We're in a strange time for the NBA not because the Golden State Warriors have won another NBA Finals and not because the Brooklyn Nets may now have a future star on their hands, but because of how many stars are being hurt by their teams.
Don't get us wrong: this has always happened in every sport, but what we're seeing now seems like an absolute overload of teams - intentionally or not - destroying their players' hopes, dreams, and careers because of awful management. What constitutes a player being hurt by his team's management, you ask?
For some players, it's as simple as the front office isn't doing enough to help them; role players who don't fit are being signed instead of bigger options, coaching changes keep happening, etc. There are other players on this list, though, that have been hurt by executives plotting against them, putting too much stock in them, or even keeping them in roles where they shouldn't be (i.e. 38 minutes a night when they may be best as a sixth man).
In the middle of NBA free agency season, I figure that now is a good day to examine some of these players and in addition to explaining what has gone wrong, I'll also suggest a potential way to fix things; if a player has been spending too much time at the three when he excels at the four, that's an easy fix to note.
15 D'Angelo Russell - Brooklyn Nets
Is it cheating if we put Russell on here for his time with the Lakers? No? Good. If not for his pre-NBA Draft trade to the Brooklyn Nets - and if you've read enough of my columns here, you should know that I'm ecstatic for all parties (though Brook Lopez will definitely be missed) - then Russell would have been an easy choice for this list. In fact, if not for Magic Johnson's recent comments, than I'd likely have gone another route, but let's roll the tape...
“D’Angelo is an excellent player. He has the talent to be an All-Star. We want to thank him for what he did for us. But what I needed was a leader. I needed somebody also that can make the other players better and also [somebody] that players want to play with.”
D'Angelo Russell was far from a perfect player in Los Angeles, both on the court and in the hotel, but taking Phil Jackson-esque shots? We'll be keeping an eye on Russell to see not only if the Nets can help continue to mature, but if his time in Los Angeles has lasting effects on his psyche.
14 Julius Randle - Los Angeles Lakers
Our second straight Laker to begin this list, Randle at least has the vocal support of the front office (for now) and definitely has the potential to become an All-Star in this league; yet, he winds up on here because the Lakers' front office, at least to this point, has done a bad job of putting other big men around him. True, Brandon Bass, Roy Hibbert, and Timofey Mozgov were all around because this is a rebuilding process, but were they the right choices?
When you add players like Hibbert who are looking to redeem themselves and sign Mozgov to a major contract, you run the risk of harming your younger players' development. Granted, those were decisions made by Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss - and Randle is still slowly coming along, so maybe everything will be alright - but if the former lottery pick is staying in Los Angeles, Magic should really prioritize his development.
13 Ricky Rubio - Minnesota Timberwolves
Chances are, there were some pretty obvious ones you saw coming for this list and Rubio is one of them. Though one of the point guards taken over Stephen Cury has carved out a nice NBA career for himself and still displays flashes of brilliance, Rubio winds up on this list because the Timberwolves - who nearly always have him involved in trade talks - have kept him around in an offense that has seemingly passed him by.
With Tom Thibodeau's offense, point guards are expected to be acrobatic offensive playmakers that can shoot the ball with the best of them; even after his knee surgeries, Derrick Rose was still playing fairly well under Thibs, though he was far from the explosive player from a few years prior. Rubio took strides last year, averaging a career-high 11.1 points on 40% shooting, but this is not the right system for him long-term. What are the T-Wolves waiting on?
12 Terry Rozier - Boston Celtics
Likely the most unknown player on this list, Rozier was the 16th overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft and...really hasn't contributed much in his first two seasons with the Boston Celtics. Rozier did see an improvement in playing time this year, doubling his minutes from eight in 2015-16 to seventeen in 2016-17, but he's part of a logjam that also features Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, James Young, and rising sophomore Demetrius Jackson at the guard position.
Do I think that Rozier is going to be a star in this league? Probably not. Do I think that his development is being hurt by being on a team with so many guards - and that was contemplating adding Markelle Fultz in the NBA Draft - and doesn't seem content with Thomas? Sure. He did play more minutes last year and saw time in the playoffs, but I'd like to see Rozier get a chance this summer to wind up on a team where he has a chance at either being the guard of the future or a valuable role piece.
11 Jabari Parker - Milwaukee Bucks
In what is likely our first "WHAT???" entry, hear me out on Jabari Parker because, like you, I still want him to grow into an All-Star alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo. Even after his two ACL injuries, I think there's hope for him...but not in Milwaukee. In fact, if I'm the Bucks this offseason, I'm calling up teams in need of a potential young star - ones who have the assets and time to take a risk on Parker - to gauge their interest and perhaps work out a deal.
The Bucks have said in the past that Parker is untouchable, but he was drafted to be the star and alpha when now, even if he hadn't sustained the injury, he's maybe the third or fourth best option; you also have to factor in that the Greek Freak can play either of the forward positions. Parker has said he enjoys playing in Milwaukee so this isn't so much a case of frustration or bad decision making as it is the potential need for a new start.
10 Kemba Walker - Charlotte Hornets
No one is going to deny that Kemba Walker has done a fantastic job of embracing the face-of-the-franchise role that the Charlotte Bobcats/Hornets provided him with; and, there's a fair amount of people who admit that they may have underrated Walker coming out of college. But, the Hornets continue to do one thing wrong by Kemba: surrounding him with the right players he needs to help this team advance past the first round.
Granted, the Hornets sustained so many injuries this year that we were pretty much waiting to see Allen Iverson, Kwame Brown, and NBA 2K's Jackson Ellis suit up, but Michael Jordan and friends need to find out who works best with Kemba in Steve Clifford's offense. What should they do in the frontcourt? Do they need to find a sixth man who can do what Jeremy Lin did? The longer the Hornets wait, the more they're hurting Kemba.
9 Brandon Knight - Phoenix Suns
Some believe that Brandon Knight, once a star at Kentucky and still only 25, has the ability to be a star in this league in the right situation. Others believe that, even if the on-paper stats didn't show it last year, Knight could be a valuable sixth man. And, of course, there are some who are going to call him a bust and don't believe he's worth much to any team.
The answer to "what can Brandon Knight become?" is a fairly simple one: for as long as he stays in Phoenix, the answer is unknown. Not unlike the Celtics, the Suns have a massive logjam at the guard position - Devin Booker is the future, Eric Bledsoe likely has a lock at point guard for the time being, Tyler Ulis was a first-rounder last year - and Knight's development in any of those roles is being slowed by all of the guards. When will the Suns make up their mind?
8 Jahlil Okafor - Philadelphia 76ers
At this point, does anyone know what the Philadelphia 76ers' plan for Jahlil Okafor is? Are they going to trade him this summer? Will the Sixers try to make him a sixth man? Whatever it is, it may be for the Sixers to decide sooner rather than later because they've essentially wasted his first two seasons trying to figure that out. Is he going to play alongside Joel Embiid or what?
I still have hope that Okafor can become a valuable NBA player that should make an All-Star Game or three, but the longer he's in Philadelphia without a clear future, the more those hopes dampen. If the Sixers are going to trade Okafor this offseason, they should find somewhere where there's a need for a young big man...Brooklyn, maybe?
7 Aaron Gordon - Orlando Magic
Like others on this list, Gordon has definitely been hurt by some of the Magic's questionable decisions in recent years - trading for Serge Ibaka, anyone? - but unlike others on this list, another part is the Magic still seem to be confused about where to play Gordon. In his three years, Gordon has seen time at the three (keep him far away from there), the four (this works), and the five (I'd probably keep him at the four). So, where should they put him?
If the Magic really want to see Aaron Gordon succeed, the easy answer is to put him at the four; after trading Ibaka to Toronto, Gordon really shined, posting a 18.6 PER - pretty good! - at power forward and a below-average 13.5 PER at small forward. Will the Magic keep that in mind when preparing for next season?
6 Joel Embiid - Philadelphia 76ers
Now this one is going to upset Sixers fans and I get why, but it's time to face facts. Regardless of how good he was in limited time last year, I am not sold on Joel Embiid - he needs to work on his durability, he's still an injury risk, and he needs to grow up at some point - and until the Sixers add a veteran big man who can step in to help Embiid with everything from his play to his social media, the former Kansas star is in trouble.
In the past, people have gotten the belief I don't like Embiid, which isn't true; I just think both he and the Sixers would benefit from them adding someone like Taj Gibson, Spencer Hawes, or David Lee. If the Sixers continue wanting Embid as the face of their franchise - and no one blames them for that - then they need to add the depth for when he gets hurt and help him grow up.
5 DeAndre Jordan - Los Angeles Clippers
Now this one is coming with a caveat because the Los Angeles Clippers really have done a great job of helping DeAndre Jordan turn into a dominant center. Given how many teams now have discarded the traditional beast-in-the-paint-but-bad-outside center - look at what Dwight Howard has become - it says a lot about Jordan and the Clippers that he's remained relevant and powerful.
However, with both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin opting out of their contracts and reportedly exploring other options, there's a realistic chance that Jordan will be the lone wolf left come October. We've railed on the Clippers in the past for continuously failing to provide the right supporting pieces around their Big Three - when will they get a wing - but they'd be getting bonus negative points if Jordan is left with Jamal Crawford and role players. Don't get this one wrong, Clippers.
4 Andre Drummond - Detroit Pistons
And like Jordan, maybe Andre Drummond has also been hurt by the lack of consistent pieces around him - especially when the Pistons front office plays point guard rotunda with Brandon Knight, Brandon Jennings, and Reggie Jackson - but what really has hurt the All-Star center is the lack of certainty. Do the Pistons want to trade Drummond? Do they want him to ditch the beast-in-the-paint focus that has made him an All-Star and turn him into something he's not?
You don't need to watch the NBA Finals or even a Western Conference game to know the NBA is changing and with that, some roles are bound to become obsolete. If you're a center who can't shot threes, can't play on the perimeter, and can't dish out assists, then there's not much use for you as a starter...but do the Pistons know that, or do they want to try to make things work with Drummond? Who knows?
3 Carmelo Anthony - New York Knicks
I think we've beaten this one into the ground enough times to where we can read this, sigh, and all point to Phil Jackson as the answer. Even with Phil Jackson and the Knicks having parted ways, the damage to Melo has been done.
Anthony doesn't have the youth of other players on this list, but his Hall of Fame career was damaged by the Zen Master's insistence on the Triangle and destroying the franchise's tradition and reputation.
Why was Carmelo Anthony playing the three when he's best suited at the four with Kristaps Porzingis at the five? Ask Phil. Why were the Knicks so insistent on running the triangle when the face of their franchise isn't a fan of it nor is he suited for it? Ask Phil. Why were the Knicks trying to ruin Carmelo's reputation and prevent him from winning a title. You can ask Phil that yourself.
2 Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
With all of the trade rumors now surrounding Porzingis, now seems like a perfect time to bring up a point I made back in March...again. Roll tape!
"Well, why would [Porzingis] want to keep playing in New York with a dysfunctional front office, constant trade rumors about the star of your team, and daily arguments about if the triangle is the right system to run or not? .... if the same problems continue to happen with Phil Jackson at the helm, the Latvian Unicorn may become fed up and want out alongside Carmelo Anthony."
Really, everything we said about Carmelo Anthony applies for Porzingis. Phil Jackson should not be trusted with teams, especially when he has one of the top young NBA players (for me, it's Karl Anthony-Towns, Porzingis, and Booker...then a heavy drop) on his team. What happened to being Zen? We'll see if Phil Jackson is now truly done with the NBA, given that he's still getting the full $60 million he signed on for and he can coast in retirement.
1 Anthony Davis - New Orleans Pelicans
In the same piece where I unintentionally - but completely serious at the time - predicted that Porzingis would ask for a trade from the Knicks, I also joked that DeMarcus Cousins would ask for the same from the New Orleans Pelicans. A few months later, I don't see that happening anytime soon, but I do still think the Pelicans have put Anthony Davis in a rough spot even after adding Cousins to the mix.
We've been saying for years that the Pelicans weren't doing enough to give Davis a core that could contend in the Western Conference and the same still rings true. Now, they're down Buddy Hield and they're only guaranteed at least a half-season more of Davis and Cousins which could very well wind up in Cousins leaving. Did anyone see this coming when the then-Hornets drafted Davis five years ago?
Given that David Stern still had a say in the Hornets at the time, maybe?
Which NBA players do you think are seeing their careers ruined or damaged by their teams? Make sure to let us know in the comment section below!