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NBA PM: The Best (and Worst) Hometown Players

The LeBron-to-Cleveland narrative is great, but Caron Butler back in Wisconsin proved homecomings aren’t always happy.

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LeBron James’ return to Cleveland has been such a huge story this summer that it took only about two weeks for Washington, D.C.-area media to start wondering aloud whether Kevin Durant would write himself a similar storyline in a couple of summers by playing for the Washington Wizards, the team that Durant grew up watching.

That, of course, is still two years away, but it hasn’t stopped anyone from talking about what an interesting fit he’d be with John Wall and Bradley Beal in D.C.

It’s all a story because people love when players go back home. Today, we look at the best and the worst of hometown reunions, knowing full well that we may be adding Durant to this list in 2016.

Top 5:

#5 – Josh Smith, Atlanta Hawks – Arguably the most explosive, athletic and well-rounded defensive player in Hawks history made his mark in the NBA playing for the team that plays their home games only about 10 miles away from Smith’s childhood home.

#4 – Tracy McGrady, Orlando Magic – While it’s true Orlando never won a playoff series while T-Mac was on the roster, statistically he was one of the top two or three most dominant players of his time. Granted, he made the choice to go home and play only an hour away from where he grew up, but that leverage was a huge part of what made him choose the Magic over other suitors way back in 2000. That, great weather and the state’s lack of income taxes.

#3 – Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls – Usually when announcers introduce players during starting lineups, they tack on the college that player attended for good measure. Chicago announcer Tommy Edwards, however, has always opted for “From Chicago…” instead of “From Memphis…” when introducing Rose. The last couple years’ worth of injuries have slowed some of Rose’s momentum, but he’s still among the city’s favorite sons and at only 25 years old should have plenty of good years ahead of him in Chicago.

#2 – Chauncey Billups, Denver Nuggets – Billups’s first homecoming, from 1998-2000, wasn’t particularly productive, and the Nuggets ended up shipping him to his fourth team in five years ahead of the 2000-01 campaign. When he ended up back in his hometown in 2008 it came on the right end of a lopsided trade sending a star-crossed Allen Iverson to Detroit. After arriving back in Colorado, his influence there was profound, though not profound enough to keep Carmelo Anthony as a teammate. Still, he was at the time elated to be playing a good chunk of his last years in the league with the team in his home state.

#1 – LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers – When Cleveland ended up with the No. 1 pick in the LeBron Lottery back in 2003, they truly needed a savior for their franchise. To have ended up with that pick and been given the opportunity to take the most highly-touted prospect maybe ever was an absolute coup. Four memorable years in Miami were hard for Cavs fans to swallow, but now that he’s back, there are no happier fans in basketball.

Worst 5:

#5 – Caron Butler, Milwaukee Bucks – While Butler was able to average 11 PPG in 34 games with Milwaukee last season, the experience of returning to Wisconsin was supposed to be a lot more enriching than it actually was. He didn’t even get through half a season before the two sides agreed to a buyout, which eventually allowed him to sign with Oklahoma City, decidedly not his hometown.

#4 – Damon Stoudamire, Portland Trail Blazers – While Stoudamire certainly had his moments in a Blazers uniform, the lows were much lower than the highs were high. For the majority of 2001-02, then-head coach Mo Cheeks benched Stoudamire for almost the entire season, and the way things ended between him and the Blazers was far from amiable. Before he even knew he wasn’t going to be re-signed in the summer of 2005, Portland went ahead and signed Juan Dixon and gave him Damon’s uniform number. That’s not exactly love, even though one would think a hometown guy could get a little bit of respect. It didn’t really happen that way, though, and as a result the marriage ended on a relatively unhappy note.

#3 – Baron Davis, L.A. Clippers – Had Elton Brand stayed in L.A. back in the summer of 2008 rather than bolt for Philadelphia, the Clippers may have gotten more of a head start on their league-leading ways. Instead, with Brand gone, things just didn’t pan out for Baron back home in L.A. Injuries were a huge problem for him, anyway, and the team itself struggled mightily after Davis signed. As far as homecomings go, this one wasn’t particularly heartwarming.

#2 – Eddy Curry, Chicago Bulls – Many hoped that Curry would be the future of the Chicago franchise at a time when fans were watching some of the team’s worst-ever teams, but Curry never showed enough promise to warrant a long-term contract with the Bulls and was eventually allowed to sign with New York. While his post moves early in his career were fantastic, his defense and rebounding never came close to what was needed out of an NBA center. For him to fail as a pro was bad enough, but to fail his hometown was twice as painful.

#1 – Stephon Marbury, New York Knicks – The Larry Brown/Stephon Marbury marriage was a bad one from the start, and the more vocal Steph got about his displeasure with the situation, the more his hometown fans turned against him. It’s hard to call Marbury’s five years in New York anything but a train wreck, more than any other train wreck Marbury was ever a part of. And that’s saying a lot.

Other Players To Have Played For Their Hometown Teams:

  • Eddie Jones, Miami
  • Udonis Haslem, Miami
  • Trevor Ariza, L.A. Lakers
  • Lorenzen Wright, Memphis
  • James Jones, Miami
  • Keyon Dooling, Orlando
  • Vince Carter, Orlando
  • John Salmons, Philadelphia
  • Channing Frye, Phoenix
  • Jordan Farmar, L.A. Lakers
  • Luke Ridnour, Seattle
  • Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Atlanta
  • Luke Walton, L.A. Lakers
  • Jeremy Lin, Golden State
  • James Anderson, San Antonio
  • Josh McRoberts, Indianapolis
  • Mike Dunleavy, Jr., Milwaukee
  • Troy Murphy, New Jersey
  • J.R. Smith, New York
  • Tyshawn Taylor, Brooklyn
  • Lavoy Allen, Philadelphia
  • Nazr Mohammed, Chicago
  • George Hill, Indianapolis
  • Lou Williams, Atlanta
  • Ryan Hollins, L.A. Clippers
  • Darius Morris, L.A. Lakers
  • Daniel Orton, Oklahoma City

All of these players are being given (or were given at some point) the opportunity to play for teams they grew up watching and admiring, but homecomings aren’t always everything they’re cracked up to be.

Sometimes, though, a homecoming is everything it’s cracked up to be, and those are the kinds of stories that fans love to read.

Are there any other notable hometown players we’ve missed? Let us know, either in the comments section or over on Twitter!

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.

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