The NBA is a graveyard for would of, could of, and should of. Unqualified general managers, selfish NBA players and agents, ignorant owners, and plain bad luck have served to rob NBA fans countless times of the chance to watch great players play together.
Watching the NBA since I was a child I learned a simple lesson, an NBA team needs more than one great player to win a championship. Yet I have watched a horrible trend in the NBA where teams separate great players before they can achieve greatness together. To me the NBA has always been the one professional sport where when a fan who screams, “I can do better than the GM of my team!” might actually be right.
In all fairness it is not always the team that separates great players, sometimes the players themselves demand to be separated. And sometimes its just plain bad luck in the form of an injury or illness that has stopped some players from playing together.
The following is a list of a dozen potential great situations where great or potentially great players had a chance to play together, but it never worked out or ended too soon.
Each instance includes two to four players on the same team or came close to being on the same team that I regret being separated or not being able to play together.
*In no particular order because they all make me equally sad to think about.
1. Kevin Garnett and Stephon Marbury, Minnesota Timberwolves
Now that Marbury has apparently lost his mind it has become easy for people to forget just how good he was early in his career. He and Garnett were lethal together in every possible way. Marbury allowed Garnett to be the second option offensively while still making him feel like he was the man. However it all fell apart when Marbury stupidly demanded a trade to go closer to his home of New York City. And to compound Marbury’s stupidity the Wolves were dumb enough to give in.
2. Chris Webber and Shaquille O’Neal, Orlando Magic
At the time the only people who thought Shaq and Webber wouldn’t be a fantastic legendary type frontcourt was the Orlando Magic. Jaws dropped when the Magic traded the draft rights to Webber for those of Penny Hardaway and a bunch of filler. Imagine Webber with the ball in the high post, shooters on the wing with Shaq on the low post. And on defense it would have been insane, Michael Jordan would have been slightly scared to drive into that front line.
3. LeBron James and DaJuan Wagner, Cleveland Cavaliers
For some reason people remember Wagner as a guy who couldn’t cut it in the NBA. That is a horrible misconception, Wagner had Ulcerative Colitis and had his entire colon removed in 2005 and that is what ended his NBA career. When Wagner was drafted out of Memphis he was considered one of the more natural scorers drafted in the last decade. While his rookie season wasn’t perfect he still showed elite scoring potential and the ability to defend point guards. James and Wagner would have been a great fit because Wagner could have played a scoring point guard role, averaging 25 points a game, while LeBron played point forward and got his. It’s a shame Wagner never got the chance.
4. Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter, Toronto Raptors
Toronto fans have watched a lot of talent leave their city but McGrady might be the one that hurts the most. These two guys played well together, they didn’t hurt one another statistically and if anything they helped each other. Also, and people forget this, but with Vince shouldering so much of the offensive load McGrady was quickly becoming one of the NBA’s best defenders. However it all fell apart when it became clear McGrady was the better player and Vince refused to give up the throne. That and Florida has no state income tax.
5. LeBron James and Michael Redd, Cleveland Cavaliers
Redd was an unrestricted free agent following the 2004-2005 NBA season and LeBron’s Cavs had the salary cap room to sign him. Redd, a native of Ohio, was an obvious fit next to LeBron due to his incredible shooting ability. The idea of LeBron driving and kicking out to Redd was terrifying. But in the NBA rules exist that say a player’s original team can inherently offer more money and years than a competing team can in free agency. So Redd went back to the Bucks to inevitably become nothing more than an expiring contract instead of to the Cavs to become a possible champion.
6. Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill, Orlando Magic
The idea of watching two players on the same team averaging 25 points a game, 5 rebounds and 5 assists a game seemed a dream too good to be true. And it was, Grant Hill never recovered from an ankle injury he suffered in his last playoff series with the Detroit Pistons. This had a chance to be a great partnership because these two also understood their dynamic; McGrady was the alpha and Hill the beta. But Hill never played that role for McGrady, his ankle never holding up.
7. Carmelo Anthony and Gilbert Arenas, Denver Nuggets
Arenas was a second round pick of the Golden State Warriors and leading up to the 2003 season he was a free agent with no chance of staying home. All season whispers were circulating in NBA circles that Arenas to the Nuggets was a done deal, he wanted to play for them and they wanted him. It was obvious in Arenas second year that he was an all star in the making. But when the time came Nuggets GM Kiki Vandeweghe for some reason never called Arenas and signed Andre Miller instead, a player who at the time was half the player that Arenas was. Miller is a nice player but does anyone think that the Nuggets were and are better off with the signing Miller instead of signing Arenas? Poor Carmelo, now he might have to leave the Nuggets if he ever wants to win a championship.
8. Tracy McGrady and Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic
When the Magic traded McGrady, who had demanded a trade, their general manager was a man named John Weisbrod. Now I am sure the man knows hockey and the NHL, the sport he came from and has since returned, but in the NBA he was an idiot. He took McGrady’s trade request and instead of saying “no, play with the number 1 pick in the draft first and then if you want to leave in the offseason we will sign and trade you,” he had a panic attack and traded everyone. McGrady and Dwight would have been a much better duo than Yao Ming and McGrady or Howard and Steve Francis.
9. Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning, Charlotte Hornets
Larry Johnson was going to be a better version of Charles Barkley, slightly taller and more athletic. He was Grandmama, an old lady who lived in a shoe. Then his back went out on him, and he was nothing more than a decent player with a massive contract and then Mourning demanded a trade. Pat Riley swooped in and took Mourning off the Hornets hands and they were stuck with Johnson, a player who was a shell of the beast he should have become. But imagine a Defensive Player of the Year Zo defending the paint while a healthy Grandmama dominated the paint on the offensive side. Shame.
10. Alonzo Mourning, Eddie Jones, Tim Hardaway and Brian Grant, Miami Heat
In the summer of 2000 Pat Riley put together his first super team with the Heat. Many thought at the time that this team, though untested, was a lock for the Eastern Conference Championship and a legit threat to Shaq’s Lakers. But then Mourning’s kidney’s gave out on him, and he barely played at all with Jones and Grant, who were just signed to huge free agent deals only due to how they complimented Zo’s playing style. Went from a contender to a pretender overnight.
11. Shawn Kemp and Gary Peyton, Seattle Supersonics
Someone in the Seattle organization thought it would be a great idea to pay Jim Mcllvaine more money than Shawn Kemp. Well it wasn’t, and when Kemp got rightfully furious the Sonics got strangely uptight. After a ton of stupid bickering the Sonics decided to trade Kemp, a player that with Peyton had won 60 regular season games in a regular season more than once and who gave Jordan’s Bulls the best final’s fight they ever had. Idiots. And I know Kemp’s career ended early due to drug abuse but considering the Sonics traded him for an alcoholic in Vin Baker maybe they should have kept him.
12. Chris Paul, Joe Johnson and Josh Smith, Atlanta Hawks
I still see no sign that NBA decision makers have learned what NFL GMs have known for years, you can’t teach personality. Marvin Williams is happy to be a sixth man, so no matter how much talent he has he will always be a sixth man. Chris Paul wants greatness, and it's sad Hawk’s fans don’t get to see him and Joe Johnson running a fast break with Josh Smith flying through the air like a circus performer to slam home insane alley oops.