington Wizards
One half of the Morris twins, Markieff Morris unprofessionalism surpasses his brothers Marcus’, though Marcus’ troubles put him into consideration for being on the list as well. While playing for the Phoenix Suns, neither of the Morris twins made many friends in the desert, but Markieff’ mischief was more troublesome. Morris had a run-in with Suns’ head coach Jeff Hornacek in which Morris threw a towel in Hornacek’s direction while leaving the game. Morris had already been on bad terms with Hornacek as he had been fined earlier in the season by the NBA for publicly demanding a trade. Later in the season, Morris would get into a shoving match and verbal altercation with teammate Archie Goodwin on the Suns’ bench.
After the last incident, Morris finally got his wish and was traded to Washington. Even before his departure, Phoenix owner Robert Sarver blamed the troubles Morris had with the Suns on the millennial generation not being able to properly overcome problems. If that does not wreak of unprofessionalism nothing does.
1. Lance Stephenson – SG, New Orleans Pelicans
The previous 14 players were noted for either their lack of professionalism in having an abundance of senseless altercations on and around the court or for having childlike maturity while actually playing the game of basketball. No player combines those two descriptions like Lance Stephenson.
It was evident to everyone that Stephenson had gone full rogue in the Indiana Pacers’ 2014 Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat. He gently touched LeBron James in the mouth, smacked Norris Cole across the face, and occasional interjected himself into Miami’s huddle. All of that was nice, but his parting gift was the quintessential non-basketball move of blowing into James’ ear. Those antics led to him leaving the Pacers, and since then his lack of focus and propensity for turnovers has led him to play for four different teams in two years. Charlotte coach Steve Clifford noticed that no grouping played well when Stevenson was included with them, and Memphis decided not to resign him even after he played well at times for the Grizzlies last season.
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