5 NBA Stars in No-Win Situations
If winning isn't everything, there are certainly a handful of NBA stars who are 100 percent satisfied with their lots in life.
Their teams may be lousy, but at least they are making ridiculous amounts of money to play a game.
But there have to be at least a few of these big-name players who aren't OK with this. Sooner or later, the desire to win, to be considered more than just another name with some gaudy numbers next to it, has to kick in.
Unfortunately, a fair number of these players can't do anything about their station beyond either asking for a trade or patiently waiting for their contracts to expire so they can move on to a more desirable situation.
Here's a look at a few of these star players who are in no-win situations.
LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers
Four years ago, the Blazers won 54 games, had five players under the age of 25 average in double digits and were seemingly set for years to come with a nucleus of LaMarcus Aldridge, Brandon Roy, Rudy Fernandez, Travis Outlaw, Nicolas Batum and No. 1 overall pick Greg Oden.
Now—after declining win totals over the past five seasons, no playoff advancement beyond the first round and a complete bottoming out last year in which their coach, the excellent Nate McMillan, was tuned out and eventually fired—the Blazers are in full-on rebuilding mode.
Oden and Roy are gone thanks to career-threatening/ending injuries. Fernandez is in Europe. Outlaw never really panned out and is playing for his third team in two years.
That leaves Batum and Aldridge.
Aldridge will make $43.9 million guaranteed over the next three seasons. But he's also, at least for now, the focal point of this franchise—a role that does not suit him. He's an excellent offensive player, and he can be a forceful rebounder and post defender when he feels like it.
But he lacks the fire or temperament to be the man. That much was obvious last season as Portland spectacularly flamed out within the first month of the lockout-shortened year.
Now that the Blazers have electric rookie point guard Damien Lillard in the fold along with an older, more mature Batum (who is also now making max money), there should be less of a burden on Aldridge as the team starts over and grows up together.
But as he advances further into his prime, what once looked like an ideal situation for a player like him is now murky, unpredictable and may take some time to sort itself out.
Josh Smith, Atlanta Hawks
Josh Smith has Antoine Walker syndrome, which is to say he's a freakishly talented post player who could dominate down there from the 4 position, but he seems to think he's a 2 or a 3 and consequently jacks up way too many three-pointers and doesn't make very many of them.
Smith is a monster when he wants to be—a high-flying, rebounding and defending machine, who is far too strong and quick on the block for most power forwards to deal with.
He blocks more than two shots per game over his career, and he's a force in the paint.
He also is a career 27.8 percent shooter from beyond the arc, which means he should be leaving the long-distance shooting to someone else and live in the low block.
Yet there he is, averaging nearly two per game the past two seasons, leaving all the low-post dirty work to teammate Al Horford.
Smith's curious refusal to eliminate the three-pointer from his game is not the biggest reason why the Hawks are perennial underachievers—a team that can't get out of the first round of the playoffs no matter how much talent they have.
But he is part of that problem. He could be so much more than what he allows himself to be.
Smith is a free agent after this season, and while the Hawks should have plenty of cap room to re-sign him (they have just over $21 million in guaranteed money on their cap for next year), he may be looking for a reason to get a fresh start after eight seasons in Atlanta.
Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks
After years and years of brutal postseason disappointment, Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs finally broke through in 2011, beating Miami for their first-ever NBA title.
In the aftermath of that crowning achievement, the team cut ties with their most important player not named Dirk Nowitzki (Tyson Chandler) and seemed to deliberately take a step back last season in order to ensure enough salary-cap room to sign free-agent Deron Williams and free-agent-to-be Dwight Howard.
The only problem is, they didn't get either of those players. And even though Howard is still a possibility once he hits free agency next summer, given the way the Mavs botched the Williams situation and the fact that Howard is now playing in basketball heaven alongside Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, a move to Dallas is far from a guarantee.
Which leaves Nowitzki, now nursing a surgically repaired knee, and a bunch of middle-tier players. Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo and (gulp) Brandan Wright don't exactly carry the same kind of cache that players like Williams and Howard do.
Maybe Nowitzki is OK with all of this. He has his ring. Perhaps he can live with that knowing that the franchise is retooling around him and if it happens to catch a break or two before he calls it quits, that's a bonus.
Or maybe he's seething with the knowledge that his window to win again won't be open for too much longer.
As the Mavs dip to middle-of-the-pack status in a very crowded Western Conference, that window may have closed for good.
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
This one may have been avoided had the Thunder not traded James Harden on the eve of the season.
But since they did, the microscope on Russell Westbrook—who is exhilarating and infuriating in equal measures—zooms in further.
Here's a guy who is arguably a top-10 player in the NBA right now and is easily one of the league's best point guards (along with Deron Williams, Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo), but he can't seem to win.
When Oklahoma wins, it's because Kevin Durant is the man. When Oklahoma loses, it's because Westbrook took too many shots and didn't defer to Durant.
The point is, he doesn't get enough credit when things go well and gets too much blame when things go sour.
If the Thunder had kept Harden and challenged for a title again this season (something to be expected after a Western Conference Finals loss in 2011 and falling in the Finals in 2012), this would be more of a moot point. They would have been the odds-on-favorite in the West.
Instead, with Harden gone, there is infinitely more pressure on Westbrook and Durant to get the Thunder back to the Finals. No offense to Kevin Martin, but he's no James Harden, which means there is an even greater onus on the team's two stars than there was before.
And given the way Westbrook was always the first one to have fingers pointed in his direction when Harden was around (even when things were going relatively well), imagine what he'll be facing from here on out.
Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
The idea of Carmelo Anthony and why he's in a no-win situation starts and ends with the fact that he did it to himself.
He forced his way out of Denver.
He couldn't co-exist with a winning coach in New York. That coach is no longer employed.
He's led the Knicks to two playoff berths, both of which ended in the first round with barely a whimper.
He insisted on New York even though he not only didn't mesh with the coach, he didn't mesh with the rest of the roster.
And don't forget that the Knicks are owned by one of the worst owners in the league. The priorities within the organization are not always in line with winning—if they ever are.
Tyson Chandler can talk about how focused Carmelo is all he wants. The Knicks—who have won one playoff game in 12 years and haven't been out of the first round since the turn of the millennium—are no closer to being a true contender than they were when Carmelo arrived in New York during the 2010-2011 season.
They are older, more brittle and less athletic than they were last year. There will be even more shots and longer stretches consisting of guys standing around and watching Carmelo run isolation plays.
The Knicks are better than a good chunk of NBA teams. But they are still in a no-win situation.
And Carmelo got exactly what he wanted.