Dwight Howard and 10 NBA Stars with the Most to Prove Next Season

Josh BenjaminCorrespondent ISeptember 14, 2012

Dwight Howard and 10 NBA Stars with the Most to Prove Next Season

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    Now that the Dwight Howard soap opera is in reruns (for now), it's time for the All-Star center to get to the next item on his to-do list: repairing his image. 

    While the man is definitely talented and one of the best at his position, if not the best period, fans now view him as a prima donna who stirs up trouble when he doesn't get his way, a personality no NBA fan appreciates. Thus, as the new season dawns, Howard has a lot to prove to his new teammates and fans about why he isn't really the spoiled brat we all saw last season.

    In fact, having a great season after a year in which one had to deal with some bad PR can be the ultimate blessing for some players. Just look at LeBron James last season. He was heavily criticized for not coming through late in games for the Miami Heat in the 2011 NBA Finals, and how did he come back from that?

    He took home his third MVP trophy in 2012 and carried the team on his back not just throughout the season but in the NBA Finals and the entire playoffs.

    In other cases, what about players who have gotten lucrative new contracts despite being oft-injured, inexperienced or away from the game? No matter how you look at it, some players have quite a bit to prove next season if they are to stay in the fans' good graces.

11. Kevin Garnett

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    The Boston Celtics need to get younger, and they took a step in that direction this summer when they let sharpshooter Ray Allen leave via free agency. Yet, when it came to another aging free agent in power forward/center Kevin Garnett, GM Danny Ainge's approach was different. 

    Instead of letting Garnett walk and investing in a younger big man either through the draft or free agency, Ainge inked the 17-year veteran to a three-year deal worth $34 million.

    Simply put, Garnett needs to show up to training camp in A1 shape next month. Not only has his production dropped since coming to Boston, but he has yet to play a full 82-game season since 2005, when he was with the Minnesota Timberwolves. 

    Yes, he can still be a dominant defender and his performance in the playoffs last year was unbelievable, but Garnett has looked older and older each of the past three seasons.

    That all being said, he simply can't just go out and give what is expected of him once the season begins. On top of his usual effort, he needs to show some more hunger to prove that he is worth the money he's being paid. Otherwise, fans will view him as just another overpaid and oft-injured player.

10. Ricky Rubio

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    Though he only appeared in 41 games last season, Rubio captured the hearts of the Minnesota fans with his fast-paced style of play and toughness on both ends of the court. Before tearing his ACL in March, the Spanish sensation averaged 10.6 points, 8.2 assists and 2.2 steals per game.

    Yet, Rubio still had many flaws in his game. While a great defender and distributor, his work in the scoring department could use some work. Last year, he shot just 36 percent from the floor, not at all acceptable for anyone in the league, regardless of position.

    More importantly, an ACL injury is no joke. Like Garnett, he needs to come back in top shape and ready to be coached. While his rookie campaign was good, he simply cannot afford to have a sophomore slump, especially on a team that could have very well made the playoffs had he not gotten hurt.

9. Brandon Roy

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    Despite balky knees, Brandon Roy established himself as one of the premier scorers in the league over the course of five seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers. Yet, despite his talent, his chronic knee issues forced him to retire just after the lockout ended last November. It was a sad end to the then-27-year-old's career.

    However, this summer, Roy announced his plans to make a comeback. Sure enough, the Minnesota Timberwolves chose to roll the dice and sign him to a contract.

    Now, under normal circumstances, one would think that a player in Roy's situation would receive a one-year contract for the veteran's minimum given his injury history and being away from the NBA for a year. Yet, Minnesota GM David Khan must have some inside information on the former Washington Husky's condition.

    You see, Roy was signed to a two-year contract worth $10 million. That's a bit much for someone who just came out of retirement. Thus, he had better do a good job of staying healthy because for a price as high as his, he really needs to earn his pay.

8. Andrew Bynum

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    Last year was a great one for Bynum, as he had a career season, and for once, didn't miss any significant time due to injury. On top of that, while he had a questionable attitude at times, he did a decent job of staying out of trouble.

    Then, toward the end of the summer, the volatile seven-footer was sent to the Philadelphia 76ers in the blockbuster trade that saw Dwight Howard go to the Lakers and Andre Iguodala to the Denver Nuggets. In the blink of an eye, Bynum became the de facto star of the team in Philadelphia.

    That all being said, next year is going to be make-or-break for Bynum. It is his last before free agency, and on a Sixers squad desperate for a star to take over in crunch time, he needs to prove that he can be the one to put the team on his back.

    For too long, he has had the reputation of a bratty big man who plays hard whenever it suits him, and now, it's time for him to man up and accept that his talent should be used for his team and not just himself.

    With a tough-as-nails coach in Doug Collins, chances are that Bynum will only build upon last season.

7. Amar'e Stoudemire

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    Considering how he averaged 25.3 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.9 blocks his first season in New York, last year was definitely a giant step back for Amar'e Stoudemire. 

    In what can only be explained as a combination of the lack of a reliable point guard on the team, the NBA lockout and the lack of a consistent supporting cast at the start of the season, the 2003 NBA Rookie of the Year only averaged 17.5 points, 7.9 rebounds and a block per game. 

    Even worse, he missed 19 games due to a recurring back injury as well as the death of his brother.

    Thus, with the Knicks looking the best they have in over a decade, it is imperative that Stoudemire come to training camp ready to play. In new coach Mike Woodson's isolation system, he needs to prove that he can be a force on defense as well as a top-scoring threat. 

    Most important of all, he MUST stay healthy because team management has the option of terminating his contract at season's end.

    Long story short, Stoudemire is more than capable of silencing his critics next season.  Yes, he is primarily known as a scorer who only stands and bangs under the basket when he feels like it, but playing in an iso-game as opposed to one that relies solely on the pick-and-roll could actually be a great career boost for him on both ends of the hardwood. 

    All he has to do is embrace it, and he'll definitely finish out the three remaining years on his New York contract.

6. Dwight Howard

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    The past nine months of Howard's career have been so turbulent and unpredictable that some Hollywood producer could become very rich once he makes the movie version of it. 

    From wanting a trade to the Brooklyn Nets, to wanting to stay with the Orlando Magic to wanting a trade again, his 2011-2012 campaign was more like a bad soap opera than it was an NBA season. 

    Even worse, the three-time Defensive Player of the Year made himself look like a spoiled head case and then-Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy went so far as to say that Howard wanted him fired

    Oddly enough, both Van Gundy and GM Otis Smith were dismissed at the end of the season.

    Finally, new GM Rob Hennigan dealt Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers in a blockbuster deal that also included the Philadelphia 76ers and Denver Nuggets. In the blink of an eye, Howard was on a team with a phenomenal supporting cast and one that constantly contends for a championship.

    Still, despite his new home, the stigma of last season is going to be hard to shake. Howard needs to let the fans, his teammates and the Lakers higher-ups know that he is there to play hard and win, not to cause drama. Yes, he may be a free agent next season, but this is the perfect opportunity to make his value go sky high.

    Otherwise, he's just another head case, and his free agency becomes all about which team is most willing to deal with his attitude.

5. Anthony Davis

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    Forget top free agents who score huge deals in the offseason, the one player in the NBA who has the most pressure on him is the one taken first overall in that year's draft.

    This season, that honor goes to Anthony Davis, who was taken with the top pick by the New Orleans Hornets. In his lone season at Kentucky, the 6'10", 220-pound Davis averaged 14.2 points, 10.4 rebounds and an astounding 4.7 blocks in leading the Wildcats to a national championship.

    Yet, Davis is unlike other rookies in that, along with winning a national championship and being taken first overall, he was also selected to represent Team USA at the Summer Olympics in London. With a gold medal now on his resume, the pressure is really on. Thus, the question poses itself: Can he handle it?

    Seeing as how the Hornets seem to have him penciled in as the starting center, I guess we'll soon find out if he can prove to both his team and the fans that he was worth being taken first ahead of other talented players like Thomas Robinson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and others.

4. LeBron James

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    At long last, James took home his first championship ring last season, not to mention his third MVP trophy. Yet, if he thinks the hard work is over, the former No. 1 pick is in for a rude awakening. In reality, his hard work is just beginning.

    Keep in mind, when James first signed with the Miami Heat in 2010, he boldly predicted that the team would win eight championships. Even if that number was a bit out of this world, one thing is for sure. Miami fans are not going to be satisfied with just one ring, especially with James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all on the roster, which now features Ray Allen.

    Thus, James needs to put in another MVP-caliber year to ensure that last year wasn't just a one-time deal. If he truly wants to land himself among greats like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and others, he needs to do everything he can to bring home another ring.

    With the Eastern Conference looking tougher this year, here's hoping that he can deliver on the initial promise he made to the Miami fans.

3. Jeremy Lin

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    For a brief, month-long stretch last season, New York Knicks fans were struck with a condition known as Linsanity. It was brought on by undrafted point guard and Harvard grad Jeremy Lin, who became an overnight sensation by accident and carried the team on his back to big victories over teams like the Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers.

    Though he went down with a torn meniscus toward the end of the season, the Knicks ended up making the playoffs.

    Sure enough, once the season ended, Lin found himself a restricted free agent. Despite the Knicks repeatedly saying that they would match any offer he received from other teams, the Houston Rockets offered Lin a back-loaded deal worth $25 million over three years. In the end, the Knicks chose not to match the offer so as to avoid paying a high luxury tax on the deal.

    While Lin is sure to do well in Houston, the questions remain. Was Linsanity a fluke? Can he be a solid contributor for a full season? Keep in mind, though, Linsanity itself lasted about a month, the honeymoon period of it was just over a nine-game stretch.

    That said, Lin has a lot to prove this season not only because he missed the home stretch of last season plus the playoffs due to injury but because he has yet to prove that he can lead an offense for an entire season, not to mention flourish in a system unlike that of Mike D'Antoni's.

2. Lamar Odom

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    After winning two championships with the Los Angeles Lakers and being named Sixth Man of the Year in 2011, Lamar Odom was traded to the Dallas Mavericks before the start of last season. 

    He was initially to be sent to the New Orleans Hornets in the failed trade that would have sent Chris Paul to the Lakers, but he was upset about being involved in that deal to begin with and then just asked to be traded away even after the league vetoed it.

    Ultimately, Odom's lone season in Dallas would be one to forget. His shot deserted him throughout the season, and he posted career lows in all major categories. Yet, in July, the Los Angeles Clippers chose to roll the dice on him and re-acquired him in a three-team deal that saw Mo Williams get sent to the Utah Jazz.

    Odom is now at a great advantage, for the Clippers were the team with whom he started his career and he knows the fan base well. Yet, he still needs to come to training camp prepared and prove that last season was a complete and utter fluke. Otherwise, he's destined to become someone at the end of the bench for the remainder of his career.

1. Carmelo Anthony

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    Though he ultimately fared much better once Mike Woodson took over as head coach, last season was a disappointment for Carmelo Anthony.  Rumors swirled that he feuded (via Johnette Howard of ESPN) with then-coach Mike D'Antoni, and that said feud led to D'Antoni's midseason resignation.

    On top of that, his 22.6 points per game and 43 percent shooting from the floor were his lowest since 2005, his second season in the league.

    However, after basically clinching a playoff spot for the Knicks single-handedly, Anthony showed that he is committed to winning in New York, and he won't sleep until he and his teammates have the Larry O'Brien Trophy raised above their heads. 

    In fact, shortly after LeBron James and the Miami Heat were crowned champions, Anthony publicly stated (via Jared Zwerling of ESPN) he could soon be next. Those are pretty big words for a man who has never been to the NBA Finals.

    Fortunately, Knicks GM Glen Grunwald took Anthony's words to heart and made sure to have a busy free-agency season. From bringing back three-point threats J.R. Smith and Steve Novak to adding veteran leadership in Jason Kidd and Marcus Camby, he too showed his commitment to winning.

    However, it is on Anthony's shoulders to be the leader of the team and bring the Knicks back to the playoffs, this time as an elite squad.