NBA Stars with the Most to Lose During the 2013-14 Season
It happens to everyone in the NBA at some point, but that doesn't make it any easier to accept—especially when the stakes are higher than the game itself.
Individual contests and championships aren't the only things that can be squandered. Losses come in all different forms, some of which are more devaluing than others.
Most stars are simply playing for a championship, something they don't have. There's nothing worse, however, than losing something that's already yours.
In some cases, that's the starting job you earned or title you won last season. In others, you're attempting to save your reputation.
Chris Bosh: His Championship Ticket
In LeBron James' hands lies Chris Bosh's fate.
That's true for everyone on the Miami Heat, really. LeBron himself could orchestrate the departure of Dwyane Wade if he wanted to. He means that much to Miami.
Next season is especially important for Bosh, though. Either the Heat win another title and the free ride continues, or they lose, and the honeymoon's over whether LeBron leaves or not.
Bosh has already come under fire for just about everything other than his epic photobombs. Most recently his poor playoff performance (career-low 12.1 points) was the subject of our displeasure. Then the Heat won a second straight championship, and all was right with the world.
The same thing isn't going to happen next summer if LeBron doesn't assure the team of his return. Faced with the prospect of losing the best player in the world, no one is safe. Miami will do whatever it takes to keep him. If that includes parting ways with Bosh (via free agency or trade), the Heat will do it.
Before you grab your digital pitchforks, it seems unlikely LeBron would treat a known friend like that. I can't envision him asking for Bosh or Wade to be traded or cast aside. But let's say the Heat keep LeBron. They'll be staring at a luxury tax bill more costly than Rob Gronkowski's bar tab...for the next millennium.
Unless LeBron explicitly tells the Heat he won't return without Bosh, the photogenic power forward-turned-center may find himself on the outside looking in at the juggernaut he helped build.
Andrew Bynum: His Security
Andrew Bynum's potential has carried him as far as it can.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are paying him $12-plus million next year in hopes that last season won't repeat itself. If he can't play close to how he did in 2011-12, it's all over.
Not his career—there will always be someone ready to take a chance on a 7'0" behemoth—but his security. Teams won't be waiting in line with annual salaries worth eight figures if he doesn't stay healthy in Cleveland. This is his last chance to avoid a Greg Oden-like fate.
If he plays well, he's fine. The cash will keep flowing, and his ceiling will remain intact. To do that he'll have to escape a fate that's dogged him for eight years.
Knee injuries have plagued Bynum his entire career, and even at 25, the clock is ticking. One more injury-compounded campaign, one last sign that his knees won't stand up to this profession, and he'll be left playing for minimum contracts and severely depreciated expectations.
Dwight Howard: His New Beginning
More of the same is the last thing Dwight Howard needs.
Howard left the Los Angeles Lakers to start anew, to form what he believed was a legitimate contender. His travels took him to the Houston Rockets, who he thinks can get him what he wants: a ring.
Next season isn't about winning a championship, though. Not entirely. First and foremost, it's about proving he made the right decision, that he and James Harden are a tandem to be feared. That Houston is where he belongs.
Struggling to make the playoffs won't be acceptable. Just as it was construed as a failure in Los Angeles, it will be looked at as an immeasurable disappointment in Houston.
Howard has the next four years to win a title with the Rockets, but he only has one opportunity to leave a positive first impression. Failing to coexist with Harden the way he did with Kobe Bryant will hurt his image even further. Shifting to power forward only to watch his statistics plummet will do the same.
This isn't just Howard's last chance at a fresh start in Houston; it's his only chance. Falling short of the lofty expectations already in place leaves him pinned beneath the very situation he wanted to escape.
Kobe Bryant: His Cape
Kobe Bryant bears more of a resemblance to Superman than Dwight Howard does. Anyone who has watched D12 shoot free throws in the fourth quarter knows that.
For 17 years, it's been Kobe to the rescue. The Lakers need not fear; the Black Mamba would figure it out.
What if he doesn't this time?
Forty-foot pencil dives are all fine and dandy, but they tell us nothing about next season. Until Kobe takes the floor, we won't know if his Achilles injury was the last straw.
History suggests he'll come back to waves of skepticism only to torch some helpless defender for 40 points. That's what Superman would do—grab his cape just like he's always done. Save the Lakers just like he's always done. Prove us wrong just like he's always done.
His 35th birthday now in the rearview mirror, maybe he's no longer Superman. Maybe he's just super old, and his fountain of youth dry.
Maybe, for the first time in his career, he's naked, capeless and already given us everything he has.
Dwyane Wade: His Stardom
Dwyane Wade's name will always speak for itself. Eventually, it may be his name that's doing all of the talking.
Stars age, they succumb to injuries, their production and statistical value bottoms out—it happens. During the playoffs, it nearly happened to Wade.
He averaged a career low in points (15.9) and minutes (35.5), and when the Heat needed a pick-me-up most, LeBron was left alone. Miami won another title, but what if Wade will never again be a star?
What if Wade's knees finally force him into the decline he's spent the past two years flirting with? Every season, his health comes into question, and every season, his postseason performance dismisses our concerns.
Except this time.
Wade wasn't Wade. He wasn't able to attack the rim with reckless abandon or duck his injuries. His age showed, and if it stays that way into next season, his status will hang in the balance.
Derrick Rose: His Golden-Boy Status
Those feelings of resentment will resurface if he doesn't return with a bang. Should his ACL injury have any lasting effects on his explosion or ability to lead the Bulls toward a championship, he'll become damaged goods. He'll be the player who made us wait for nothing.
Stories will be written about isolated failures, and snap judgments rendered after each subpar performance. It won't be fair if it gets that far, of course, but patience is wearing thin. Once the season starts, it always does.
If he can't begin next year as the superstar he was before he went down, the player who could once do no wrong will find himself facing the same intolerance he dodged on the bench last season.