The NBA's All-Sad All-Stars
There's no need for Joe and Jane Six-Pack to pity anyone making millions to play basketball in the NBA. Even those trapped on terrible teams can count on their love of the game (and of hefty paychecks) to sustain them when the well of wins runs dry.
That doesn't mean that every player toiling with a franchise on the fritz need be pleased with his circumstances. Those action-packed two weeks or so between the final days before the Feb. 20 trade deadline and the March 1 cutoff for playoff eligibility saw a slew of seasoned veterans switch from sinking squads to others with much grander designs for spring time.
Some (i.e. Evan Turner, Andre Miller, Steve Blake) were traded. Others (i.e. Glen Davis, Danny Granger, Caron Butler) were bought out.
But not all of the Association's "good soldiers" were rewarded for their service to rebuilding teams with midseason moves to competitive clubs. And with so many organizations eying the 2014 NBA Draft lottery, the ranks of experienced players wasting their talents on losing causes are deeper than ever.
Certainly deep enough to fill a two-deep roster of All-Sad All-Stars, comprised solely of veterans with at least seven years of NBA service under their respective belts.
Starting Point Guard: Rajon Rondo
Rajon Rondo is probably used to the annual trade chatter by now. For the umpteenth time since he debuted as a rookie in 2006, Rondo saw his name show up in rumor after rumor in mid-to-late February.
As routine as such uncertainty may be for Rondo, he may well have found some solace in overtures from interested suitors (i.e. the Sacramento Kings and the Houston Rockets) this time around. No longer is he a member of a Boston Celtics squad filled with Hall of Famers, led by a championship-caliber coach and fueled by postseason success.
Nowadays, Rondo's the one playing elder statesmen in Beantown. Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Doc Rivers have all moved onto pastures even greener than those the C's can offer. In their wake, Boston has fallen (rather predictably) on hard times, to the tune of a 22-42 record.
Rondo's done his part to alleviate the pain for C's fans. He's averaged about 12 points and nine assists in just over 30 minutes per game since returning from an ACL tear in mid-January.
Rondo's commitment to the C's, though, has come into question. He drew criticism from some corners of the basketball world for choosing to stay in L.A. to celebrate his 28th birthday in late February, rather than travel with his teammates to Sacramento, even though he wasn't scheduled to play against the Kings on the second night of a back-to-back.
GM Danny Ainge still speaks glowingly of his team's star point guard. "I love the kid," Ainge told The Boston Globe's Baxter Holmes. "I love his personality. I embrace his uniqueness."
But if Ainge can convince another team to offer him draft picks and young players in exchange for Rondo this summer, you can bet he'll embrace a future without Rondo just as readily.
Starting Shooting Guard: Arron Afflalo
The Orlando Magic were reluctant to part ways with Arron Afflalo at the trade deadline, and for good reason. He's a high-character guy with a reputation as a "program builder" dating back to his days at UCLA. And with teams being so stingy with draft picks and other assets ahead of this year's trade deadline, the Magic would've been hard-pressed to get anything close to equal return for a 28-year-old shooting guard in the midst of his best campaign as a pro.
Still, it's a shame that Afflalo's career-high 19.5 points (on 46.5 percent shooting, 42.9 percent from three) are going to waste on a squad with the third-worst record in the NBA. Had Orlando been open to letting go of Afflalo, we might now see him thriving alongside Chris Paul in L.A. or, perhaps, on the wing in OKC or Chicago.
Luckily for Afflalo, he won't have to toil in central Florida for too much longer if the Magic don't turn things around. He can opt out of his current contract and become an unrestricted free agent after the 2014-15 season is through.
Starting Small Forward: Carmelo Anthony
With all the talk about what Carmelo Anthony will do in free agency this summer (assuming he opts out) and what the New York Knicks will do to keep him around, it's easy to forget just how good—nay, great—Anthony is and has been.
At present, Anthony ranks first in minutes (38.9), second in points (28), 18th in three-point percentage (.415) and 25th in rebounds (8.3). Three of those four represent career highs for Carmelo; he topped out at 28.7 points per game while claiming his first scoring title last season.
And for all the talk about whether or not Anthony is a "winner," keep in mind that he carried Syracuse to an NCAA Tournament title as a freshman, played a pivotal part on two gold medal winners with Team USA and has yet to miss the playoffs since entering the NBA in 2003.
That string may well come to an end this year. At 25-40, the Knicks sit three-and-a-half games back of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, with the Detroit Pistons to leapfrog and the Cleveland Cavaliers nipping at their heels.
Not that Anthony is completely innocent here. His push for an extend-and-trade in 2011 sapped much of New York's reserves of young players and draft picks. The Denver Nuggets currently own the Knicks' 2014 first-round pick as a result of that deal, and fashioned a 57-win team in 2012-13 with the help of former Knicks role players like Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and Timofey Mozgov.
Still, it's not Anthony's fault, per se, that the Knicks wasted their amnesty slot on Chauncey Billups or that they shipped a passel of picks to the Toronto Raptors for Andrea Bargnani this past summer. Neither is Anthony to blame for injuries to Tyson Chandler, Iman Shumpert and Amar'e Stoudemire, or for the walking train wreck that Raymond Felton has become.
Phil Jackson may well convince Anthony to stay in New York—assuming the Zen Master signs on himself. But if 'Melo decides to bail on the mess at MSG and take his talents to a more contender-friendly team this summer, could anyone really blame him?
Starting Power Forward: Thaddeus Young
Thaddeus Young seemed as solid a bet as anyone to move at this year's trade deadline. Like Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes, Young had clearly outgrown the steaming pile that the Philadelphia 76ers had intentionally become.
Unlike those two, Young might've brought something of value in return. He's under contract through 2016, with an early termination option that he can exercise in the summer of 2015. Surely, an athletic, 25-year-old "glue guy" with the skill set to fill either forward spot and the production (17.6 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 2.2 steals in 33.6 minutes in 2013-14) to back it up could fetch a first-round pick from, say, the Phoenix Suns, who could've used an upgrade on the wing.
And, just as surely, the Sixers could find him a new home after he'd submitted a trade request in the fall, per Liberty Ballers' Jake Fischer, right?
Apparently not. Turner and Hawes were both shipped to competitive clubs for peanuts, leaving Young to suffer through what's become a 17-game losing streak on a roster that would be better fit for the D-League than for the NBA.
Starting Center: Pau Gasol
Pau Gasol was also the subject of myriad trade rumors that ultimately fell flat. In January, Gasol was mentioned as a possible chip in a money-saving trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers, which would've reunited Andrew Bynum with the Los Angeles Lakers for however long it took GM Mitch Kupchak to cut the hobbled center from his roster.
But L.A.'s demands for actual assets in return proved too much for the Cavs' liking. Cleveland opted instead to ship Bynum to Chicago in exchange for Luol Deng (more on him later).
Come February, Gasol's name was bandied about again, this time with the Suns as potential suitors. But Phoenix was reluctant to part ways with any of its four first-round picks in 2014 for a 33-year-old center whose body was breaking down, whose age and preferred style of play didn't fit the Suns' long-term vision and who's bound for free agency this summer anyway.
Now that Pau's still in purple and gold, it's not all that far-fetched to imagine him staying in L.A. beyond this season. As Bleacher Report's Ric Bucher noted, it'd make sense for both parties to agree to a deal this July that's short on years but long on money as a means of returning to the competitive ranks next season and preserving cap space for the offseason thereafter.
That is, assuming Mike D'Antoni, with whom Gasol has so often clashed since the former came to L.A. last season, is deposed of his duties once the 2013-14 campaign has mercifully come to a close.
In the meantime, Gasol deserves some credit for playing through the misery of the Lakers' 22-42 season. His defensive effort has left much to be desired (to say the least), but offensively, Gasol's still got it. Since mid-December, he's been a reliable 20-10 guy while shooting better than 52 percent from the field and dropping 3.5 dimes a night.
Backup Point Guard: Jameer Nelson
Jameer Nelson came close to moving from one mystically themed franchise to another at the trade deadline. According to OrlandoMagic.com's John Denton, the Washington Wizards tried to acquire Jameer Nelson from the Magic to serve as John Wall's backup before moving on to snag Andre Miller from the Nuggets.
Nelson hasn't exactly been setting the NBA ablaze in Orlando this season. He's shooting under 40 percent from the field for the second year in a row, albeit alongside solid averages of 12.2 points and 6.9 assists. At 32 and with his history of injuries, Nelson would've been well suited to serving as a veteran mentor of sorts for Wall on a playoff-bound Wizards squad.
Instead, he'll have to settle for showing Victor Oladipo the ropes, lest the Magic find takers this summer for Nelson's contract, which is set to expire in 2015.
Backup Shooting Guard: Jason Terry
Jason Terry is at once the worst fit for the All-Sad All-Stars and the one player on this list who's most worthy of inclusion.
On the one hand, Terry was flat-out terrible for the Brooklyn Nets. In 35 games, JET averaged a measly 4.5 points on 36.2 percent shooting in 16.3 minutes a night.
Unlike everyone else on the All-Sad squads to this point, Terry was traded at the deadline. On its face, that would seem to disqualify him from consideration herein.
That is, until you take into account that he was shipped from a likely playoff participant in Brooklyn to a Sacramento Kings squad that's ticketed for its eighth straight trip to the NBA draft lottery. Rather than spend his time mentoring youngsters like Isaiah Thomas and Ben McLemore, Terry opted instead to sit out the rest of the season and rehab his left knee, per CBS Sports' Ken Berger.
That may be no more than a ploy on Terry's part to avoid the residual stench of the Maloof era that still lingers in Sacramento. But if Terry does, indeed, get his body right, he could return to the Kings next season as a 37-year-old on a mission to end his NBA career by helping a forlorn franchise get its first taste of playoff basketball in nearly a decade.
Backup Small Forward: Luol Deng
In some respects, Luol Deng's position might actually be more pitiable than Terry's.
For more than nine years, Deng served as a cornerstone of the Chicago Bulls franchise. He was its heart and soul, a stabilizing force through the Scott Skiles and Vinny Del Negro years in the lead-up to the hoarse-voiced glory of Tom Thibodeau. He became Thibs' coaching philosophy incarnate: tough, all-out, smart, unselfish, willing to do whatever his team needed in pursuit of victory.
When Derrick Rose went down with yet another knee injury this season, Deng stepped up his game accordingly. In fact, Deng was on track to post career highs in points (19), assists (3.7) and free-throw attempts (5.4) through his first 23 games of the season.
Then, the Bulls shipped him to Cleveland in a straight salary dump. Chicago extracted some picks from the Cavs and promptly cut Andrew Bynum from the roster once he arrived.
Down in Rock City, Deng was expected to fill gaping voids both on the court (at small forward) and in the locker room (as a veteran leader).
Let's just say, that hasn't exactly worked out as planned. The Cavs have gone 13-17 since Deng arrived. The All-Star swingman has suffered through an across-the-board dip in productivity while trying to find his niche amidst a mish-mosh of a roster and a toxic team culture. That combustible combination has contributed to Cleveland's current four-game skid, which has the Cavs sitting four games back of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Meanwhile, the Bulls have recaptured much of the mojo that sustained them sans D-Rose in 2012-13 and the season prior. They've gone 21-11 without Deng to solidify themselves as one of the top four teams in the East.
Backup Power Forward: Anderson Varejao
Anderson Varejao must be intimately familiar with Deng's frustrations right now. He's seen it all since coming to Cleveland by way of a summer trade with the Magic in 2004.
Varejao's hair was there for the highs of the LeBron James glory years, and it's been a staple at Quicken Loans Arena through the ever-lengthening list of lows that the Cavs have endured since LBJ's exodus in 2010. The last three years, in particular, have seen Sideshow Andy play himself onto the trade block with nightly double-doubles and his pesky brand of toughness, only for the Cavs front office fail to act before A) Varejao succumbed to an injury or B) the trade deadline passed.
Varejao may well be the sort of loyalist who wouldn't ask out. He's spent his entire 10-year pro career with the Cavs, who've supported him through every setback—both relatively benign and life-threatening—that he's encountered. He's seen how much fun it can be to play in Rock City when the team is good, and with some of the young talent currently on hand, those days could soon return in some form or fashion.
But they're not here yet and might not be for a while longer if the franchise continues to flail and fail to the extent that it has of late. For all that he's given to this organization, Varejao definitely deserves better than to be strung along through the rebuild of a rebuild.
Backup Center: Tyson Chandler
Like so many folks in New York these days, Tyson Chandler is sick and tired of the Knicks' futility. The normally stoic center let loose some of his frustrations following New York's 96-85 loss in Detroit earlier this month.
"For me, it’s important regardless [to finish out strong]," Chandler told Marc Berman of The New York Post. "I got a lot more pride than this, coming in night in, night out losing, and not putting forth the type of effort it takes to win. At this stage of my career and what I’ve established, I refuse to let it put a blemish on it."
Not surprisingly, then, Chandler may not be keen to stick around for a rebuild if that's the path the Knicks pursue. "That’s something I have to visit during the offseason," Chandler added. "We’re all going to have a lot of decisions to make."
Chandler's decision won't be his own. He's due a shade under $14.6 million for the 2014-15 season and, at his age (31) and with his injury history, Chandler isn't likely to have smart, competitive clubs scurrying after his services via trade this summer.
To his credit, Chandler hasn't let his displeasure derail his professionalism, even if he hasn't hid it as well as he would've in years past. The former Defensive Player of the Year has battled back from an early-season leg injury to average 9.4 points, 10.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 30.5 minutes a night, but to little avail in the wins column. Even after winning four in a row, the Knicks sit three-and-a-half games back of the Atlanta Hawks for the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Chandler did his darndest to turn the Knicks into no worse than a competent defensive squad during his first two seasons at Madison Square Garden. It's a shame that his teammates and coaches haven't returned the favor since.
Who else belongs among the All-Sad All-Stars? Tweet me your suggestions!