7 Sliding NBA Superstars in Danger of Losing Their Status
The 2012-13 season may still be young, but it has already done considerable damage to some of the NBA's biggest names.
Superstar status can be lost in ways that are both unpredictable and unfair for the player.
Sometimes an injury derails a budding career. Sometimes a change of personnel hampers their ability to produce. Sometimes they were overrated to begin with, and the public is now noticing that their play belies their reputation.
How did some of the league's brightest stars slide so fast?
Let's take a look at the guys who have fallen off, ordered from least to most surprising.
Joe Johnson's Nets tenure has been largely underwhelming.
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Joe Johnson was never a superstar. That's no big deal in a vacuum. However, some people thought he was one or could be one, and that has hijacked his public image.
Back in the summer of 2010, when "The Decision" dominated the headlines, Johnson quietly signed the largest contract of the summer. The Atlanta Hawks seemed to think he was worth it, though many (such as Yahoo! Sports' Kelly Dwyer) doubted it even then.
Granted, Johnson had averaged at least 20 points per game in each of his first five years in Atlanta, but that figure fell closer to 18 after the deal. Still very good, but by no means elite numbers for a wing.
After two seasons of that ridiculous contract, it seemed the infatuation with Super Joe was over. Then, the Brooklyn Nets traded for Johnson, a trade which Deron Williams told the Daily News convinced him to sign there as well.
Suddenly, Johnson was part of a prospective Big Three with Williams and Dwight Howard that never did pan out. Over the summer of 2012, he became a superstar again without even stepping on the court.
When he did return to action in Brooklyn, he was actually worse. Johnson is averaging 16.3 points per game (through Dec. 13), and he's shooting .419 from the field. Within the hierarchy of the Nets roster, Brook Lopez has surpassed him as the team's second-best player.
And with that, the days of Joe Johnson as a superstar are over. The mammoth contract is now only a reminder of unrealized expectations—and maybe of unreasonable ones too.
Amar'e Stoudemire's window of stardom may be closed.
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Amar'e Stoudemire was once a hero for the New York Knicks.
Playing huge minutes and putting up nine straight 30-point games in 2010-11, STAT was the best player the Knicks had seen since Patrick Ewing. Then Carmelo Anthony took away some touches, and bangs and bruises banished Stoudemire to the sidelines.
The impact on Stoudemire was measurable. During his tear in December 2010 and January 2011, he put up more than 20 shots per game en route to his incredible point totals. Those numbers fell closer to 18 as Melo arrived and Amar'e tired.
He still got a huge amount of looks. But with Anthony taking both shots and the spotlight away, he was no longer going to be able to dominate the team or the town.
Injuries mounted in 2011-12. Various aches and pains left Amar'e either ineffective or on the sideline. He missed 19 of 66 regular season games, and his 17.5 points per game were the fewest in a full season since he was a rookie.
Heading into training camp, Amar'e was as healthy as he'd been in years. Unfortunately, a new knee issue has thus far kept him out of the 2012-13 season. Right now, Stoudemire is hurting, Anthony is rolling and the Knicks are 16-5.
At this point, the Knicks are fully Melo's team, and it's unlikely Amar'e will ever be healthy enough to challenge him to be that go-to guy. He had his time for glory in New York; now Stoudemire is over the hill.
It's possible Andrew Bynum will never play for the Sixers.
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When the Philadelphia 76ers traded for Andrew Bynum, they thought they were getting the second-best center in the league.
Turns out they might have gotten nothing at all.
Granted, they knew they were running some risk with the acquisition. Bynum played in 60 of 66 games last season, but he missed significant time in each of the prior four seasons. In that time, Bynum missed at least 17 games in each season, and he was absent for 47 games in 2007-08.
And as dominant as his 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds per game were in 2011-12, it was his only season even close to that level of production. Bynum had not averaged a double-double since his shortened 2007-08 campaign, when he put up 13.1 points and 10.2 rebounds.
Philly was trading for a talent, yes, but it was also trading for an injury-prone one with a short track record as an All-Star talent. It has since come to light that Bynum may have catastrophic wear and tear on both of his knees; he's out indefinitely, and it's unclear if he will ever be healthy enough to suit up for the Sixers.
The trade for Bynam was certainly a calculated gamble. Now that the truth about his knees has come out, the odds seem stacked against Bynum ever matching his 2011-12 numbers.
At his age, an injured Dirk Nowitzki is cause for concern.
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Time may be catching up with Dirk Nowitzki.
He's been a model of health and productivity throughout his time with the Dallas Mavericks. Since 1999-00, Nowitzki has played at least 73 games in 12 consecutive full seasons, and he only missed four in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign. He's also averaged at least 20 points per game for 12 years running.
That said, he's prospered despite declining athleticism and mobility. Ruthlessly efficient offensive skills have allowed him to overcome his physical limitations and produce at his usual levels. On the other hand, his scoring has covered up his defensive shortcomings, which have become a larger issue in recent years.
Nowitzki has yet to see the court this season due to knee surgery, the first major injury time he's missed in his NBA career. It's too soon to speculate on whether it will slow Dirk down once he returns to the floor. But he's 34, and he becomes more of a defensive liability with each passing year. He can't afford to be slowed anymore than he already has.
Still, Nowitzki gets the benefit of the doubt due to his consistency. But if it doesn't happen this season, Dirk is going to slip from superstar to veteran role player someday soon.
Pau Gasol is struggling to find a fit on the Lakers this season.
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Los Angeles may not be big enough for Pau Gasol anymore.
Call him a power forward, call him a center, but Pau cannot play with another big man clogging the paint. He doesn't have room to operate near the rim with Dwight Howard on the floor, and his mid-range jumper is too slow to be his first look. Without an inside game, he has no outside game either.
Lakers fans could have seen this one coming.
Back in Bynum's L.A. days, he and Gasol spent long stretches playing apart, with a guy like Lamar Odom creating space for the remaining big man to go to work. However, Mike D'Antoni has parked Dwight down low and put Pau at the free-throw line, where his scoring is stifled and his supreme passing ability is limited.
It's possible that a run-and-gun coach like D'Antoni simply isn't equipped to utilize a pair of elite big men, but that justification feels like a cop-out. If Gasol thrived with Bynum in town, he should be able to do the same with Howard.
Regardless of circumstances, Gasol is averaging 12.6 points on 42 percent shooting—both easily the worst numbers of his career. He's not a good enough defender to make up for that kind of shooting.
The Lakers need to move someone, be it Pau or someone around him. Unless they do, he's not going to be the player with whom L.A. won titles.
Deron Williams' reputation is hurting along with Joe Johnson's.
It's no surprise that Joe Johnson is falling short of superstardom in Brooklyn. For Deron Williams, it's another matter entirely.
Although maybe it shouldn't be.
NBA fans got a treat in 2005 when the Chris Paul-Deron Williams rivalry fell right into their laps. Both quickly became the alphas on their respective teams. Soon after, they were averaging double-doubles in points and assists and both ranked among the top five point guards in the league.
However, the gap widened when both changed locations. While Paul has continued to produce at a high level since joining the Los Angeles Clippers, Williams has regressed since joining the Nets.
In his first full season in New Jersey, Williams averaged 21.0 points and 8.7 assists, but his .407 shooting percentage was disconcerting. The rationale was that Deron had to chuck up shots without a capable supporting cast. As for the assist total, that was a testament to his ability running the point despite the questionable supporting cast.
Under the brighter lights of the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, Williams has no more excuses. The Nets got Johnson, and Brook Lopez is playing well when he's healthy.
It's time for Williams to be the team's true star. Instead, he's putting up 16.7 points and 8.5 assists per game while shooting 38.7 percent from the field.
At this point, the hammer of public opinion has to come down on Deron. His shot is a touch off, his step a touch less deadly than it was when he and Paul were rivals in earnest. That time is a memory now.
He remained a superstar for so long because we thought of him and Paul in the same breath. That's the difference between great players and stars. A player can work his way to be great, but the media and the fans have to latch onto a guy and mythologize him to make him a superstar.
Williams deserved his stardom more than Johnson did. Like Johnson, though, Deron's time looks to be up. It looked like all the pieces were in place for Williams to write his legend.
Unfortunately, he is no longer the superstar we thought he was.
Dwyane Wade has officially become LeBron's sidekick.
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Only one thing has been more shocking than Williams' ordinary play in Brooklyn: Dwyane Wade as a role player.
When this "Big Three" came together, Bosh became the odd man out. With two of the best five wings in the world taking turns running the show, the big man moved away from the basket to open the lane. His field goal attempts and rebounding chances both dropped, and he put up some of his worst stats on the best team he had ever played for.
Against the Indiana Pacers in the 2012 playoffs, Bosh got hurt, and the Heat got creative as LeBron moved to power forward. That allowed him to exploit his supreme athleticism in higher-percentage areas, while also getting better angles to kick the ball to Miami's plethora of three-point shooters. James went on a historic playoff run and the Heat took home the title, with an assist from Bosh's injury.
So it seems like a surprise that Bosh is the second option now, but it actually makes sense. Bosh never got worse; he was simply marginalized by Miami's scheme. In light of LeBron's success at power forward, Bosh moved up to center, putting him closer to the basket again while preserving spacing on the floor.
Bosh's 18.4 points and 8.3 rebounds are not quite improvements on his recent numbers, but he's shooting .540 from the field. That is easily a career high for him, proof of his productivity when the situation calls for it.
What does that mean for Wade? Higher efficiency, but lower output.
Wade is still the team's second-leading scorer with 19.8 per game, and his .504 field goal percentage is his best by a few ticks. However, unlike Bosh, Wade's economy comes with a much steeper drop from his lifetime numbers.
He has averaged 25.0 points per game for his career, along with 6.2 assists and 5.0 rebounds. All of those numbers are down noticeably this season.
The fact is, the best complement to James' and Bosh's post game is another spot-up shooter. It would allow them more freedom inside without having to set aside touches for Wade, who is mediocre from beyond the arc.
Like Bosh before him, Wade still has the skills to be a superstar. Right now, though, his own team is robbing him of the chance to be one.