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NBA PM: Careers Cut Short

Greg Oden hasn’t had the career many expected he would, but others have seen even more precipitous drop-offs entirely too early.

Joel Brigham

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Derrick Rose has gotten his fair share of criticism during the FIBA World Cup games this summer due to less-than-stellar play against players nowhere near the caliber of player he’s about to face every night in the NBA. Despite regaining his athleticism, there are plenty of people who wonder if he’ll ever be anything close to what he was over the course of his first few years in the league. There’s also a concern that one more big knee injury will effectively end his career, at least as we’ve all known it.

Whatever happens with Rose, modern medicine has allowed him to return to some semblance of his former self. That hasn’t always been the case in the past, as there have been some really great players forced out of the game well before they were ready to go. Injuries, unfortunately, were the least of some of these players’ concerns:

#5 – Jay Williams, Chicago Bulls – Rebuilding the Bulls after Michael Jordan retired was a seemingly impossible task, as those early 2000s Chicago teams lost a record number of games with some truly awful players. The first real sign of hope for the future, at least after the team traded away Elton Brand, was the drafting of Duke point guard Jay Williams.

He didn’t have a great rookie season, but it wasn’t an awful one either, and most smart basketball people assumed he’d see steady improvement his first few years and eventually end up playing at or near an All-Star level. Had he not crashed his motorcycle, for which he had no license, in the summer following that rookie campaign, those smart basketball people may have been proven right. Instead, we’ll never know just how good Williams could have been

Williams underwent a number of surgeries and worked very hard to get himself back into playing shape, but he never got onto another regular season NBA team. Chicago, meanwhile, had to draft another point guard in Kirk Hinrich the very next year with their lottery pick, taking a Jay-Williams-sized step backwards in their rebuilding process.

#4 – Magic Johnson, L.A. Lakers – We know without question that Magic Johnson is one of the 10 best players in NBA history, but what is really incredible is that he earned that distinction retiring about five years before he was ready. At age 31, Johnson contracted the HIV virus, which in 1991 was basically considered a death sentence that forced him to quit basketball immediately.

The fact he made a brief comeback in 1995-96 and averaged 14.6 points, 6.9 assists and 5.7 rebounds shows that he still had game despite having been away from professional basketball for over four years. It makes one wonder what his final career numbers would’ve looked like had he never retired in 1991 and played straight through to end of the 1996 playoffs. Were the world a little less afraid of HIV and AIDS at the time, he might have continued his career, but instead we’re left wondering how many more championships he may have won (perhaps even a couple at the expense of Michael Jordan’s six-ring legacy) had he never left the game.

#3 – Drazen Petrovic, New Jersey Nets – Petrovic, one of the true pioneers for making international basketball stars relevant in the NBA, was drafted as a 21-year-old out of Croatia, but he didn’t make his NBA debut until four years later. Even then he spent his first season buried on the bench in Portland, a team that never gave him a chance to shine. After a trade to New Jersey during his second season in the league, he finally started to flourish as one of the NBA’s deadliest shooters. He very quickly transformed into the player so many people thought he could be.

The problem, of course, was that he died at age 28 in an offseason car accident in Germany. Petrovic obviously had a huge impact on the influx of European players to come in the following years, but the real tragedy is that he passed away right as his NBA career was starting to take off. Had he lived, we may be talking about him as one of the best three-point shooters of all time.

#2 – Bill Walton, Portland Trail Blazers – The 1977 Blazers were one of the most exciting teams in the history of the game, and their star, Bill Walton, had one of the snazziest array of post moves anybody has ever seen. It was borderline impossible to stop the guy when he was healthy and at his best. The problem, of course, is that he was almost never healthy.

In 10 seasons in the league, he missed four full seasons and played more than 67 games only once. Surgery after surgery on his foot failed to completely fix the ongoing problems, and as a result one of the most gifted post players of all time never really was given the opportunity to show what he could do on a consistent basis. He still managed to win two championships in his career, but things were never really the same after that 1977 season. With healthier feet, Walton may have been more than just a Hall of Famer; he could have been in a conversation about the best players ever.

#1 – Len Bias, Boston Celtics – Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were the 1980s’ biggest basketball stars, but in the middle of the decade, that torch was to be shared and eventually passed on to the next generation, led by Chicago’s Michael Jordan and University of Maryland standout Len Bias. Jordan’s career success is well-documented, but Bias never played a single NBA game.

Those who saw Bias play in college said he could’ve been every bit as good as Jordan and possibly even better. Knowing what we know now, it’s hard to buy that, but Bias’ combination of size (6’8), athleticism and physical ability certainly had a lot of teams excited about him coming out of school, most notably the Boston Celtics, who took him with the second overall pick in the 1986 draft.

Sadly, Bias died two days after getting drafted due to a cocaine overdose. He was 22 years old and prepared to join the defending champion Celtics, obviously one of the most talented teams in the league. Had he actually played for Boston, the Celtics could have put together quite a string of championships, and when Larry Bird would have retired, Bias could have kept the C’s competitive through the Jordan Era. It boggles the mind to think about what kind of dynasty Boston could’ve strung together with Bias, and one night’s celebration taken too far ruined it all.

Honorable Mention:

Yao Ming, Houston Rockets – While Yao is not the most tragic case of a career cut short by injuries, he certainly deserves mentioning because of the player he could’ve been had he been able to play 75+ games every season of his eight-year career. But in truth, he only was able to accomplish that four times, and he only played five games in his last two seasons as a Rocket, making his 2011 retirement not all that surprising. What makes this so sad is the fact that nearly everyone knew early retirement was inevitable.

From the outset, there were concerns about how the knees and feet of someone that large would hold up over time, and when you add in all the double duty he pulled early in his career between the NBA and the Chinese National team, there was just no way he was ever going to have a long career like other legendary big men who played forever, like Shaquille O’Neal, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Robert Parish and others. Instead, Yao retired at age 30, which is when most other players are just hitting their primes.

Greg Oden, Portland Trail Blazers – Oden’s entire NBA career thus far has been either an injury, an injury recovery or an injury waiting to happen. While he did survive last season with Miami unscathed, the reality is that he played only 82 of his first 328 NBA games thanks to a never-ending string of knee injuries. He was supposed to be the best player of the 2007 draft, but compared to Kevin Durant, who was taken right after him, he looks like one of the worst No. 1 overall picks of all time.

Brandon Roy, Portland Trail Blazers – When Roy was healthy and at his best, he was easily one of the best two-guards in the NBA, but seemingly never-ending knee surgeries forced him to retired in 2013 at age 29. Steve Nash didn’t start breaking down physically until 38, to give some idea of how sad Roy’s early retirement was. Late in his career he still showed flashes of brilliance, giving credence to the idea that he would have remained dominant well into his 30s had his body not just quit on him.

Nobody wants to see players go through the problems that some of the other guys on this list went through, but the fact is that sometimes really good young players just don’t get the opportunity to play deep into their 30s. Brad Daugherty, Reggie Lewis, DaJuan Wagner—all these guys could’ve been spectacular had they just been given the time and/or good fortune to do so, but things don’t always work out for everybody that plays the game.

At least nobody has made Bias’ mistake again. Injuries aren’t always avoidable, but things like that are. Hopefully, that’s the way it stays, and we can keep future tragic stories of athletes lost too soon to a minimum.

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NBA Daily: Clippers Looking Forward to Teodosic Return

Clippers hanging on and looking forward to Teodosic return, writes James Blancarte.

James Blancarte

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The Los Angeles Clippers have had a season of twists and turns. While the season is still young, they’ve dealt with setbacks, mostly in the form of a multitude of injures. In fact, the team’s misfortunes began almost immediately. On Oct 21 (the NBA season started earlier this year), Clippers guard Milos Teodosic went down with a plantar fascia injury. This stands as the first bump in the road for the Clippers, who have seen a number of key players go down.

Following the loss of Chris Paul this past offseason, the Clippers appeared to have salvaged their immediate future through a number of offseason transactions. Under the direction of the front office, which includes Lawrence Frank, VP of Basketball Operations, and Jerry West, a Clippers consultant, the Clippers traded Paul, which helped to remake the roster. West spoke of his approval of the Paul trade before the season started.

“The Clippers feel comfortable that we made out really well. We could have lost him for nothing,” West stated of the Paul trade. “I think it was kind of a win myself.”

The Paul trade brought in Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell, Sam Dekker and helped to eventually bring in Danilo Gallinari. A big part of the offseason makeover was the acquisition of European star Teodosic. Losing Paul meant that the Clippers were going to be without a highly talented, pass-first point guard for the first time since Paul’s acquisition during the 2011-2012 season.

Part of the strategy called for replacing Paul with both Beverley, who could match Paul’s defensive tenacity, and Teodosic, who could match Paul’s vision and passing. While neither player could match Paul’s overall brilliance (and Paul has been brilliant this season for the Rockets), the team hoped to create a winning environment around these two players.

Unfortunately, Teodosic went down quickly. Then Beverley experienced issues with his knee, culminating with season-ending microfracture surgery on his knee in late November. Combine this with Gallinari missing nearly a month with injuries and Blake Griffin going down for the next few months with an MCL sprain of his left knee recently, and the Clippers have struggled to stay competitive with lineups that have often included only one of the team’s opening day starters (center DeAndre Jordan). The franchise shouldn’t be completely surprised by the rash of injuries, as their offseason plan banked on players with questionable injury histories such as Griffin and Gallinari.

To fill in, the Clippers have also made use of a number of young, inexperienced players (not at all common in the Doc Rivers era), including playing 2017 second round pick, guard Sindarius Thornwell. Thornwell has benefited from the opportunity as is averaging 16.2 minutes a game and has even started in seven games (of 24 played).  Thornwell confirmed the obvious regarding injuries.

“We’ve been playing without a lot of our core guys,” Thornwell stated.

Clippers head coach Doc Rivers also made it clear that injuries have affected the team.

“It’s not just Blake [Griffin]. If it was just Blake, we’d be OK,” Rivers stated recently. “But you miss [Danillo] `Gallo,’ Milos [Teodosic], Patrick Beverley.”

Currently, the team is well below .500 with a 9-15 record, good enough for 11th in the Western Conference. And while the team is ahead of a number of teams destined for the NBA lottery such as the Dallas Mavericks and Sacramento Kings, they aren’t too far removed from the eighth seed, currently held by the Utah Jazz, who are below .500 (13-14 record). It’s not reasonable for a team that has already suffered a nine-game losing streak and is only 4-6 in the last 10 games to expect another playoff berth, and the team has not yet signaled they have given up on the season.

The Clippers have stayed afloat by being extremely reliant on the individual offensive output of guards Austin Rivers and Lou Williams. Give Williams credit, as he has been brilliant recently including a game winning shot against the Washington Wizards on Saturday. Over the last 10 games, he is averaging 23.2 points on 62.7 true shooting percentage and 6.2 assists in 34.5 minutes per game, per nba.com. For reference, Williams has a career true shooting percentage average of 53.3 percent, per basketball-reference.com. However, this doesn’t scream long-term winning formula, nor should it — the team hasn’t recently had reliable offensive output outside of these guards who were originally expected to come off the bench for the Clippers.

Gallinari has since returned and played well in his second game back, an overtime win against the Wizards. Now the team has upgraded Teodosic’s condition to questionable and are hopeful that Teodosic makes his return Monday night against the Raptors.

“He’s ready. He’s close,” Rivers stated, speaking of Teodosic at a recent Clippers practice. “And that will help. In a big way.”

In addition to possibly helping their increasingly remote chances at making the playoffs, the Clippers have other goals. Teodosic is signed to a two-year deal, but the second-year is a player option allowing the European guard to leave after the season. Should Teodosic find that the Clippers are somehow not a good fit or a place where he can find success, he may opt out of the second year. If the team wants to ensure that the 30-year-old guard sees a bright future with the Clippers, they should hope that his return leads to the Clippers playing winning basketball.

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Q&A With Cavaliers Rookie Cedi Osman

Basketball Insiders caught up with Cavaliers rookie Turkish swingman Cedi Osman to discuss a number of topics. 

Spencer Davies

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Monday afternoon, Basketball Insiders caught up with rookie Turkish swingman Cedi Osman to discuss a number of topics. 

Basketball Insiders: Your first experience in the NBA, making the transition from international play and Euroleague—has it been what you’ve expected?

Cedi Osman: I mean of course it’s different rules and stuff and a different type of basketball. In international, it’s like more slow, but here it’s like always up and down, a lot of fast breaks.

Actually that’s the kind of basketball that I like. When I was playing overseas, I was also running a lot, up and down. I was that guy who was bringing the energy, so it was not hard for me to adjust to this basketball.

BI: With Euros in this league, it’s a growing amount. What does that tell you about the talent pool over there?

Osman: There’s a lot of talented players overseas—like really, a lot. Like you said, when you look around the NBA there’s a lot of European players. Starting with Dirk Nowitzki, he’s a big legend. He was the one who chose to do Europe [to show] what he can do. I can give you the example of two Turkish basketball players—Hedo Turkoglu and Mehmet Okur, he won one championship. I mean, there’s a lot of European players.

BI: Definitely. So how well do you know Hedo and Mehmet?

Osman: With Mehmet Okur, I was talking a couple times. I saw him one time in summer league this year. I talk to Hedo also because he’s president of Turkish Basketball Federation, so I was talking to him also.

BI: You’ve gotten some crucial minutes with the bench in the last couple of games. The same thing can be said when you played in New York and against the Hawks, too. What’s allowed you and that group to click together?

Osman: I always try to think positive. When I’m getting there on the court with the second unit, I’m trying to bring the energy because I’m the youngest one with Big Z [Ante Zizic] together.

Whenever I get on the court I’m trying to bring the energy on both sides of the court—on defense and offense—and I’m trying to run the floor the fastest that I can. Trying to guard players that are really good. And that also just improves my basketball [skills] a lot. I’m really happy that I am a part of this team and it’s also really important for me that I’m getting these crucial minutes.

BI: In a recent interview, you said that you don’t have a reason to be scared. You’re “cold-blooded.” Why do you feel that way?

Osman: I was playing overseas professionally since I was 16 years old…actually, I started getting paid when I was 12. [I’ve been] playing professionally for a long time. I played with a lot of good players. I’ve played also [with] former NBA players like Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic who was on the same team.

I know, yeah this is the best league in the world, but I don’t have a reason why to be scared because I was working for this—to come here, to give my best and to be stable to stay for long, long years. That’s why I said I don’t have a reason to be scared, because I know that I can play here.

BI: When you’re on the floor, what do you expect out of yourself? You said you want to get up and down the floor and give it to both ends, but is there anything outside of that, maybe mentality wise?

Osman: Of course. Not just as a rookie, but every time I get on the court like I said, I want to be always that guy who brings the energy. Also like, when we’re going bad or when we have a bad game, I want to change the momentum of the game. That’s what I’m working for a lot. We have great players and I have a lot of things to learn from them.

That’s why I said I’m really happy to be a part of this team, because we’re one of the best teams in the world. I hope that we’re going to win a championship in my first year. That would be a big thing for me.

BI: What kind of things have the coaching staff tried to help you improve in practice?

Osman: There’s a couple defensive plays that’ll be different. There’s also defensive three seconds. That was a bit of adjusting for me because in Europe you can always stay in the paint no matter what. There’s no defensive three seconds. Here it’s different, so it was a little bit hard for me to adjust in the beginning, but now I don’t have any problems and coaches are really helping me a lot.

BI: This team isn’t fully healthy yet, obviously with Isaiah Thomas coming back, Tristan Thompson coming back and Iman Shumpert down the road. That might affect playing time for some. You’ve gone to the G-League and played with the Canton Charge once before. You had a lot of minutes in that one game and did a really good job there. Is that something that you’re prepared for? Would you mind playing there again if that’s the case for you?

Osman: I was the one who asked for Canton, to go there, because before Shump got injured I didn’t have a lot of playing time. I said that I want to play whenever we have an off day, whenever I can go to play there, to run a lot, to try to do my thing. See that I’m working here before practices. That’s why I asked to go there. I talked to [Cavaliers general manager] Koby [Altman] and he said he supported me about that and that would be good for me.

BI: You have your own hashtag—#TheFirstCedi—can you explain the inspiration behind that and what it means?

Osman: So I’m working with one agency in Turkey and they’re doing a really good job about myself, my profile, my brand (laughs). They’re doing a really good job. “The First Cedi” is because my first name is Cedi and a lot of people are calling me Jedi, so that’s from Star Wars. The First Cedi—because in Turkey, ‘C’ reads as a ‘J’ so Jedi. First Jedi, that’s why.

BI: That’s pretty funny. Are you a Star Wars fan?

Osman: Yeah. I watch. But because it’s like old movies and that kind of stuff, but now new movies are better.

BI: It’s a locker room full of veterans here in Cleveland. Do you feel comfortable with everyone?

Osman: Definitely. I feel really comfortable. We have—I don’t want to say veteran players—but they are so good and they are big, big professionals. I have a lot of fun with them—locker room, when we go on the road, team dinners and that kind of stuff. It’s pretty cool.

The thing is, like it’s my first appearance. Overseas I’m coming to America and I was thinking the adjustment would be a little bit hard for me, but it was actually the opposite. From the first day that I met those guys, they helped me a lot.

BI: Is there anyone that you’ve gotten especially close to? You mentioned Big Z earlier.

Osman: Me and Z are pretty close. We’re speaking the same language. We played in the same league in Turkey. But like, I’m close with everybody. With Channing [Frye], we are always talking about the games and that stuff.

BI: Playing with LeBron—can you put that into words?

Osman: Look, it’s…(pauses), it’s something crazy. Because I was playing a game—obviously 2K—before when I was younger, I was playing with him and that stuff. Of course, it was my dream to be an NBA player, to play in the NBA. But when you’re playing on the same team with [Derrick] Rose, LeBron James, [Dwyane] Wade, Kevin Love, [Isaiah Thomas], it’s crazy.

I didn’t imagine that I would play with those players. And then, I just realize when I’m playing with them, the only thing that I can do is just work a lot and learn from them.

BI: When you hear these guys talk about you in a good light and coach Lue gives you praise, how does that make you feel?

Osman: That’s something really incredible. I mean… from the first day, from the media day when LeBron was in a press conference, he talked about everybody. But he talked also about me and he knew about Euroleague and that kind of stuff, so I was really happy. I was really proud and I was really happy about it. From the first day, he was so close to me. Not just him, but everybody.

BI: What do you think people need to know about your personality? Is there anything that hasn’t been said?

Osman: Actually, nothing special (laughs). I’m the guy who always smiles and with a lot of energy, always being positive talking to everybody, making a lot of jokes, trying to be friendly with everyone and the most important—I’m trying to be a good character.

BI: Last one—based off of this conversation alone, you’ve picked up the English language so easily. Who’s helped you on that side of things?

Osman: I actually had a lot of American players overseas on my previous team—it was Jordan Farmar, Jamon Gordon, Derrick Brown, he also played here, there was Bryant Dunston, Jayson Granger. I played a lot with Dario Saric, too, Furkan Korkmaz. Those were guys that were always talking English.

Just talking to them all the time. When they talked, I would just listen to them. I wasn’t listening to what they talked [about], but just for what kind of words they were using and what kind of sentences, the way they were talking. That’s how I learned English.

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James Johnson: The Latest Product of Miami’s Culture

James Johnson speaks to Michael Scotto about his success within Miami’s culture.

Michael Scotto

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James Johnson went from an NBA nomad to financially set for life.

Over the summer, Johnson signed a four-year, $60 million deal with Miami, as first reported by Basketball Insiders. The deal included a fourth-year player option.

“It really meant everything to me,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders. “To be in a situation in my life to overcome so much, and to finally get something like that where it’s long-term, where it’s somewhere I really want to be too, it was just all-in-all the best scenario.”

Johnson was drafted No. 16 overall in 2009 and spent time with four different teams, including two stints in Toronto, before his career year in Miami last season. During that span, Johnson also spent time in the G-League for the Iowa Energy (2011) and the Rio Grande Valley Vipers (2013).

Despite being nomadic through the first eight years of his career, Johnson never doubted his talent nor the hope that he’d find the right organizational fit.

“No, I never doubted myself,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders. “I never doubted the Lord neither. I’m a big firm believer of that. Every team I was on I always enjoyed my teammate’s success. I always was a real part of practice players and being a scout guy. My whole journey is just to figure out and experience all the other aspects of this game that we play. It says a lot where I can start helping other guys out like the rookies now and guys that are not getting any minutes right now, things like that. I’m a big testament to just staying ready, so you don’t have to get ready.”

After playing for the Chicago Bulls, Toronto Raptors, Sacramento Kings, and Memphis Grizzlies, what set Miami’s culture apart?

“Just their want-to, they’re no excuses, act like a champion on and off the court, and just that mental stability of always teaching you, not just drills, not just coaching just because they’re called coaches,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders. “They really inspire, they really help out, and it makes you want to be in that work environment.”

Johnson credits his relationship with President Pat Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra for helping him fulfill his potential.

“It’s great, its nothing like I’ve ever experienced before,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a little new still, but the freedom to be able to go into their office and just talk about normal things, you know, is one of the big reasons why I never want to leave this place.”

While playing on a one-year, $4 million deal, Johnson averaged a career-high 12.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 3.6 assists in 27.4 minutes per game. Johnson also shot a career-high 34 percent from beyond the arc.

Looking ahead, can Johnson continue to improve at age 30 and beyond coming off his best year as a pro?

“I got paid, so there’s no pressure of playing for the money,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders. “It’s really playing for the wins, playing for your teammates, and playing with a pure heart, not going out there with any agendas, not going out there looking to live up to something that everybody else wants you to live up to. For me, it’s just gelling with our team and making sure our locker room is great like I was mentioning. Go out there and compete and trust each other.”

Johnson has put up nearly identical numbers through the first quarter of this season, averaging 11.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.1 assists in 27.6 minutes per game. Johnson is also shooting a career-high 36 percent from beyond the arc.

“It’s my ninth year, and I’m just happy to be able to be part of the NBA for that long,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders.

Looking ahead, Johnson hopes to maximize years 10-12 in Miami during the rest of his contract and the remaining prime of his career.

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