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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: Are The Knicks For Real?

Ariel Pacheco breaks down the New York Knicks and their start to the season. Might they be able to push for a spot in the postseason?

Ariel Pacheco

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The New York Knicks are on a four-game losing streak after their hot 5-3 start to the season. Yes, their play has been inconsistent, but their effort has yet to wane. And, while they are currently 11th in the Eastern Conference, the team has some solid wins under their belt and has seen, arguably, their best start in years.

Head coach Tom Thibodeau’s fingerprints are all over this team. Combined with the positive start, it begs the question: do the Knicks have enough talent to compete for a playoff spot in the East? 

The Knicks have been competitive mainly due to Julius Randle; he’s played like an All-Star to start the season to the tune of 22.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game. Randle’s drastic improvement from a season ago has been a major boon to New York, as he’s kept them in close games and, at times, been their lone source of offense. His stat line would put him in elite company, as one of only four to average at least 20, 10 and 5 this season.

The other three? Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic and Domantas Sabonis. 

Behind him, Mitchell Robinson has been the Knicks’ second-best player so far. He’s third in the NBA in offensive rebounds and 10th in blocks. Beyond that, it’s hard to overstate how impactful he’s been on the defensive end — when he’s off the court, the Knicks’ defense completely craters. And, while his offensive game is limited to mostly dunks and layups, Robinson provides the team a vertical threat in the paint with his elite lob-catching skills. 

Kevin Knox II has also shown signs of becoming a rotation-level NBA player. He’s shot 41.7% from three and, while he still needs work on defense, he hasn’t been nearly as detrimental the team’s efforts on that end as as he has in years past.

Still, there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical. First and foremost, they lack the shooting to consistently put teams away and win games. And, of course, teams have taken advantage of that, as the Knicks have faced a zone defense — an effective defense, but one that can easily be shut down by a consistent presence beyond the three-point line —  in every single game they’ve played this season. Of every Knick that has shot over 20 threes this season, Austin Rivers and Kevin Knox II are the only two that have shot above 35%, while no starter has shot above league average from deep on the season. During their latest four-game losing streak, they’ve shot just 31% from deep as a team.

RJ Barrett, who has really struggled to shoot the ball from all over the floor to start the year, is arguably New York’s biggest culprit here. Currently, Barrett has shot a bad 37.2% from the field, an even worse 18.5% from three and a better but still below average 70.2% from the free throw line. He’s also struggled to finish near the basket. Of course, more spacing in lineups that feature Barrett, as opposed to the clogged lanes he stares down alongside guys like Randle and Robinson, could go a long way in improving those numbers.

But, unfortunately, the Knicks just don’t have the personnel, or depth, for that matter, that they can afford to take those guys off the floor for extended minutes and expect to succeed. There’s hope that Alec Burks’ return could provide some much-needed range and scoring punch from the bench, but Burks alone might not be enough to turn things around here.

The Knicks have also been lucky when it comes to their opponent’s shooting. Opponents have shot just 32.8% from three against the Knicks, well below league average. On three-point attempts that are wide-open, which the NBA defines as a shot in which no defender is within six feet of the shooter, opponents have shot just 33.9%. If that number sees some positive regression — and it likely will as the season goes on — New York may struggle to stay in games. 

There are a litany of other issues as well. The point guard position is certainly an area of concern; Elfrid Payton’s range barely extends beyond the free throw line, while Dennis Smith Jr. just hasn’t looked like the same, explosive player we saw with the Dallas Mavericks and Frank Ntilikina has struggled with injuries to start the year. Immanuel Quickley has looked solid with limited minutes, but Thibodeau has been reluctant to start him or even expand his role. And, as there is with every Thibodeau team, there could be legitimate concern over the workload of his top players: Barrett is first in the NBA in minutes played, Randle is third.

Right now, there would seem to be a lot more questions than answers for the Knicks. As currently constructed, they certainly can’t be penciled in as a playoff team. There’s too much evidence that suggests they won’t be able to consistently win games. 

That said, New York should be somewhat satisfied with their start to the season. And, if they continue to compete hard, tighten up the defense and if their younger players can take a step forward (especially from beyond the arc), they might just be able to squeeze into the play-in game in the softer Eastern Conference.

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NBA Daily: Raul Neto Seizing His Opportunity in Washington

Tristan Tucker examines Raul Neto who, in the midst of a career resurgence, has provided the Washington Wizards with some much-needed stability at the point guard position in the absence of Russell Westbrook.

Tristan Tucker

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Washington Wizards guard Raul Neto is coming off one of the more disappointing seasons of his career. Waived by the Utah Jazz, Neto joined a Philadelphia 76ers’ roster in 2019 that had some serious championship aspirations. Unfortunately, like the 76ers, Neto’s season fell flat.

For many former second round picks, a rough season could signal the conclusion of a career. But not for Neto, who has persevered and turned his career around to start the 2020-21 season.

Neto exploded onto the scene for the Wizards and has really shown an ability to hold it down on the court, especially in the wake of Russell Westbrook’s injury. He’s averaged career-highs almost across the board so far, recording 8.9 points and 1 steal per contest on outstanding percentages; Neto’s shot 52.7 from the field and 42.4 percent from three, both by far the highest of his career and, among Wizards with at least 10 games played, rank fifth and sixth on the team, respectively.

“I think I have been around different teams and I try and do whatever the team needs on the court,” Neto said. “If it needs to play with more pace or if it needs more scoring, I will try and do whatever I can to help. I think that’s how I fit so quickly on the team.”

Neto began his professional career in Brazil when he was just 16 years old, playing for the World Team in 2010 at the Nike Hoop Summit and then heading to Spain for the 2011-12 season. After two impressive seasons, the 28-year-old point guard was selected with the 47th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft by the Atlanta Hawks. Atlanta then traded Neto to the Jazz where he eventually signed on for the 2015-16 NBA season.

Immediately, Neto was cast into a big role with the Jazz, starting in the season opener and starting in 53 of his 81 appearances that season. His efforts earned him a spot as a member of the World Team in the 2016 Rising Stars Challenge.

Neto would go on to play a majority of his next three seasons in the G-League, finding a hard time sticking to a role that suited him in Utah. When Philadelphia tried to remake its roster in the 2019 offseason, Neto was called in to give the team an able-shooting ball-handler, one that they desperately needed. However, Neto was, again, miscast and, while he was getting good minutes, the team as a whole struggled to find their identity and, as a result, everyone’s play suffered.

In the 2020 offseason, Neto was able to find a roster spot on the Wizards, who saw him as a potential diamond-in-the-rough type and a player that they should take a chance on. And their gamble has paid huge dividends as, at the moment, Neto has given Washington a reliable piece to play next to All-Star Bradley Beal.

“[Neto] does a tremendous job of running the team, running the offense,” Beal said after a Wizards’ preseason game. “He gets after it, he’s a real pest. I always make fun of him because he has a strong build…he’s very strong.”

Traits that likely stood out to Washington were Neto’s calm demeanor and his ability to run the offense, something that a few of his younger teammates could learn from and, hopefully, pick up themselves. Players like Deni Avdija and Rui Hachimura have shown much promise as scorers and playmakers and should continue to benefit from players like Neto that are able to get them the ball accurately and consistently.

“Deni [Avdija]’s very talented, he’s very very talented,” Neto said. “He’s young so he’s got a lot to learn and get better. He’s a very good player, he’s been playing professionally overseas for a while…Rui [Hachimura] is also a very good player. Strong, plays hard and very good defense. Probably going to be our guy, like today he was guarding [Kevin Durant], he can go against guys in this league that are tall and can score.”

While the Wizards are in the midst of a disappointing season, something that may prove worthwhile in the long run may be to give Neto, who’s averaged just under 17 minutes per game, a larger role, perhaps as the team’s sixth man. When Neto is on the floor, Washington’s already potent offense gets even better — multiple lineups that feature Neto have posted an offensive rating of at least 130 points per 100 possessions — and, while it isn’t that cut-and-dry, it would behoove the Wizards to experiment and see what he can do in a larger role.

“I just try to play my game,” Neto said. “With my new team, I’m trying to understand my teammates and play the game the way Scott [Brooks] wants us to play and just move the ball and be a player out there that tries to help the team and do whatever I have to do. If I have to shoot, if I have to score depending on who I am on the court…”

“I think, number-wise, I did great,” Neto said after the Wizards’ preseason opener. “I think there’s always room for improvement and I think I’m going to work on that and take advantage of my opportunities.”

“[Neto] has heart, he has grit, he has everything we need,” Beal said. “He can shoot the leather off the ball which is what I love about him too.”

Neto isn’t the solution to all of Washington’s problems — of which, there are many — but there’s no denying the impact he’s had, even in his short time with the team. With the turnaround he’s seen, Neto has not only proven that he belongs in the NBA, but that he can serve as a solid veteran spot-starter or bench piece. Not just for a Washington team that can use just about anyone right now, either, but for any team looking for a consistent shooter and leader on the court.

“It’s easy when you have teammates like we do,” Neto said following a preseason game. “I’m just trying to work hard and play the right way. I think we have improved…we’re still going to get better.”

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NBA

Point-Counter Point: Where Should The NBA Expand?

For the first time since 2004 when the NBA allowed Charlotte to have a second go at a franchise, the NBA is seriously entertaining the idea of expansion. The NBA, like many businesses, has seen its revenue ravaged by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and could look to monetize new markets as a means to recover some of those losses, the burning question remains, where to expand?

Basketball Insiders

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From time to time there are things that surface in the NBA landscape that requires a little debate, we call that Point – Counter Point. We have asked two our of writers to dive into the topic of NBA expansion, which for the first time since 2004 when the NBA allowed Charlotte to have a second go at a franchise, the NBA is seriously entertaining the idea of expansion,

The NBA, like many businesses, has seen its revenue ravaged by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and could look to monetize new markets as a means to recover some of those losses, the burning question remains, where to expand?

The most popular candidate among cities that haven’t been home to an NBA franchise previously is Las Vegas, whihc makes a ton of sense and has to be a heavy favorite if the NBA does expand.

The market and potential for revenue have long made sense from a financial perspective, but the stigma around ‘Sin City’ was an issue. Things have changed quickly, though, and professional sports and the public, in general, are much more accepting of sports gambling than in previous years.

The NHL was the first professional league to enter the market with the Las Vegas Golden Knights in 2017. The team won the Stanley Cup in their first year as an expansion team and have quickly become a popular team in the league.

The WNBA and NFL have since joined the NHL in Las Vegas with the Aces (WNBA) and LAs Vegas Raiders (NFL). The NBA could soon be joining them. Vegas is the 28th most populous city in the U.S. and generates a ton of traffic from all over the world. It just makes too much sense.

Another reason it’s only a matter of time is the NBA’s already established in the city as a league. For years the NBA Summer League has been held in the area and it has become quite a popular event. Many from the industry attend, from media to players.

Finally, Vegas has a home stadium ready to go in T-Mobile Arena.

London could be a huge move for the league and sports in general, but the timing isn’t right. Given the current circumstances in the world, London doesn’t seem as likely as other cities. That’s unfortunate, as it makes a ton of sense from the league’s perspective. Not only would it be the first NBA franchise to be based in Europe, but it would also beat the other major U.S. sports leagues in getting there.

The timing would be great too, as the league has a number of up-and-coming players from Europe. That’s caused an increase in popularity worldwide, so surely fans would be excited to get a team of their own.

Given the things that would have to be worked out to have a team playing so far from most of the league, it’s hard to imagine the NBA going through those obstacles on top of the global situation as of today. Patience will be key for London, but it’s one of the best options if things were different right now.

The last two cities that come to mind in terms of contending cities are Mexico City and Louisville. While the NBA would be wise to wait to expand overseas, Mexico City could be a great option. There’s an untapped market south of the U.S. border and it would be much easier to add to the league in short order than somewhere in Europe.

Louisville makes sense as well as a city that offers a market not being maximized by the league. It’s a great basketball city for college hoops, as is the state of Kentucky in general. Residents would buy in right away and it may offer the most loyal fanbase the NBA can establish in little time.

– Garrett Brook


The city that immediately comes to mind when thinking of expansion in the NBA Is Seattle. Home to the SuperSonics from 1967-2008, the team was a staple of the city before being bought in 2006 and subsequently moved to Oklahoma City two years later.

The SuperSonics had a lot of success in Seattle during their 41-year stint, making the playoffs 22 times, the NBA Finals three times and taking home one NBA Championship in 1979. The SuperSonics have maintained national relevance since their departure.

In a poll done by the Herald Net at the beginning of the year, 48 percent of responders said it was “very important” to bring the SuperSonics back to Seattle. In a Twitter poll done by a journalist at the same newspaper, 77 percent of respondents said that it was “very important” to bring the SuperSonics back. And, because the NHL is expanding to Seattle, the city is currently building a brand new $930 million stadium.

One of the primary reasons the team pulled out of Seattle in the first place was because the team wanted a new stadium, and the city refused to invest the money necessary to build one. All of this packaged together with Seattle’s rapid growth as a city, over 400,000 people have moved to the Seattle metro area since the SuperSonics left, which means if the NBA decides to expand, don’t be surprised if Seattle is the immediate favorite.

Another city that comes to mind when speaking of expansion is Vancouver, the former home of the Memphis Grizzlies.

The Vancouver Grizzlies didn’t have much success in their six seasons, thanks mainly to poor management in the front office. If given a more successful team, Vancouver could play host to an NBA team yet again.

Attendance started in the middle part of the league in the Grizzlies opening couple of seasons in the NBA, showing that there is interest in basketball in the area, but as the team continued to struggle year after year, they slipped to the back half of the league.

Another reason cited for the Grizzlies’ departure from Vancouver was the value of the Canadian dollar at the time compared to American dollars; that is less of an issue now as the Canadian dollar has become much closer in value to the American dollar over the last 20 years. It stands to reason that a good team would draw more interest than it did in their first run in the city, especially with the sport of basketball growing in Canada as a whole.

If the NBA wants a team further east, Pittsburgh is a city with a passionate group of sports fans that would almost certainly rally around a team were they to have success early on. Pittsburgh features successful franchises in the NHL, NFL and MLB, so it stands to reason an NBA franchise would succeed in the city as well. There would also be no worries over having to build a stadium in Pittsburgh since the Penguins stadium, PPG Paints Arena, has a capacity of 19,758, which is more than the average capacity for an NBA arena.

Kansas City is another place that has a lot of basketball history, even if it was over 35 years ago. The Sacramento Kings were initially located in Kansas City from 1972-1985 and even made the Western Conference Finals in the 1980-81 season with a team that featured former Wizards’ general manager Ernie Grunfeld. Kansas City did struggle with attendance during that period, but since 1985 the city of Kansas City has grown quite a lot, with the city’s population going from 1.15 million in 1985 to nearly 1.7 million at the start of 2021. Plus, the success of the Chiefs and Royals have both had in the city in recent years – both have won championships in the last 10 years – indicates that an NBA franchise would have the ability to succeed there as well.

– Zach Dupont

EDITORIAL NOTE: While the NBA is exploring the viability of expansion, there is no timeline currently being discussed. Obviously, with the current state of the pandemic, NBA expansion is not going to happen soon, but as the world normalizes in a post-vaccine world, expansion seems more likely in the NBA than it has in almost two decades, so expect to hear more about this topic.

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