Every once in a while in the NBA there's an exceptional player who comes along, totally sets the league on fire (or at least creates a spark) only to end up having something derail his career.
Whether it be an injury, an attitude or just a combination of bad decisions, some players end up more likely to burn out rather than flame on for a long, fulfilling career.
Recently, there are quite a few obvious examples of these kinds of players, Eddy Curry being one of the more recent.
Curry spent the early part of his career with Chicago and New York where he was offensively brilliant and at the very least a tall dude on defense. Various roadblocks (and cheeseburgers) came along, completely ending any hope for him to become a perennial All-Star.
He's just a small nibble of the big meal that is the collection of disappointing NBA players. The past decade has been ripe with guys who should have traveled through the league and done much better than they ultimately ended up doing.
It kind of goes against logic to think that Shaq was a disappointing player over the past decade. He had a career that undoubtedly landed him in the company of the five best centers of all time.
From what we saw of Shaq at his height, combined with the way he played the game year after year, however, it seems like it should have been no argument that Shaq was the greatest center ever to play the game.
The big man simply knew how to play basketball on both ends of the court, and he did so in dominant fashion. All this is exemplified by his 2000 playoff run, when he put up 30 points and 15 boards over the course of 23 games. He was unmatched, and undeniably, the best center in the league.
The only problem is that it seems Shaq realized that. He didn't have to make himself better in the offseason. Hell, he didn't even have to stay in shape.
Around 2003, Shaq continually showed up to training camp overweight, worked himself into shape during the season and rarely broke out his dominant side.
He peaked in that 2000 season, but instead of a plateau he turned and steadily declined, especially obvious when he went from 27 to 21 points per game in 2004.
You can call it selfish, but really, it was just Shaq.
Like Shaq, there was a long period of Rasheed Wallace's career when he would just not play up to what everyone knew what he could do.
Wallace could hit a three, and that's one of the things he fell in love with over his career. His long-distance game spread the floor, but his post game should have been the backbreaker for his opponents.
Rasheed spent his career falling in love with three-pointers. When he went to the post, he could throw his strength around and do whatever he wanted. Unfortunately, his post game didn't show up nearly as much as his long jumpers.
As a young dude, 'Sheed never averaged more than a three per game. A big contract came in 1999; then, like a light switch went on, he started shooting two or three long balls per game in 2001, peaking at a ridiculous 5.4 in 2006.
Unfortunately, Rasheed is now remembered more for his postgame rants, rather than his post-up dominance.
While Shaun Livingston never looked like he was going to become one of the league's best, he had a very good career ahead of him.
He spent a few years coming off the Clippers bench, where he was able to score well enough to stay on the floor but also play very good defense and drop a dime or two.
In February 2007, Livingston suffered the most gruesome basketball injury, quite possibly in the history of the game. (Seriously, only watch this if you want to cringe for the next three hours.)
Livingston came back in 2008, playing a few games with the Heat in one of the most satisfying NBA comebacks that I've ever seen.
He's still in the league, but his career could have been so much more fulfilling if he would have never landed on his knee.
What Tracy McGrady could have been and what Tracy McGrady ended up being was a huge difference, although he did end up having a pretty good career in the long run.
The exciting young forward was able to lead the league in scoring in 2003 and 2004, but injuries in the following season hurt his percentages and his scoring.
McGrady was often injured at the start of his career, but usually for just a handful of games here and there. The biggest problems came in 2005 when back spasms took him out for 13 games intermittently. Ever since then, he had to deal with back problems slowing him down and keeping him out.
He was never able to make it out of the first round of the playoffs in his time in the league, and now that he's playing ball in China, it seems he never will make it out of the first round.
I'm not trying to pile on Rockets fans here, honestly, but it was one of the most disappointing things to hear that Yao Ming would be forced to retire back in 2009.
Yao had only three fully healthy years in the league before lower body injuries ended up keeping him from playing more than 60 games over the next three years. During the next two years, he played 77 games and then just five before he retired because of foot and ankle injuries.
In all, Yao's career should be determined as a success, and he should be a Hall of Famer one day, but he should have ended up being so much more.
While Alonzo Mourning's career has paved a road that should lead to his eventual inclusion in the Hall of Fame, he should be remembered as so much more.
'Zo was one of the four best defensive players from the '90s, but when the calender turned over to reveal a new millennium, things just didn't go as well.
A two-time defensive player of the year in 1999 and 2000, Mourning was on his way to becoming one of the greatest defenders of all time before terrible news slowed him down.
In 2001 he was diagnosed with kidney disease, leading to him missing five months during the season and eventually retiring early in 2003. It wasn't just something that was threatening his basketball career, but his life.
Mourning got a kidney transplant in December of 2003, receiving a kidney from his cousin, allowing him to get on the road to recovery and come back to the league in 2005.
He was able to come back and contribute to a championship team in 2006, but he should have continued to play at an all-star level for much longer than he did.
If it weren't for fast food and donuts, the New York Knicks could have had an entirely different script to read from during the mid-'00s.
Eddy Curry's problems started when doctors suspected that he had the same form of heart disease that led to Hank Gathers' death in the early '90s. He had been hospitalized with an irregular heartbeat but ultimately never underwent the tests, fearing the end of his NBA career.
Curry ended up going to New York in 2005 after Chicago traded him for medical reasons. He spent a few prosperous years with the Knicks before showing up overweight in 2008. He played 10 games in the next two seasons.
While Curry could have been one of the best offensive big men of the decade, he ended up falling apart and ballooning quicker than his contract.
After being named the Naismith Player of the Year and winning a title with Duke, Jay Williams was drafted second overall by the Bulls, starting off the 2003 season with a 10-point, five-assist average.
Williams looked like he was going to grow into a very good player over the next few seasons, potentially being one of the guys to bring Chicago back to prominence.
Unfortunately, a motorcycle accident in during the offseason tore his ACL, fractured his pelvis and severed a nerve in his leg. Williams was not wearing a helmet, was unlicensed and violated his contract with the Bulls by riding the motorcycle.
He never played another game in the NBA.
There's always going to be criticism pointed toward Portland for drafting Greg Oden over Kevin Durant back in 2007, but there were few people who thought that way on the day of the draft.
The fact was that Oden was the best big man coming out of college in a long time, and if they passed on him they would have taken the chance on passing on the best big man of the generation.
To get a small snapshot of what could have been, Oden has played only 82 games in his career; but even in an injury-riddled pair of seasons, he was able to put up nine points on 58 percent shooting, grab seven rebounds and block a shot per game.
Those aren't amazing stats, but imagine that as a rookie season for a young center. Does that not get you excited?
Unfortunately, the best big man also had the worst knees possible, combined with horrible luck.
Oden missed his entire rookie season after undergoing microfracture surgery on his right knee. Then he underwent surgery on his left patella in 2009. And then microfracture surgery on his left knee in 2010.
And then microfracture surgery on his right knee in 2012.
My knees hurt just thinking about him.
I love that Brandon Roy is back in the NBA, but the fact that he was forced to retire in the first place is one of the biggest disappointments of the past decade.
Roy was one of the best players in the NBA at his height, scoring in the clutch, draining threes and getting to the rim at will. He was a great player and a good guy, and then his knees fell apart.
He peaked at nearly 23 points, five rebounds and five assists when he was just 24 years old. Normally an NBA player doesn't peak until he's 27 or 28, but Roy's knees turned on him before he could get anywhere near there.
The first bit of cartilage was removed from Roy's knee in 2008, forcing him to miss a handful of games. Roy would go under the knife again in 2010 for his right knee and 2011 for both knees.
Roy has gone beyond just being a great basketball player who should have been so much more, he's a full-blown medical mystery. The fact that he's playing basketball at this level with no cartilage in his knees is downright amazing.