The NBA has always been a star-oriented league, probably for the better since it concerns a sport that relies heavily upon individual ability. With traditionally more relaxed drafting rules in regards to the age at which prospects can enter the league, it is not uncommon to see these hallmark players of an era stay with one primary team for the majority of their careers. However, when these franchise-beloved players often venture onto another team during the twilight years in their career, the results can be sub-par, and even disastrous.
In actuality, a renowned player in the NBA looking for a change of pace after they have established themselves on one team, is a fairly typical occurrence. Once their productivity dips below the original franchise’s expected rate, they will typically let them test the free agent market, or put them on the trading block. On the other end of these transactions is usually a team that believes they can restore the player in question back to their previous level of productivity. This tends to feature results that are not in their favor, highlighting the new team as the one where the star player’s career went to die.
The fault doesn’t really rest on either the player or the team alone; it’s usually just the result when a player out of their prime, meets an overzealous franchise with unrealistic expectations. It’s not really a good or bad thing, just the nature of the beast in professional sports of any kind, much less in a league that’s cutthroat as the NBA. At the very least, it’s provided evidence that even elite players aren’t immortal, as their careers fizzled out with their change of scenery.
Ranked below are the top 15 NBA players who changed teams and completely fell off the map.
15. Tracy McGrady
McGrady’s case is interesting because he actually had productive stints with three different teams in the Raptors, Magic and Rockets, averaging at least 21.0 PPG for most years with those franchises. However, the death knell came when he was dealt to the Knicks in the 2009-10 season, and his scoring production dropped dramatically. He averaged just 9.4 PPG in New York, and 8 PPG with the Pistons the next season.
Yes, he was considerably older, but that is still a noticeable drop-off from even just a couple years ago. Ultimately, McGrady will be remembered for his peak seasons in Orlando and Houston, not the failed experiment in his later years with New York or Detroit.
14. Shawn Kemp
One of the most underrated big men in the game throughout the 1990s, Kemp’s best years were spent with the SuperSonics and Cavaliers, where he consistently averaged around 18 PPG and 10 RPG. Before the 2000-01 season he was traded to Portland, and his numbers decreased dramatically. Granted, some of that was due to limited playing time, but he had started all 82 games in Cleveland the year prior. Kemp never averaged more than 6.5 PPG, and 5.7 RPG in any of his final three seasons in Portland and Orlando. For a 10-year stretch, he was one of the best post-players in the game, but his age and new destination caught up with him fairly quickly.
13. Vince Carter
Carter ranged from productive player to superstar in his first 15 years in the league, spending time with the Raptors, Magic, Nets, Mavericks and Suns. For obvious reasons of age, when he was dealt to the Grizzlies a couple years ago, and he averaged career lows in nearly every statistical category. The once high-scoring dunk artist with the Raptors has been reduced to a bench-sitting role player, which again, is understandable given how long he has been in the league. Carter’s later years won’t define him, and he can still serve as a mentor to younger players in the right situation, like the one he has in Memphis.
12. Chris Webber
Webber was the first overall pick in the 1993 draft, and for a good while was a top-tier scorer in the league, usually averaging at least 20 PPG with the Warriors, Wizards and Kings. Maybe it had to do with better supporting casts, but when he was trade to the Sixers in 2004-05, he wasn’t the player they thought they were getting. Numbers don’t really tell the whole story, as he still averaged 15 to 20 PPG, but Webber never really got along in Philadelphia. It also signaled a soon-to-be downturn in his production, which followed him to the Pistons soon after. He retired after the 2007-08 season where he averaged a career low 14 MPG as a member of the Warriors once again.
11. Kevin Garnett
There are two distinct phases in Garnett’s career; before the Nets, and after the Nets. For nearly all his years spent in Minnesota and Boston, he was a dominant scorer and rebound-threat, arguably one of the best overall players in the sport. When he went to Brooklyn, his PPG were reduced to less than half of his final year with the Celtics. Amazingly, he’s still in the league, serving as the definition of a player-mentor with his native Timberwolves, grooming the plethora of young talent into stars of the future. Garnett deserves a bit of a break, as he was a great player for nearly 20 years, but the drop-off was quick and pronounced all the same.
10. Scottie Pippen
Pippen made his name playing “Robin” to Michael Jordan’s “Batman”, for years on the legendary Bulls teams of the 1990s. Following his contribution to that dynasty, he spent productive seasons with the Rockets and Blazers. Ironically, it was a return to the Windy City that spelled the end of his career in the 2003-04 season. It ended up being Pippen’s last season in the league, as he played limited time and was obviously near the end of his rope. He had already proved his worth, so it wasn’t a huge concern, and he at least got to go out in the city where he won six championships. I doubt he was complaining about that.
9. Penny Hardaway
It’s probably under-looked today just how popular Hardaway was in his heyday. As a member of the Magic in the 1990s, he was a great scorer. Similar success followed when he went to the Suns, though it was reduced a bit. The wheels fell off when he went to the Knicks in the 2003-04 season, averaging less than 10 PPG. Injuries played a role, but he clearly just wasn’t the same player as he once was, and he would retire several years later as a member of the Heat. Ultimately, while Hardaway doesn’t get the respect he probably deserves, his time in New York proved that his career wasn’t all memorable.
8. Stephon Marbury
Out of all the teams Marbury played for in his 13 year NBA career, most people don’t cite his last season with the Celtics as a highlight, and for obvious reasons. He averaged a career low 3.8 PPG and 1.8 RPG in Boston during the 2008-09 campaign, and was a shadow of his former self in Phoenix and New York. The drop-off was quick, and one of the best scorers of his era clearly no longer had it in him. He was playing less minutes, but the quality of play had clearly decreased. Another situation where it doesn’t hurt his legacy, but it was pronounced enough to include it on this list.
7. Paul Pierce
After nearly 20 excellent seasons, which have cemented Pierce as an all-time great in the sport, it may be time for him to hang it up. While on the Clippers this season he averaged 6.1 PPG and 2.7 RPG; a far cry from the stats he put up while with the Celtics. Ever since he left Boston several years ago for the Nets, his career hasn’t been the same, and it frankly is odd seeing him play in anything other than a green jersey. Obviously, the 14 years he spent with the Celtics overrules his unproductive seasons in Brooklyn, Washington and L.A., but it still deserves mention, and is case-example of player that was bound to be successful with just one franchise.
6. Morris Peterson
Peterson may be all but forgotten today, and was never really what you would call “elite”, but he was certainly a established scorer in Toronto for seven seasons, averaging a high of 16.8 PPG in the 2005-06 season. That production didn’t sustain itself in New Orleans several years later, and he never averaged more than 8 PPG in his final four seasons, before retiring as a member of the Thunder in 2011. Morris’ numbers did not drop in New Orleans for lack of playing time, as he started over 100 games in three years. Clearly though, his window for quality play closed quicker than expected, and he was out of the league just a few short years later.
5. Shareef Abdur-Rahim
Abdur-Rahim was plagued by playing most of his best seasons in the late 1990s in small market Vancouver, as he is hardly ever talked about today. Despite this, he was a 20-plus PPG scorer during this time, and really one of the best overall players in the league. He continued to have good, not great, seasons in Atlanta and Portland following his time with the Grizzlies. It all turned sour during his last three seasons in Sacramento, where most of his numbers suffered a severe drop-off in nearly all categories, despite getting considerable amounts of playing time. He’ll ultimately be remembered for his time with the Grizzlies, where he proved to be one of the most underrated players of his era.
4. Shaquille O’Neal
Saying that Shaq ever “fell off the map” may be kind of ridiculous, but it’s still pretty funny to compare his numbers in his prime with the Lakers, to his production in his last year in 2010 with the Celtics. It proves that even future Hall of Fame players eventually need to call it quits. In Boston, Shaq averaged just 9.2 PPG and 4.8 RPG during that last season, which was obviously much reduced from his prime years. Obviously one of the most dominant big-men of all time, he still suffered the same typical late-career woes that many players do, as evidenced by this list in general.
3. Dominique Wilkins
Often overshadowed in his era by the likes of Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing and Larry Bird, Wilkins was a legitimate star throughout the 1980s and early 90s with the Hawks. Seemingly always averaging at least 25 PPG, he was a threat all over the floor, that is, until, he left Atlanta for the Celtics. The move to Boston came after one limited, yet productive season with the Clippers, but after that Wilkins’ numbers dropped considerably. For the first time since his rookie season, he averaged less than 20.0 PPG. The trend continued for two more seasons in San Antonio and Orlando, before he retired following the 1998-99 season. He will always be remembered as a Hawk, where he had 11 outstanding seasons.
2. Zydrunas Ilgauskas
Before Lebron got to Cleveland, Ilgauskas was arguably the Cavaliers’ best player, a force in the paint, and one of the best European players to ever lace up in the NBA. A serviceable scorer and a very good rebound-presence Ilgauskas had 12 very solid seasons with the Cavs, and worked well with Lebron in his formative years. With age becoming a detriment, he spent his last season in Miami, and had the worst season of his career before retiring. He put up a dismal 5.0 PPG and registered just 4.0 RPG. He’ll ultimately be remembered for his time in Cleveland, helping usher in LeBron’s era with an NBA Finals appearance.
1. Allen Iverson
When he first came on the scene in 1996, Iverson was an enigma to the NBA game. His small stature almost seemed to fit his style of play, and he was one of the most dynamic scorers of his era. He spent nearly ten years with the Sixers, establishing himself as one of the best players in their franchise’s history, before he was dealt to the Nuggets, where he still put up pretty good numbers.
It marked the downward spiral of his career when he went to Detroit in 2008, and averaged under 20 PPG for the Pistons for the first time in his career. Iverson was just a marginal player after that, finishing out his career with a brief second stint in Philadelphia, and playing three games for the Grizzlies in 2009 before retiring. One of the greatest scorers of all time, he can only be remembered as a Sixer, where his best productivity took place.
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