NBA AM: Bounce-Back, Redemption or Decline?

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At the start of every NBA season, outside of the mainstream headlines there are always other storylines and subplots simmering below the surface. The 2016-17 campaign will be no different and throughout the season, there will be plenty of stories of individuals experiencing bounce-back campaigns, guys overcoming hurdles in search of redemption and players or teams inevitably facing a decline after years of success and productivity.

In today’s space, we’re going to evaluate some players and teams that potentially fit these narratives. Let’s get to it and, as always, leave your comments below if you have any other suggestions.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Forward, Charlotte Hornets

Kidd-Gilchrist suffered through a tough season physically in 2016. The promising forward entered the season hurt, came back for a relatively short period of time and played well, but ultimately ended up re-injuring himself and sitting out the rest of the 2016 campaign. All in all, Kidd-Gilchrist played just seven games. But heading into this season, Kidd-Gilchrist is on tap for a huge bounce-back campaign. The phrase “out of sight, out of mind” comes to the forefront when referencing Kidd-Gilchrist at this point. The 22-year-old has the potential to be an All-Defensive team type of performer during his prime years.

The Hornets lost a lot of pieces this offseason with guard Jeremy Lin heading to Brooklyn, center Al Jefferson now Indiana and guard Courtney Lee headed to the Big Apple. Kidd-Gilchrist will reenter the fold with plenty of opportunities to contribute.

Bradley Beal, Guard, Washington Wizards

Beal is a player with All-Star potential. This is undeniable, as the talent is clearly evident. But what has been missing is Beal’s ability to stay healthy since entering the league. In four campaigns, Beal has logged more than 70 appearances just once. But armed with a new and very lucrative contract, Beal has the potential to shake off those injury concerns for good. In Washington, beside All-Star guard John Wall, Beal will have every opportunity for a bounce-back campaign. Beal averaged a career-high 17.4 points per contest in 2016 so it might be a tough sell to market him as a bounce-back candidate, but the guard played in just 55 games and the Wizards missed the playoffs. There is plenty of motivation here to reference.

The Milwaukee Bucks
Status: Redemption

The 2015 Milwaukee Bucks were one of the league’s biggest surprises, making the playoffs and putting up a huge fight against the Chicago Bulls before ultimately being eliminated in the first round. The Bucks followed up that performance during the summer by seemingly striking gold, luring big man Greg Monroe into town via free agency. Monroe seemingly solidified the Bucks’ interior attack, but the 2016 campaign was one to forget for the franchise as the team never fully got on track and subsequently missed the playoffs.

Headed into the 2017 season, the Bucks have the necessary pieces to get back into the mix and make some noise and show last year was just a blip on the radar and not indicative of things to come. For this reason, the Bucks are headed down the road of redemption after a troubling 2016 campaign.

Pau Gasol, Center, San Antonio Spurs

Listen, Gasol has had a surefire Hall-of-Fame-level career. But how long can a player continue fighting off the inevitability of Father Time? Headed to San Antonio, Gasol will be put into a program that doesn’t overwork its players and for this reason alone, Gasol may have extended his career a season or two. But heading to the Spurs also means Gasol will see his statistical numbers continue to decline. In fact, don’t be surprised that if in the established system of the Spurs, Gasol ends up averaging some of the most pedestrian numbers of his career.

Dion Waiters, Guard, Miami Heat

Waiters is a player with an extremely high self-belief in his talent. If self-belief were a tangible skill on the court, Waiters would contend for First Team All-NBA honors in confidence. There were probably more lucrative destinations and opportunities for Waiters in free agency this summer, but the Miami Heat, still reeling after the departure of Dwyane Wade, could be a strong fit.

Miami is a team that leads with its defensive tenacity and, at times, the Heat’s offense can become rather stagnant. Usher in a guy like Waiters who is known for having the ability to fill up the offensive stat sheet and Miami may have found themselves a steal in free agency this summer.

Waiters has bounced around the league after entering it as a lottery pick full of big dreams and high expectations. Miami will offer Waiters every opportunity to become an offensive dynamo, the question is, as it’s always been, can Waiters finally take advantage of the opportunity?

The Houston Rockets
Status: Bounce-Back

The 2016 campaign got off on the wrong foot for the Rockets and the carousel of underachieving never subsided. Last season, the Rockets were marred by coaching changes and internal locker room turmoil, but Houston is in a position to quickly change the narrative of their franchise in 2017.

The team was active in free agency this summer by signing productive veterans such as Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson. Houston also inked star guard James Harden to a long-term extension, guaranteeing stability at the top of the lineup. The Rockets also hired a head coach in Mike D’Antoni whom they believe helps them get to the next level.

On paper, the Rockets are primed for a bounce-back campaign. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves and think title contention, but for a team that went through all of its drama and still made the playoffs last season, a jump into the top five or flirting with the top five in the West is not a far-fetched possibility.

Joakim Noah, Center, New York Knicks

Noah’s last season in Chicago is one to forget. The former All-Star was relegated to a bench role under new head coach Fred Hoiberg and then got injured and had to sit out the majority of the campaign.

It became clear as the season progressed that Noah and the Bulls were going to be a thing of the past once free agency began in July. In New York, Noah has a big-time opportunity for redemption and to silence critics who believe he will never return to an All-Star level. Noah will have the minutes, a starting role and plenty of high expectations to perform. In short, Noah gets another shot to prove he can handle the rigors of the 82-game season, as a starter, and regain his form. The 2016-17 season is shaping up to be one of redemption for Noah, on paper, if his body allows him to deliver.

Kyle Korver, Guard, Atlanta Hawks

Korver is the rare player who spent the majority of his career as a role player and was able to develop into an All-Star level performer later on. But now in his mid-30s and coming off a sub par campaign, for his recent standards, there’s a strong possibility that Korver never gets back to the level he was at during the 2015 campaign.

Korver is still one of the most feared shooters in the league, but 2016 was a sometimes painful wake-up call that Father Time has seemingly pulled his card. In Atlanta, Korver will enter training camp as the favorite to lock up the starting shooting guard spot, but any Hawks fan expecting a return to 2015 levels of production from Korver should temper their expectations.

The Oklahoma City Thunder

Not to throw any more salt in the wounds of the Thunder fan base, but losing former league MVP Kevin Durant for nothing in return in free agency is a tough adjustment to handle. Realistically, the Thunder franchise is headed for a decline without Durant. The only reason Durant’s departure wasn’t an even more devastating blow is that All-Star guard Russell Westbrook is still on the roster and is arguably one of the top five players in the game today.

So Oklahoma City has enough firepower to remain relevant and possibly even flirt with a playoff berth. But there are just so many questions in Oklahoma City right now, such as whether Westbrook is in it for the long haul as he approaches unrestricted free agency next summer. The team could decide to trade him and receive some assets in return, but even doing that would mean a further spiral down the Western Conference pecking order. Even if Westbrook decides to stay, the Thunder are now a far cry from a team that was just one win away from returning to their second NBA finals appearance in the past five seasons.

Which other players and teams are you expecting to bounce-back, redeem themselves or decline next season? Leave a comment below.