Before the nicknames, the titles, and the controversy, the NBA's class of 1999 was one that had a nice mix of potential and sure things, ceilings and floors, and All-Stars and busts.
Not even Nostradamus could have predicted the path that 1999's class would travel, and while no NBA Legends are found in its yearbook pages, the stories that follow them are some of the most legendary in NBA history.
Two of the most circulated names from this summer have been reunited teammates, Lamar Odom and Ron Artest.
Reunited you say?
Yes, Artest and Odom were a couple of Queens' ballers who played on the same AAU team (Riverside Church in NYC) in the 90's—but neither was the biggest name on the team. The No. 1 overall pick of the 1999 NBA Draft, Elton Brand, headlined that AAU team.
Brand won co-Rookie of the Year and is a two-time All-Star, Artest won the 2004 Defensive Player of the Year Award and was an All-Star that year, while Odom was the only of the trio to not have an All-Star appearance. However, he is also the only of the group to win a title—for now.
When Lamar Odom entered the league, some were calling him the next Magic Johnson. He didn't come close to filling those shoes, but as Odom has grown, and shaken that image, he has developed a legacy as being a "do-it-all" player, who's been invaluable at times for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Artest and Brand both started on the Chicago Bulls (later Brand teamed with Odom on the Los Angeles Clippers) and while Brand's career skyrocketed upwards until an unfortunate injury in 2007, Artest's progress has had stock market-like peaks and troughs—bottoming out with 2004's brawl and touching the bottom a few times after that.
Oddly, the future is brightest for Artest as he looks to become Kobe Bryant's wingman, joining Odom on a title run. For Brand, there are questions if he will ever finish a full season again.
While Brand's future looks dim, his co-ROY Steve Francis has even less to look forward to.
Many will remember "The Franchise" for when he demanded a trade from the then-Vancouver Grizzlies to the Houston Rockets. Francis put his money where his mouth was and averaged 19.3 points per game over five years for the Rockets, but once injuries captured his athletic ability, not even a stint with the New York Knicks could revive his career.
Some feel it is fitting that the Grizzlies, the same franchise he snubbed, were the ones to release him in January of 2009.
Along with Francis, there were four other point guards drafted in the first round.
Baron Davis has lived up to his No. 3 pick, but he now has the tough task of bringing the Clippers into the playoffs.
The newest Portland Trailblazer, Andre Miller, has had one of the most productive careers of the draft class. If he continues his career averages of 81.5 games per season and 7.6 assists per game, Miller will finish at least 19th on the all-time assists list.
But that's the good.
The bad and the ugly go by the names of William Avery and Vonteego Cumings.
Speaking of ugly, maybe the Knicks should have went with the undrafted Chris "Birdman" Anderson instead of Frederic Weis (link will not disappoint) with the 15th pick.
Another shoulda-woulda-coulda, Raja Bell went undrafted, while Trajon Langdon was the 11th pick for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The player with the highest ceiling of the 1999 class was Jonathan Bender. The prep-to-pro broke Michael Jordan's McDonald's High School All-American Game scoring record with 31 points before entering the NBA Draft.
Bender never even began to realize his potential, before being forced into early-retirement because of knee injuries...he is currently working on a comeback.
While most teams were drooling over the opportunity to draft Bender, the San Antonio Spurs were doing their diligence scouting overseas talent, including an Argentinean playing in the Italian League named Manu Ginobili.
The 57th pick, or second-to-last in 1999, was well spent for San Antonio. Once Ginobili joined their roster in 2002, he was an instant contributor in their rotation and has since won three titles, a Sixth Man of the Year Award, and was a part of an All-Star team.
Another Sixth Man wonder has been Jason Terry, a combo-guard who's now with Dallas, looking to win a title.
Versatility was a big theme in 99's class. Shawn Marion, Richard Hamilton, Andrei Kirilenko, and Wally Szczerbiak have all appeared on All-Star teams because of their ability to play multiple positions and score all over the court.
The class of 1999 has taken us on a wild ride and we still have years worth of entertainment from its best players. The All-Star appearances may be done, but there are still more titles to be won, Artest is working on booking a reality show, and Todd MacCulloch is the 102nd best pinball player in the world—and still climbing.
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