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Late-Career NBA Team Changes

Dwyane Wade’s shift to the Chicago Bulls has been jarring, but is it the most jarring late-career shift ever?

Joel Brigham

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Dwyane Wade in Chicago, even after that 2010 Slam Magazine cover that featured him in a Bulls jersey, is one of the most disorientating things current NBA fans have ever seen. After 13 seasons, three NBA championships, one Finals MVP award, 12 All-Star appearances and eight All-NBA team appearances with the HEAT – not to mention a handful of important team records including the most points in Miami history – it’s an odd thing to even imagine Wade in a different uniform, but here we are. D-Wade is a Chicago Bull.

Pat Riley can gripe all he wants to about how sad it is that Wade left Miami, but there was no way he could have paid what he felt was beyond market value for a player who no longer was someone he felt could keep them in the hunt for an NBA championship. Not with LeBron James gone, and certainly not with Chris Bosh’s playing future in jeopardy.

So Riley let Wade go, and now we’ll spend the next nine months adjusting our eyes to one of the most shocking late-career team changes in league history.

The thing about that, though, is that this isn’t remotely close to the first time a superstar has had to change teams late in his career. Plenty of them have simply outlived their usefulness on their most iconic teams, which has led to some truly strange end-of-career team changes for Hall-of-Fame superstars. Wade’s switch to Chicago is jarring, but by no means the most jarring we’ve ever seen.

Those honors go to the following players:

#5 – Bob Cousy, Cincinnati Royals– Cousy couldn’t have asked for a better send-off to his NBA career, retiring as a Boston Celtic at age 35 after having won six NBA championships and an MVP trophy there. Six years later, however, he was offered a job to coach the Cincinnati Royals, and as a ruse to boost ticket sales Cousy hit the court once again at age 41 after a six-year layoff. He barely played, but sales jumped 77 percent, so while he undoubtedly made some great money in those final games in Ohio, the price paid was a Cousy-sized chunk of dignity. If we can pretend like Michael Jordan’s Washington thing never happened, however, we can surely strike this Cousy stuff from the record too.

#4 – Hakeem Olajuwon, Toronto Raptors – In 2001, Olajuwon was unable to negotiate a new contract with the Houston Rockets because the team was ready to rebuild around Steve Francis, who had just won Rookie of the Year the previous season. Since the Rockets were so far removed from winning a title (their last one had been six years prior), the team decided it was time to start from scratch. Despite all of that, “The Dream” wasn’t ready to quit basketball, so he ended up getting himself a reasonable deal to play one final season in Canada, where he averaged career-lows of 7.1 points and six rebounds per game.

#3 – Shaquille O’Neal, Phoenix Suns, Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics – When the Miami HEAT traded O’Neal in February of 2008 they were a league-worst 9-37, leading them to make a deal with Phoenix to acquire Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks, serving the purpose of getting younger and off-loading O’Neal’s massive contract. Phoenix didn’t make the playoffs in 2009, the first time since Shaq’s rookie season in 1993 that he’d failed to make the postseason, so the Suns shipped him to Cleveland that summer to pair him with LeBron James. O’Neal hoped to win his fifth ring there, but he didn’t, so the next summer he signed the smallest contract of his career to chase a ring in Boston, which once again would prove fruitless. Three teams in three years for one of the most legendary centers in the history of the game, and to this day it still looks odd to see him wearing Phoenix purple, Cleveland wine or Boston green.

#2 – Allen Iverson, Detroit Pistons & Memphis Grizzlies – It was kind of weird seeing A.I. in a Nuggets jersey, but we got used to it. Same thing with him in a Pistons uniform. Those three games for the Grizzlies, however, never really resonated, which might be why he left the team after so short a tenure. He didn’t like his life as a bench player, so he quit. Three days of Iverson in any unfamiliar uniform is an unceremonious way to end a career, and while he got to retire as a Sixer (thank goodness), his exodus at the end of his most productive years was sad to say the least.

#1 – Patrick Ewing, Seattle SuperSonics & Orlando Magic – In making a pretty atrocious trade that returned New York Glen Rice, Luc Longley and a bunch of detritus, the Knicks gave up on a roster centered around Ewing by sending him to Seattle. A year later though, the Sonics decided they didn’t really need Ewing, either, so he finished his career with the Orlando Magic, wearing #6 (Grant Hill had #33 at the time) and stinking up the joint. He ended up averaging career-lows of six points and four rebounds per game that season and started only four out of the 65 games he played.

What makes this the worst is that nobody wanted or needed one of the best centers of his era at his age. In other situations, you’ve got guys who are being given a shot by a team who still really believes there’s gas in the tank, and often the veteran star knows and understands his decreased role on his new team. Ewing never really had that after leaving New York and Seattle, which is part of what made it so sad.

Honorable Mention:

Moses Malone, San Antonio Spurs – San Antonio thought they’d get some bargain frontcourt help by signing a 40-year-old Malone in 1994, but he ruptured a tendon in his leg early in the season and missed all but 17 games. A solid season the year before in Philadelphia told him he still had something left in the tank, but 17 games at 2.9 points apiece proved otherwise.

Dominique Wilkins, Orlando Magic – After the 1994-95 season, the market for ‘Nique was so bad that he actually had to take his talents to Greece and then later Italy. His last playing season, however, was with the NBA’s Orlando Magic, where he played in only 27 games and averaged a meager five points and 2.6 rebounds per game. At least he got to play that last year with his brother, Gerald.

Dave Bing, Washington Bullets & Boston Celtics – An all-time favorite in the minds of long-time Pistons fans, Bing spent his last three seasons split between the Bullets and Celtics. His scoring and assist numbers dropped considerably those last couple of seasons, but Bing was still a respectable role player.

Tiny Archibald, Milwaukee Bucks – After his Celtics were swept in the playoffs by the Milwaukee Bucks in 1983, that’s who Archibald decided to sign his final NBA contract with. He played 46 games with Milwaukee that season, averaging single-digit scoring numbers for the first and only time of his career before retiring mid-season.

Dave Cowens, Milwaukee Bucks – After retiring from the Boston Celtics in 1980, Cowens took a couple of years off before being goaded by buddy Don Nelson into returning for one more run, this time with the Milwaukee Bucks. He played in only 40 games that season, putting up the worst numbers of his professional life, but he did manage to sweep Boston out of the postseason. After getting bumped in the next round that year, Cowens retired for good.

George Gervin, Chicago Bulls – Iceman came to the NBA with the rest of the ABA studs in 1976 and saw a ton of success with the San Antonio Spurs. His final year in the NBA, however, was with the Chicago Bulls, who were grooming reigning Rookie of the Year Michael Jordan at the time. Luckily for Gervin (but not for Jordan), MJ broke his foot that season and missed all but 18 games, giving Iceman the opportunity to remain productive. Had Jordan played all year, who knows how frustrating that final season would have been for Gervin?

Karl Malone, L.A. Lakers – The man wanted a ring before he retired, and he gave it a good shot. He really did. But if he wasn’t going to win a championship, it would’ve been nice if he could’ve retired ringless in Salt Lake City. His injured knee sunk the team and his career in the NBA Finals that year, and the Mailman finally sent it in following that season. He announced his retirement from the Delta Center, Utah’s arena, in February of 2005.

Robert Parish, Chicago Bulls – Brought in to give Michael Jordan’s 1997 Bulls a little extra size off the bench, a 43-year-old Parish hardly played, but did earn himself the unique distinction of having played on championship teams with both Jordan and Larry Bird. He did get his fourth ring out of the deal, but he looked as though he’d snap in half like a dusty twig any time he got into the game. In and of itself, a little depressing, but there was certainly more good than harm done in The Chief’s last go-round as a professional basketball player.

***

There aren’t a whole lot of career one-team superstars left in this league, particularly now that both Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan have retired. At least we didn’t have to see those guys change teams late in their careers, right?

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NBA

Defensive Player Of The Year Watch – 11/17/17

Spencer Davies updates the list of names to keep an eye on and who’s in contention for DPOY.

Spencer Davies

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We’re exactly one month into the season now, as the NBA standings have started to take shape headed into winter.

A couple of weeks ago, Basketball Insiders released its first Defensive Player of the Year Watch article to go in-depth on players that could compete for the prestigious award. Since then, there have been injuries keeping most of the household names out of the picture.

Guys like Rudy Gobert (knee) and Al-Farouq Aminu (ankle) have been or will be sidelined for weeks. Kawhi Leonard has yet to make his season debut recovering from a bothersome right quad.

While that isn’t the best news for fans and the league at the moment, it’s likely that those players will be just fine and return with the same impact they’ve always made. In the meantime, there are opportunities for others to throw their names in the hat as elite defenders. With new names and mainstays, here’s a look at six healthy candidates.

6) Joel Embiid

Trusting the Process in Philadelphia was worth the wait. As polished as the seven-footer is with the ball in his hands on offense, he might be even more dangerous as an interior defensive presence.

One of ten players in the NBA averaging at least a block and a steal per game, Embiid makes a world of a difference for in limiting opponents. Through 14 games, the Philadelphia 76ers are allowing just 96.4 points per 100 possessions with him playing. Furthering that, he’s the only one on the floor who dips the team’s defensive rating below 100 and has the second-highest Defensive Real Plus-Minus rating (3.03) in the NBA.

5) Kristaps Porzingis

Like Embiid, it’s been an incredible season for the one called The Unicorn. Before the season started, Porzingis stated it was a goal of his to accomplish three things—an All-Star game appearance, Most Improved Player, and Defensive Player of the Year.

So far, he’s on the right track. Outside of being the league’s third-highest scorer (28.9 points per game), the Latvian big man is hounding and deterring shot attempts nearly every time inside. According to SportVU data, Porzingis is allowing his opponents to only convert 35.1 percent of their attempts at the rim, which is the lowest by far among his peers seeing at least four tries per game. Oh, and when he’s off the floor, the Knicks have a 112.4 defensive rating, which is 9.3 more points per 100 possessions than with him on.

4) Nikola Jokic

At the beginning of the season, it looked like the same old story with the Denver Nuggets defense, but their intensity has stepped up on that end of the floor for the past couple of weeks. Playing next to new running mate Paul Millsap has taken some getting used to, but it seems like the two frontcourt partners have started to mesh well.

Though it might not have been the case a season ago, the Denver Nuggets are a net -12.4 per 100 possessions defensively without Jokic on the court as opposed to a team-best 100.1 defensive rating with him on. A huge knock on the Serbian sensation last year and before then was his inability to defend. He’s still got things to work on as a rim protector with his timing, but the progress is coming. He’s seventh in the league in total contested shots (168) and has been forcing turnovers like a madman. Averaging 1.6 steals per game, Jokic has recorded at least one takeaway in all but two games.

3) Draymond Green

In the first DPOY watch article, the Golden State Warriors had been better off defensively with Green sitting. That right there should tell you how much we can really put into data in small sample sizes. It’s changed dramatically since that point in time.

Without Green playing, the Golden State Warriors have a defensive rating of 105.4 as opposed to 98.4 on the same scale with him on the floor. His matchups are starting to grow weary of driving on him again, as he’s seen less than four attempts at the basket. Currently, in DRPM, he ranks eighth with a 2.60 rating.

2) Al Horford

The Boston Celtics are still the number one team in the NBA in defensive rating. Horford is still the straw that stirs the drink for Brad Stevens. If you didn’t see that watching that knockdown, drag-it-out game against the Warriors on Thursday, go back and watch it.

He has the highest net rating on the team among starters and is leading the team by altering shots and grabbing rebounds with aggressiveness we haven’t seen since he played for the Atlanta Hawks. Ranking fourth in Defensive Box Plus-Minus and in DRPM, Horford is continuing to make his presence felt.

1) DeMarcus Cousins

Dominance is the word to describe Cousins’ game. With a month-long absence of Gobert, he has a real chance to show fans and voters that his defensive side of him is no façade.

Next to his partner Anthony Davis, Boogie has kept up the physicality and technique of locking up assignments. The third and final member of this list averaging at least a block and steal per game, Cousins is at the top of the mountain in DRPM with a 3.13 rating.

The New Orleans Pelicans significantly benefit with him on the hardwood (102.3 DRTG) as opposed to him on the bench (112.7 DTRG). He’s one of six players in the league seeing more than six attempts at the rim, and he’s allowed the lowest success percentage among that group. He’s also contested 193 shots, which is the second-most in the NBA.

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Gregg Popovich Continues To Be The Gold Standard For Leadership

There are three guarantees in life: death, taxes and Gregg Popovich.

Moke Hamilton

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There are three guarantees in life: death, taxes and the San Antonio Spurs.

Okay, let’s be honest, it’s probably not the first time that you’ve heard that one, but it also won’t be the last.

Behind the genius of Gregg Popovich, the Spurs have qualified for the NBA Playoffs 20 consecutive years. In hindsight, they appear to have been the only team to legitimately frighten the Golden State Warriors during their 16-1 playoff run last year, and this season, well, they’ve been the same old Spurs.

That’s been especially amazing considering the fact that the team has been without Kawhi Leonard. Although Popovich recently said that Leonard would return “sooner rather than later,” he himself admitted to not being certain as to what that meant.

Best guess from here is that Leonard will return within the next few weeks, but at this point, it’s entirely fair to wonder whether or not it even matters.

Of course, the Spurs don’t stand much of a chance to win the Western Conference without Leonard thriving at or near 100 percent, but even without him, the Spurs look every bit like a playoff team, and in the Western Conference, that’s fairly remarkable.

“A team just has to play in a sense like he doesn’t exist,” Popovich was quoted as saying by Tom Osborn of the San Antonio Express-News.

“Nobody cares if you lost a good player, right? Everybody wants to whip you. So it doesn’t do much good to do the poor me thing or to keep wondering when he is going to be back or what are we going to do. We have to play now, and other people have to take up those minutes and we have to figure out who to go to when in a different way, and you just move on.”

In a nutshell, that’s Popovich.

What most people don’t understand about Popovich is what makes him a truly great coach is his humility. He is never afraid to second-guess himself and reconsider the way that he’s accustomed to doing things. Since he’s been the head coach of the Spurs, he’s built and rebuilt offenses around not only different players, but also different philosophies.

From the inside-out attack that was his bread and butter with David Robinson and Tim Duncan to the motion and movement system that he built around Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, the latest incarnation of Popovich’s genius isn’t only the fact that he has survived without Kawhi Leonard, it’s what could fairly be considered the major catalyst of it.

There are many head coaches around the league that take their roles as authority figures quite seriously, and that’s why a fair number would have been threatened by one of their star players requesting that things be rebuilt in a way to maximize his potential.

So when LaMarcus Aldridge proactively sat down with his coach to discuss the ways that he felt he was being misused in the team’s schemes, it wouldn’t have come as a shock for Popovich to meet him with resistance.

Instead, he did the opposite.

“We have talked about what we can do to make him more comfortable, and to make our team better,” Popovich acknowledged during Spurs training camp.

“But having said that, I think we are mostly talking about offense. Defense, he was fantastic for us. Now, we have got to help him a little bit more so that he is comfortable in his own space offensively, and I haven’t done a very good job of that.”

Just 11 days after those comments were printed, the Spurs announced that they had signed Aldridge to a three-year, $72 million extension.

Considering that Aldridge’s first two years as a member of the Spurs yielded some poor efforts and relatively low output, the extension seemed curious and was met with ridicule.

Yet, one month later and 15 games into the season, the Spurs sit at 9-6. They’ve survived the absence of Kawhi Leonard and the loss of Jonathon Simmons.

Behind an offensive system tweaked to take advantage of his gifts, in the early goings, Aldridge is averaging 22 points per game, a far cry above the 17.7 points per game he averaged during his first two years in San Antonio.

Coincidence?

I think not.

Death, taxes and the Spurs.

So long as Gregg Popovich is at the helm, exhibiting strong leadership while remaining amazingly humble, the Spurs will be the Spurs.

Sure, Kawhi Leonard will be back—at some point.

But until then, the Spurs will be just fine.

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NBA AM: Atlanta’s Dewayne Dedmon Is Letting Shots — And Jokes — Fly

Dewayne Dedmon’s emergence has been an unexpected positive for the rebuilding Atlanta Hawks.

Buddy Grizzard

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It’s been a brutal season for the Atlanta Hawks, they’re just already 3-12 with the worst record in the Eastern Conference.

Wednesday’s franchise-record 46-point win over the visiting Sacramento Kings was a rare chance for Atlanta to have a laugh in the postgame locker room and reflect on things that have gone well, including hot shooting for the team and a potential breakout season for center Dewayne Dedmon.

The Hawks trail only the Golden State Warriors in three-point shooting at just over 40 percent. Prior to joining the Hawks, Dedmon had attempted only one three-pointer in 224 career games. As a Hawk, though, Dedmon is shooting 42 percent on 19 attempts. Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer explained after Wednesday’s game how his staff decided to encourage Dedmon to extend his range.

“You do your research and you talk to friends around the league, you talk to people who have worked with him and you watch him during warmups,” said Budenholzer. “We had a belief, an idea, that he could shoot, he could make shots. We’re kind of always pushing that envelope with the three-point line. He’s embraced it.”

Dedmon is currently averaging career-highs in points, rebounds, blocks and minutes, and set season-highs in points (20), rebounds (14) and assists (five) against the Kings. He’s also brought an offbeat sense of humor that has helped keep the locker room loose despite the struggles. It became apparent early on that Dedmon was a different type of dude.

At Media Day, when nobody approached Dedmon’s table and reporters instead flocked to interview rookie John Collins at the next table, Dedmon joined the scrum, holding his phone out as if to capture a few quotes.

“This guy’s going to be a character,” said a passing Hawks staffer.

Those words proved prophetic, as Coach Bud confirmed after Wednesday’s win.

“He brings a lot of personality to our team, really from almost the day he got here,” said Budenholzer. “I think he’s getting more and more comfortable and can help the young guys and help everybody.”

Dedmon took an unconventional path to the NBA. Growing up, his mother — a Jehovah’s Witness — forbade him to play organized sports. Once he turned 18, Dedmon began making his own decisions. He walked on to the team at Antelope Valley College, a two-year school in Lancaster, Ca., before transferring to USC and eventually making it to the league.

His personality, which formed while Dedmon forged his own path, shone through in the locker room after the Sacramento win. Asked about conversations he’s had with Budenholzer about shot selection, Dedmon turned to teammate Kent Bazemore at the adjacent locker.

“What’s the phrase, Baze? LTMF?”

“Yep,” Bazemore replied.

“Yeah, LTMF,” Dedmon continued. “Let it fly. So he told me to shoot … let it go. I’m not going to say what the M means.”

Amidst laughter from the assembled media, he explained that ‘LTMF’ is Budenholzer’s philosophy for the whole team, not just part of an effort to expand Dedmon’s game.

“Everybody has the same freedom,” said Dedmon. “So it definitely gives everybody confidence to shoot their shots when they’re open and just play basketball.”

With the injury bug thus far robbing Atlanta of its stated ambition to overachieve this season, Dedmon’s career year and team success from three-point range are two big positives.

Rebuilding or retooling can be a painful process. But with a unique personality like Dedmon helping keep things light in the locker room, Atlanta should make it through.

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