NBA Players Who Desperately Need a Fresh Start with a New Team

Bryan ToporekFeatured ColumnistApril 26, 2013

NBA Players Who Desperately Need a Fresh Start with a New Team

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    For some NBA players, the difference between being a role player and a star boils down to a change in locale.

    Take Tobias Harris, who could hardly find his way off the Milwaukee Bucks bench during the first half of the 2012-13 season. The Bucks shipped Harris to the Orlando Magic in the package for J.J. Redick at the trade deadline and then watched in horror as Harris flourished in Orlando.

    Before being traded to Orlando, Harris appeared in 28 games for the Bucks, averaging 4.9 points and 2.0 rebounds while playing only 11.6 minutes per game. After the trade, over a 27-game span, Harris averaged 17.3 points and 8.5 rebounds in 36.1 minutes per game.

    Harris may be the most dramatic recent example of a player whose career flourished with one team after struggling with another, but he's not the only one.

    Before being traded to the Memphis Grizzlies in 2009, Zach Randolph looked like the quintessential "put up great stats on terrible teams" player. Since that time, he was integral to the eighth-seeded Grizzlies overthrowing the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs in the 2011 playoffs and helped guide Memphis to a franchise-record 56 wins in 2012-13.

    With Harris and Z-Bo in mind, let's look at a handful of other players who could revitalize their careers on a new team.

    Note: All advanced statistics come from either Basketball-Reference or NBA.com/stats, unless otherwise noted. Players are sorted in alphabetical order.

DeJuan Blair, San Antonio Spurs

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    DeJuan Blair's NBA career has been marred by controversy from the start.

    After playing like an absolute monster in college at Pittsburgh, Blair fell to the second round in the 2009 NBA draft due to concerns about his size (he's a 6'7" power forward) and the fact that he has no ACL in either knee.

    For the first three seasons of Blair's career, it looked like the San Antonio Spurs struck gold once again by selecting the big man with the 35th overall pick. He started exactly 150 games for the Spurs and averaged 8.5 points and 7.8 rebounds in only 20.3 minutes per game from 2009-12.

    Blair seemed to fall out of favor with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich in 2012-13, however, averaging only 5.4 points and 3.8 rebounds in 14.0 minutes per game. All three were career lows.

    Barring a monstrous performance in the playoffs, the Pittsburgh product could be on his way out of San Antonio this summer as an unrestricted free agent. As long as his knees hold up, he's likely to be featured more on another team next season.

    The beefy Blair may not be the second coming of Charles Barkley, but he's a capable option as a physical, albeit undersized, big man off the bench.

Shannon Brown, Phoenix Suns

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    At the end of the 2012-13 season, Shannon Brown most likely sealed his fate with the Phoenix Suns.

    "I did what I needed to do as a starter and handled my business," Brown said to AZcentral.com. "For some reason, [the Suns' management] want to cut my legs from under me." 

    Teams don't often take kindly to such statements, which means Brown will likely be dangled as trade bait for the remainder of his contract.

    A team knows what's getting with Brown: a low-percentage volume scorer who nevertheless could be a valuable bench option for an offense-needy team. He's a well-traveled veteran with two championship rings or basically a 10-years-younger version of Derek Fisher.

    With only one year and $3.5 million left on his contract heading into 2013-14, the former Los Angeles Laker would be a decent option for a team that desperately needs bench scoring. He's not likely to starter on a playoff team but could be a strong seventh or eighth man in the rotation.

    After Brown accused the Suns management of lying to him, their time together should be over. There's no telling where he'll end up in 2013-14 at this point.

Glen Davis, Al Harrington and Hedo Turkoglu, Orlando Magic

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    When the Orlando Magic traded Dwight Howard in the summer of 2012, the rebuild/youth movement was on.

    That left Glen Davis, Al Harrington and Hedo Turkoglu wildly out of place.

    Davis played 34 games for Orlando in 2012-13 before breaking his left foot against the New York Knicks on January 30. He put up 15.1 points and 7.2 rebounds in 31.3 minutes per game before the injury but shot only 44.8 percent from the field, an unacceptably low percentage for a big man.

    Harrington spent most of last season on the bench, appearing in only 10 games. He averaged 5.1 points and 2.7 rebounds in 11.9 minutes per game while shooting 35.1 percent overall (terrible) and 26.7 percent from three-point range (even worse).

    Back in February, Turkoglu earned a 20-game suspension for testing positive for the steroid methenolone, according to the Orlando SentinelHe started the season on a bad note too, breaking his hand in the Magic's first game and missing the next month-and-a-half.

    All three have no future in Orlando, with Nikola Vucevic, Tobias Harris and Maurice Harkless looking like solid rotation players and building blocks for the Magic. It would be best for both sides to separate through trades or free agency as soon as possible.

Luol Deng, Chicago Bulls

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    Luol Deng earns his place on this list mainly due to Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau.

    Thibodeau has a well-documented problem being overzealous with the number of minutes he allocates to his star players. In mid-December, Thibs had to defend the fact that both Deng and Joakim Noah were averaging more than 40 minutes per night for the Derrick Rose-less Bulls.

    On March 2, in a 96-85 victory over the Brooklyn Nets, Deng played 44 minutes (despite catching a hard elbow in the mouth two nights earlier) and Noah played 41.

    "We have a great coach, but he doesn't understand the whole rest thing yet, I don't think," Noah said after that game, according to ESPN.com. "But it's all good. We all want to win, so it's good." 

    San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich doesn't just try to keep his stars' minutes in the low-to-mid-30s for his own health; he has one eye on the playoffs at all times. The Bulls, including Deng, looked worn down by the end of the 2012-13 regular season.

    Deng's $14.3 million contract expires after next season, and Chicago already has a cheaper alternative in Jimmy Butler ready to step in. It's not crazy to think that Deng might be better suited playing elsewhere next season, if only to preserve his health for one final long-term contract after 2013-14. 

Tyreke Evans, Sacramento Kings

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    Four years into Tyreke Evans' NBA career, the Sacramento Kings still aren't sure what they have in him.

    The Kings tried sticking Evans at point guard as a rookie, where he averaged 20.1 points, 5.8 assists and 5.3 rebounds en route to the 2010 Rookie of the Year award. Sacramento also finished 25-57 that year, the third-worst record in the league overall.

    Evans shifted to an off-ball role for the next two years, even spending heavy time at small forward at times. His efficiency plummeted in the first season after the switch, but he seemed to grow slightly more comfortable the next year.

    He moved back to being the team's starting point guard in 2012-13, averaging career lows in minutes (31.0), points (15.2), rebounds (4.4) and assists (3.5) per game. The Kings, at 28-54 on the season, once again failed to even sniff the playoffs.

    As Evans enters restricted free agency this summer, he and the Kings would be better off separating if another team makes a knock-your-socks-off offer. Just because Sacramento hasn't harnessed Evans' talent in a more-productive-than-not way doesn't mean it's impossible.

    At the price tag Evans will likely carry, he and Sacramento may be forced to spend one final season together. It's hard to see him being willing to sign for less than $10 million per year, but coming off a career-worst season isn't a great way to lure potential suitors.

Eric Gordon, New Orleans Hornets

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    Eric Gordon's career with the New Orleans Hornets hasn't quite progressed as team management had hoped.

    Gordon was the centerpiece in the trade that sent Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Clippers before the start of the 2011-12 season. In the blink of an eye, Gordon went from a playoff-caliber team with Blake Griffin to a lottery-bound team with Emeka Okafor as its second-best player.

    He then staged a much-publicized tantrum in the summer of 2012 during restricted free agency after the Phoenix Suns offered him a four-year maximum contract. Gordon urged New Orleans not to match the deal, saying "Phoenix is just where my heart is now," according to ESPN.com's Chris Broussard.

    Despite Gordon's plea, the Hornets decided to match the deal after all. Based on the early returns, few Hornets fans can be pleased with that decision.

    Since joining the team, Gordon has been oft-afflicted with injuries, as documented by the folks at Hornets247.com. He played in only nine of 66 possible games in 2011-12 due to a right knee injury and then missed 40 more this past season due to a flare-up in the same knee and a handful of other ailments.

    In early April, Gordon and coach Monty Williams got into a large enough screaming match on the sideline that an assistant coach had to hold Williams back, according to NBA.com. If Phoenix still has interest in Gordon despite the litany of injuries, New Orleans should do its due diligence and talk trade terms this summer.

Danny Granger, Indiana Pacers

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    If the NBA handed out an annual Wally Pipp award, Danny Granger would be the leading contender in 2012-13.

    Pipp missed one game for the New York Yankees due to a headache, got replaced by Lou DiMaggio and never earned his starting spot back again. Granger could be in danger of a similar fate thanks to the breakout season of Paul George.

    Granger missed the first half of the 2012-13 season due to patellar tendinosis in his left knee before finally returning to the Indiana Pacers'  lineup on February 23. Just over a week later, the knee flared up again, prematurely ending his season on the spot.

    In Granger's absence, George stepped into a starting role and flourished, earning the 2013 Most Improved Player award in the process. He averaged 17.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.8 steals per game in the regular season, helping the Pacers finish with the third-best record in the Eastern Conference despite the absence of Granger, their "best" player.

    George put the entire country on notice by dropping a triple-double (23 points, 11 rebounds, 12 assists) in the opening game of the 2013 playoffs, likely sealing Granger's fate in the process.

    There's no need for the Pacers to keep Granger's $14 million expiring contract around when they only have one year before George can hit restricted free agency. If a team like the Detroit Pistons or Cleveland Cavaliers doesn't strike gold with a small forward in the draft, Granger should be on the move.

Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee Bucks

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    The Milwaukee Bucks were considerably better in 2012-13, both offensively and defensively, when starting point guard Brandon Jennings sat on the bench.

    Offensively, the Bucks averaged 103.5 points per 100 possessions with Jennings playing but jumped to 107.3 points per 100 possessions without him, according to 82games.com. Defensively, the Bucks allowed 108.7 points per 100 possessions with Jennings playing compared to 99.5 points per 100 possessions with him on the bench.

    Over the course of the season, the Bucks were outscored by 289 points while Jennings was on the court. Jennings possessed the worst plus/minus rating of any Bucks player by far, with Samuel Dalembert (-109) the next closest.

    The diminutive backcourt pairing of Jennings and Monta Ellis was a long shot from the outset, as both players lack the size and defensive acumen to shut down opposing guards (not to say anything about their shot selection). Both of their futures with the Bucks remain uncertain, as Ellis is likely to opt out of the final year of his contract this summer and Jennings faces restricted free agency for the first time in his career.

    At this point, it looks like it's best for Jennings and the Bucks to separate. Jennings told Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports in March that "I think [a title caliber situation] will help me, motivate my game and then you have to perform."

    The Bucks aren't winning a title anytime soon. If a point guard-needy team like the Dallas Mavericks decide to make Dirk Nowitzki's last run with Jennings by his side, who knows? Maybe Jennings can even manage to shoot above 40 percent for them.

O.J. Mayo, Dallas Mavericks

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    Early in the 2012-13 season, with Dirk Nowitzki sidelined by knee surgery, O.J. Mayo finally looked ready to jump into stardom.

    Throughout November, Mayo averaged 20.9 points on 14.8 shots, 3.6 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game while shooting 49.3 percent overall, 50.7 percent from three-point range and 84.7 percent from the free-throw line. While obviously unsustainable, that level of play kept the Mavericks afloat during the first month of the season.

    When Nowitzki came back in late December, Mayo grew considerably more inconsistent. After posting only two games with fewer than 10 points with the big German sidelined, Mayo had 17 such games after Dirk's return to the starting lineup.

    In one of the final games of the season against Mayo's former team, the Memphis Grizzlies, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle lashed into his shooting guard. During the fourth quarter, he screamed at Mayo, "I called that timeout just to get out of the game," according to ESPNDallas.com. After the game, Carlisle continued ripping his player, saying, "I just want to show up and compete. He didn't compete tonight."

    Mayo has already indicated that he'll opt out of his $4.2 million player option for 2013-14 in pursuit of a long-term deal this summer.

    Based on Carlisle's none-too-friendly words in the final week of the 2012-13 season, it's likely best for Mayo to search for employment elsewhere in free agency. 

Paul Millsap, Utah Jazz

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    Despite having four rotation-caliber big men on the roster last season, the Utah Jazz refused to pull the trigger at the 2013 trade deadline and ship one of them out.

    That logjam at the forward spot will be cleared this summer one way or another. Both Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap hit unrestricted free agency, leaving Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter as the projected starting frontcourt for the Jazz in 2013-14.

    Based on the potential both players have shown in flashes, the Jazz might best be served moving in the youth direction. Neither Jefferson nor Millsap will come cheaply in free agency, and neither should be paid north of $8-10 million per year to come off the bench in Utah.

    Millsap stepped into the Jazz's starting lineup back in the 2010-11 season and had a breakout year, averaging 17.3 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.4 steals in 34.3 minutes per game. He shot a more-than-respectable 53.1 percent overall and demonstrated the ability to knock down the occasional three-point shot (9-of-23 on the season).

    His scoring fell off slightly in 2011-12 (16.6 PPG on 49.5 percent shooting), but his rebounding totals (8.8 RPG) jumped significantly. In 2012-13, however, Millsap only played just over 30 minutes per game, averaging 14.6 points and 7.1 rebounds in that time.

    All three totals were his lowest since the 2009-10 season. Assuming the Jazz move Favors into the starting lineup (and they should), Millsap needs to find a new home in free agency this year.  

Nick Young, Philadelphia 76ers

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    The Nick "Swaggy P" Young era had so much potential in Philadelphia.

    Forget Andrew Bynum, the prize offseason acquisition who quickly devolved into a complete nightmare for the Philadelphia 76ers. Swaggy P and his erratic-at-best shot selection quickly turned into the perfect summary of the 2012-13 Sixers.

    In the first month of the season, Young went from scoring 15-20 points one night to fewer than five the next. He finished November shooting 34 percent on 3.3 three-point attempts per game and only 38.5 percent from the field overall.

    Swaggy stayed in Doug Collins' rotation for the next few months, even becoming the team's starting shooting guard from late January until the end of February. After shooting only 40.7 percent overall and 27.9 percent from deep in February, Young played only 15 minutes throughout all of March.

    Collins won't be coming back as coach in 2013-14, so it's tough to say whether the Sixers will seriously consider bringing back Young, who's an unrestricted free agent this summer.

    As much fun as the Swaggy P era was for Sixers fans, it'd be better for both sides if another team gets to enjoy the splendor of having Nick Young in 2013-14.