Players in need of a strong bounce back campaign
Every season there are a group of players who, without warning, fall from the top level and experience disappointing campaigns. Some of these players will put it back into focus and bounce back, while others will continue their descent into realm of faded skills.
Last season was no different and produced a new batch of players looking to get their careers back on track. Was there performance in 2014 a sign of things to come or simply just an unfortunate outlier? Time will ultimately tell, but let’s took a look at some of the players in need of redemption heading into training camp.
Larry Sanders, Center, Milwaukee Bucks
After a promising 2013 campaign, the Milwaukee Bucks signed the talented Sanders to a four-year, $44 million contract extension before the start of last season. Almost immediately problems began rising to the surface. Sanders never really gained cohesion with then head coach Larry Drew and subsequently suffered a hand injury in an off the court incident which further complicated his early struggles. After missing nearly two months, Sanders returned to action then suffered a season ending injury.
Sanders, 25, still hasn’t reach his prime and the struggles seem to be tied more to immaturity than physical talent. The Bucks need a strong bounce back campaign from Sanders who, if healthy and focused, should be in the Defensive Player of the Year award race at season’s end.
Deron Williams, Guard, Brooklyn Nets
Fans of the Brooklyn Nets may not remember this, but it wasn’t too long ago Williams was arguably considered a top three point guard in the league. A combination of injuries have contributed to Williams’ deterioration leaving the 30 year old guard at a career crossroads. Can Williams return to the land of the elite or is the decline we’ve witnessed over the past two seasons an indicator of what’s to come.
Williams has three-years and $63 million remaining on his current which would make him hard to move for real assets, leaving Brooklyn in a tough position. The Nets expected Williams to be the face of their franchise in Brooklyn and so far haven’t been reimbursed for that initial faith.
Josh Smith, Forward, Detroit Pistons
Smith currently holds the crown, arguably, for the most talented player in the league without an All-Star selection on the resume. But even the most die-hard Smith supporter would have trouble arguing his first season in Detroit was anything but a disaster. The Pistons signed Smith to a four-year, $54 million deal in free agency last summer but played him out of position, at small forward, due to the presence of young bigs Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe. The experiment was far from a success with Smith ultimately shooting a career low 42 percent from the floor and a woeful 26 percent from three-point range. Newly crowned head coach Stan Van Gundy will now take on the task of trying to fully maximize Smith’s unique skillset and make the forward more efficient. Many have tried, many have failed. Still, Smith is still young enough and in a solid position to silence some of his doubters next season. Let’s see if he gets it done – finally.
Raymond Felton, Guard, Dallas Mavericks
The New York Knicks were a huge disappointment in 2014 and Felton was a key contributor to the team’s mediocrity. Felton, now in Dallas, will be vying for point guard minutes with veterans Devin Harris and Jameer Nelson.
The biggest question is whether Felton will report to camp in tip top shape on a mission to redeem. Undoubtedly talented, question of Felton’s work ethic and approach to conditioning are valid. Now, 30, without the athleticism of some of the league’s elite point guards those two attributes are more important than ever for longevity.
Carlos Boozer, Forward, Los Angeles Lakers
It is never a good sign when a team is willing to pay you $16 million to essentially go away, but that’s exactly what Chicago did with Boozer by using their amnesty provision. Boozer was eventually claimed off the amnesty wire by the Los Angeles Lakers and is in a strong position to play heavy minutes this season. Whether he can pull off a bounce back campaign, resembling yesteryear, at 32 years old is questionable but he’ll get every opportunity with the Lakers – who are at their own respective crossroads as a franchise.
O.J. Mayo, Guard, Milwaukee Bucks
Heading into last season most thought Mayo had his best opportunity to finally make good on the hype he had when entering the league as a highly touted prospect. The Bucks needed a scorer and a player fans could get behind. Mayo seemed to be perfect for the script. However, what followed was a textbook example on the reason why you shouldn’t fully buy into predictions in season previews.
Mayo struggled with his conditioning, failed to start half of the games he appeared in and reportedly clashed often with then head coach Larry Drew. Heading into training camp Mayo gets to press the reset button with head coach Jason Kidd calling the shots from the sideline. But will it even matter?
Gerald Wallace, Forward, Boston Celtics
The writing is probably on the wall for Wallace who endured the worst season of his career last season. Father Time has come calling. But with two-years and $20.2 million remaining on his current deal the Celtics are hoping there is still life in Wallace’s aging legs. Guys who play the game with reckless abandon often suffer the biggest declines when their careers start heading downhill. It appears Wallace is the next to be added to this list.
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