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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 Daily: Porter Jr. Ready to Make Up For Lost Time in the NBA

Michael Porter Jr. played just 53 minutes of basketball in his lone college season, yet believes he’s the best player in the draft now that he’s seemingly healthy.

Dennis Chambers

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When Michael Porter Jr. stepped foot on Missouri’s campus, he was supposed to inject life into a basketball program that hadn’t made the NCAA tournament since the 2012-13 season.

After receiving his release from the University of Washington, following the firing of Lorenzo Romar, Porter Jr. decided to return home and play under Cuonzo Martin for the Tigers. The No. 2 ranked recruit in the nation, the near 6-foot-11 small forward possessed the scoring and versatility traits to suggest he would be a star at the college basketball level before making his jump to the NBA.

But that would not be so for Porter Jr., as a back injury and subsequent surgery would limit him to just 53 total minutes in three games coming at the end of the season.

In his brief stint as a student-athlete, Porter Jr. played how many would expect a teenager coming off of months-long injury rehab: rusty.

Thirty points and 20 rebounds in three games, on 10-for-33 shooting from the field, and 7-for-20 from beyond the arc. It was clear Porter Jr. was not up to the speed he expected to be on the college court just several months prior. But no matter, he wanted to get out there anyway, regardless of risking re-injury, so that he could help his teammates.

“I knew that I wasn’t gonna put on a show, or be the Mike that they saw in a few months,” Porter Jr. said at the NBA Combine. “The way I was thinking about was just, you know, they’ll know the player I am in a few months. Just trying to help my team and not be selfish with the decision. We had like six players on scholarship at the time because two had gotten injured. So, I was just trying to do what I could to be a part of the team.”

Porter Jr.’s return didn’t lift his team the way he had hoped, as Missouri fell to Florida State in the first round of the NCAA tournament 67-54. When the clock hit zeros, the smooth shooting swingman with a questionable injury history set his sights on the NBA.

However, Porter Jr.’s projection at the game’s highest level is much different in May than it was 10 months ago. From positioning himself to battle for the top overall pick, Porter Jr. is now somewhat of an enigma. His game is a bit of a mystery, and so are his medical records. Once considered a no-brainer to be picked top-three, Porter Jr. could find himself sliding near the back end of the top 10 on draft night.

Noting that he originally injured his back a few years ago in high school, when the injury finally caught up to him just before his college career was ready to tip off, Porter Jr. took a unique approach to otherwise disappointing news.

“When I had to have the surgery I kind of viewed it as a blessing,” Porter Jr. said. “A new start, and I could really reach my full potential. They had me as the number one player in high school, but I didn’t even feel like I was at 100 percent, and I do now.”

Being at 100 percent, as Porter Jr. says in his own words, just before he begins his NBA career has the forward excited for his future. Despite missing time on the court and falling behind other prospects in the draft conversation, Porter Jr. hasn’t lost his self-confidence.

“I’m just excited to show everybody the player that I am,” Porter Jr. said. “I’m still the best player … I played against all these guys, they’re all great players. But I’m the best player in this draft.”

Though his back is still a mystery, and his sample size is small, if Porter Jr. were to reach the potential scouts and NBA personnel pegged him as having when he was on the doorsteps of college basketball, then he has the makings of a franchise-caliber player.

With the opportunity of getting that kind of upside at a potentially discounted selection, Porter Jr. was one of the most popular names at the Cmbine. The forward mentioned meeting with just about every team picking in the top 10 come June’s draft. One team that Porter Jr. has been frequently linked to, the Chicago Bulls, were not exclusively mentioned on his list. But Porter Jr. noted the Bulls and his agent were in contact and he hoped to get a workout scheduled with Chicago.

No matter who Porter Jr. meets with or works out for from now until draft night, the versatile and skilled forward projects to be one of the most interesting players to follow. Could he impress throughout the draft process and reclaim his spot within the top-three? Or will he slide down draft boards and become a potential steal for a team in the back half of the lottery?

Whatever the outcome is, Porter Jr. will be ready.

“I was hoping to turn college basketball upside down like a lot of these players,” Porter Jr. said. “But this is just a step in my process in becoming the best player that I can be. It’s a little different, but I’m more ready than ever. I’ve been dreaming about this NBA stuff for so long, I feel like I’m ready.”

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Trae Young Believes He’s NBA Ready

Trae Young has exceeded expectations since his freshman year of college, and he believes he will continue to do so in the NBA

Matt John

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Before the collegiate season started, many believed that the best players in the upcoming NBA draft were going to be bigs. DeAndre Ayton, Mo Bamba, and Michael Porter Jr., all of whom were 6’10’’ or taller, were considered to be among the top prospects coming out of the NCAA, but Trae Young had something to say about that.

Coming out of high school, Young was regarded as one of the better incoming freshmen, but not among the best of the best. Young ranked no. 23 in ESPN’s top 100 in 2017 and was ranked third among point guards, behind Collin Sexton and Jaylen Hands, which led to low expectations for him. Young proved right out of the gate that he was much better than the scouts had rated him.

Young tore up college ball as an Oklahoma Sooner, as he averaged 27.2 points and 8.7 assists while shooting 42 percent from the field including 36 percent from three. While Young’s play made him stand out among his peers, it didn’t translate into much success on the court. The Sooners went 18-14 on the season and were eliminated in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Now that the season is over, Young is shifting his focus to his next stop: the NBA. With the draft coming up in just a little over a month, only one word comes to mind when describing Young’s current mindset: Confidence.

“I bring a lot of things to the next level. I think I would bring an immediate impact off the court as much as I do on the court,” Young said at the NBA combine. “I can space out the defense. I can attack defenders in multiple ways, get my teammates involved. I think I can pretty much do it all for a team and I’m looking forward to whichever team I go to and making a huge impact.”

While Young is not expected to be picked in the top five, he should be picked between the six to ten range. Any player who is selected in that range has to work his absolute hardest to live up to the lengthy expectations that he will certainly face once he enters the NBA. Young luckily sounds like he is up to the task.

“I prepared extremely hard coming into the college season and making a huge impact right away, and I’m working two times as hard this summer preparing to get into the NBA level,” Young said. “I want to make a huge impact right away.”

Young is expected to be a high lottery pick, but he doesn’t care much for where he is selected as much as he cares about going to the team that suits him best.

“My main focus is going to the right team. It’s not about going one, two, three or 30. You see a lot of guys going in the second round in certain years that make big impacts for teams,” Young said. “It’s all about the fit for me. Whether that’s one or whether that’s whatever it is, I’m going to be happy and I’m going to be ready to make an impact.”

Young’s expected high draft position stems from his electrifying play as a scorer in college. Young’s performance for Oklahoma his freshman year was impressive enough to draw comparisons to NBA megastar Stephen Curry. While Young is flattered to be mentioned in the same breath as Curry, he takes pride in being his own player.

“He’s a two-time MVP and a champion. I mean, I love the comparison but I feel like I bring a lot of different things from different players’ games to the table,” Young said. “I’m just trying to be the best version of Trae Young. That’s all that matters to me. I’m just getting started in this thing so hopefully I can achieve some of those things.”

Young’s skillset may remind fans of Curry, but Young prides himself on modeling his game after his favorite player of all time: Steve Nash.

“With his size and my size, we’re pretty similar,” Young said. “He is very cerebral. He can score on all three levels and he knows how to get his teammates involved. He’s a winner so I feel like a lot of his characteristics match with mine.”

Those who have watched Young know of his offensive repertoire, but skeptics have pointed to his defensive shortcomings as a red flag. Young, however, believes his play at the combine will show that he can be a positive on the other side of the ball.

“I’m excited about having the opportunity to show people that I can play defense, and I’m excited to show that from day one,”

When all is said and done, Young may very well wind up being the most prolific scorer to come out of what many believe is a loaded draft, but Young has much bigger ambitions in mind for his career.

“I think I’m the best overall player in this draft, but my main focus isn’t necessarily to be the best player in this draft,” Young said. “My goal is to be the best player in the NBA. That’s what I’m focusing on each and every day.”

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NBA Daily: Jaylen Hands Makes Good Showing at the NBA Combine

Jaylen Hands made a good showing at the NBA Combine by displaying his offensive skills and defensive intensity.

Jesse Blancarte

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UCLA has produced a few of the NBA’s top point guards over the last decade or so, including Russell Westbrook and Jrue Holiday. Jrue’s younger brother, Aaron Holiday, has declared for this year’s draft and is projected by several NBA insiders to be selected with a first-round pick (likely in the 20-30 range). But Aaron Holiday isn’t the only UCLA point guard who may end up taking his talents to the NBA this offseason. Jaylen Hands, who is still just 19 years old and finished his freshman season, has also entered his name into this year’s draft.

While Hands has entered his name into the draft and participated in the NBA Combine, he has not hired an agent, which preserves his ability to return to college (Hands has until June 11 to make a final decision). Considering Hands’ young age and raw skill set, he isn’t projected by many insiders to hear his name called on draft night. But he certainly helped his cause in the Combine, showcasing his offensive talents, the muscle he has added to his slight frame since the end of his freshman season and aggressiveness on defense.

Basketball Insiders spoke with Hands at the Combine about his development, going through the pre-draft process, competing against familiar faces and more.

“It’s crazy, it’s crazy because when we were younger, they said the exact thing: ‘You guys are going to see each other forever.’” Hands said when asked about competing against many of the same players over the years and now at the Combine. “And you don’t really believe what they’re saying. But now you go through high school, you’re a senior, All-Star activities and you go to the Combine, you see the same people. It’s crazy.”

Hands has a notable skill set but is a raw prospect that many believe would be better served spending another year in college. While Hands needs to continue filling out his frame, he did register decent measurements at the Combine in relation to a top guard prospect – Trae Young of Oklahoma. Hands weighed in at 1.2 lbs heavier than Young, and outmatched Young in height (with and without shoes), standing reach and wingspan. Ironically, Hands has the smallest hands of all players that participated in the Combine. While these measurements don’t mean that he is currently a comparable prospect to Young, they could address some concerns about his current physical profile and how it may ultimately translate to the NBA.

Hands proved himself to be a confident and aggressive player in his freshman season at UCLA – something that he believes has led to misconceptions about his game.

“I’m not a point guard,” Hands said when asked about what misconceptions people have about his game.

I wouldn’t say it’s common, like it’s the main thing. But I’ve heard that I shoot first or something like that. I just feel like I attack a lot. I think I attack a lot and I’m of size to being a [two guard], so I think some people get it misconstrued. I just think I’m attack first, set my teammates up, get what I get.”

Hands is clearly aware of the common perceptions and current shortcomings in his game, which is why he is working hard to improve his overall skill set and is testing the NBA waters to get feedback from teams.

“Before I came here, just being more steady working on my shot, making good reads out of the pick and roll, finishing.” Hands said when asked about what parts of his game he was working on before coming to the Combine.

Hands was asked to clarify what he believes is his best strength at this point. Hands didn’t hesitate and pointed toward his ability to make plays off the dribble.

“My best strength is getting in the paint. So I get in the paint and make plays,” Hands said.

Hands is also clearly aware of UCLA’s history of producing quality point guards and has a chance to one day develop into a quality guard at the NBA level. However, with Holiday heading to the NBA and no major competition for the starting point guard position at UCLA next season, it may benefit Hands to hold off on turning pro for at least another year.

Whether he stays at UCLA or commits to this year’s draft, there’s no doubt that Hands is going to keep pushing to develop into a quality NBA player.

“I want to be the best player I can in the league,” Hands said. “That’s my goal.”

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