The 2011 NBA Playoffs have been in full swing for a week now. And this year's edition of the annual spectacle has been a baptism of fire of sorts for quite a few individuals. Players like Emeka Okafor, Jarrett Jack, and Marco Belinelli of the New Orleans Hornets, Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, and OJ Mayo of the Memphis Grizzlies, Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari of the Denver Nuggets all made their playoff debuts within the last seven days.
Most notably, Mike Dunleavy, Jr. and Troy Murphy finally broke their career-long playoff droughts with the Indiana Pacers and the Boston Celtics, respectively. Prior to this season, those 2 players held the "title" for most games played without a playoff appearance. Dunleavy, for instance, had to wait 9 years to get past the regular season. On the other hand, Murphy's wait lasted a decade.
So like the above-mentioned players a season ago, there are some who will continue watching the exciting post-season action from the sidelines for the nth consecutive year. There are various reasons for why these particular players have never been to the playoffs. Some would blame injury, bad luck, wrong timing, or (probably) plain coincidence.
Popeye Jones (pictured) holds the distinction as one of the very few players who ended their careers without playing a single minute of playoff basketball. Yes, you read that one right! He may have helped the Dallas Mavericks make the playoffs in 2003 but was left out of the team's post-season roster for some reason.
So here are 6 notable players who have yet to appear in their first playoff game:
To be fair, the list I made will not include those who are still in their rookie contracts and those international or undrafted players who have been in the league for four seasons or less.
This means that Yi Jianlian, Kevin Love, Eric Gordon, Blake Griffin, Tyreke Evans, Stephen Curry, and John Wall are nowhere to be found in the succeeding slides.
So without further delay..
Year Drafted: 2004 (13th Overall)
As a cousin of former NBA star Stephon Marbury, much was expected of Telfair coming straight for high school. Unfortunately, he failed to deliver despite being given sufficient playing/development time in Portland and Boston. His starting jobs for each team would eventually be taken by Jarrett Jack (Portland) and Rajon Rondo (Boston). At present he is considered a solid backup at best, though he is only 25 and has enough time to prove that he can be a legitimate starter for a good team.
Following the 2006-07 season, he would be stuck in the Timberwolves and Clippers' rebuilding projects. Though he would be traded to the Lebron-led Cavaliers during last year's trade deadline, he would fail to crack their playoff roster mainly due to the fact that he was coming off a serious injury and has not had enough time to develop chemistry with his then-new teammates.
This past off-season's trade to the Minnesota (again) would seal his fate of missing the playoffs for the 7th consecutive season. The good news is that his contract comes off the books this July and he will be free to sign with any team he chooses to this summer.
Now hopefully a contender would want him on their team.
Year Drafted: 2006 (7th Overall)
This one's a slight case of bad luck. In his first 3 seasons, he was unfortunate enough to be a member of the struggling Timberwolves. And up to this day, critics have repeatedly ripped the T-Wolves for trading Brandon Roy for Foye during draft day in 2006 (Roy would end up having a career-threatening knee condition which would make that trade seem somewhat less painful today).
Last summer, Foye signed a 2-year free agent contract with the Clippers. Despite missing the playoffs again this year, Clipper Nation is optimistic about next season with cornerstones Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon in place along with role players like Mo Williams, DeAndre Jordan, Al-Farouq Aminu, and Foye building around those two.
In a perfect world, Foye would finally make his long-awaited first post-season appearance next year. Here's hoping that he really does.
Year Drafted: 2005 (50th Overall)
Teams played for: Boston Celtics (2005-2007), Minnesota Timberwolves (2007-2010), Los Angeles Clippers (2010-present)
Like Foye, Gomes' situation is a case of misfortune. But despite being a member of losing teams for the entire duration of his career so far, managements have never heard a word of complaint from him while also remaining a consummate professional at the same time. He came to play in no less than 60 games per season and arguably works harder than any of his teammates. At one point, he was even named team captain during his tenure with the post-KG Timberwolves. Additionally, second year point guard Jonny Flynn even mentioned that Gomes was the one who showed him the ropes and served as his veteran mentor during the lone season that they were teammates in Minnesota.
His first playoff game could have been this year had the Portland Trail Blazers chosen not to waive him after acquiring him in the Martell Webster trade in draft day 2010.
Good guys should not always finish last. Ryan Gomes needs a break - a playoff appearance to be exact. Hopefully, Blake Griffin will help him get there next season.
Year Drafted: 2002 (8th Overall)
With Mike Dunleavy, Jr. and Troy Murphy finally becoming playoff debutentes this year, Chris Wilcox now becomes their successor. Wilcox now holds the record for the most games played by an active player without a playoff appearance with 539.
Wilcox's case is somewhat different from the players who were on the spotlight awhile ago. For some reason, he has always been at the wrong place at the wrong time. Cases in point: In 2006, the playoff-bound Clippers traded him to the lottery-bound Sonics (who would become the Thunder just 2 years later) during the trade deadline. There, he would be in the midst of Sam Presti's rebuilding project which saw him end up getting traded to the Knicks in 2009 (the year before the Thunder made the playoffs). The Knicks, on the other hand, only wanted him for his massive expiring contract and he would take his talents to yet another city that summer.
He signed with the Pistons with the hope of finally making the playoffs during the 2009-10 season. Sadly, the team would regress that year and the year after that mainly due to poor coaching and management. So his drought goes on.
Luckily, he will be an unrestricted free agent this summer - making him free to audition for any team he wishes.
Here's hoping that he finally comes to the right place at the right time this time around.
Note: Isn't it funny that the first four people mentioned in the slideshow are either playing or have played for the Clippers? Is it coincidence? Or the Clipper curse in full effect?
Year Drafted: 2006 (8th Overall)
Teams played for: Memphis Grizzlies (2006-present)
Of all the players featured in this slideshow, Gay is the only one here that is currently playing for his original team. And his situation might be the most unique and the most painful.
As we all know, the Memphis Grizzlies clinched their first playoff berth this year since 2005-06 (the season before Gay was drafted). And we also know that the Grizzlies were able to get the franchise' first ever playoff win in Game 1 of their first round series against the San Antonio Spurs. That alone can be considered a very proud moment for Gay and the entire organization.
Except that Gay is currently nursing an injured shoulder and will not be a part of the team's playoff run this year.
At this point, probably no one would like to be in Rudy Gay's shoes. When he injured his left shoulder prior to the All-Star break, he was only expected to miss a month. Unfortunately, the injury was not healing as fast as expected that surgery would be needed - thus ending his season.
Helplessly watching his team battle the Spurs definitely is killing him. You can almost hear him vow to be healthy for next year's playoff run provided the Grizzlies make it to the post-season again.
But Gay is not the only one on this list who has suffered this kind of misfortune.
Year Drafted: 2001 (4th Overall)
Teams played for: Chicago Bulls (2001-2005), New York Knicks (2005-2011), Minnesota Timberwolves (2011; bought out without playing a single game)
Eddy Curry is one player that can empathize with how Gay is feeling as of the moment.
In 2005, the young Chicago Bulls were gearing up for their first playoff run since the Michael Jordan era. But all that excitement turned into panic when Curry (then the team's best post player) was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat. This prompted him to undergo further testing and treatment. Per doctor's advise, he had to miss the remainder of the regular season and the entire playoffs. The Bulls would then end up losing to the Washington Wizards in the first round without him.
Curry would make a full recovery from his medical condition but would be traded to the Knicks the very next season.
Things would go downhill from there.
Though he would enjoy his best season as a pro in 2006-07 (almost 20 PPG, 7 RPG, 58% FG), he would struggle with a combination of weight problems, laziness, legal issues, and a then-dysfunctional Knicks organization. He also developed a reputation of being an overpaid burden whose astronomical contract prevented the franchise from being competitive for an extended period of time.
The Knicks finally got rid of him during this year's trade deadline, sending him to Minnesota. The T-Wolves then did the wise thing of buying out the remaining $11.2 million on the final year of his contract.
Perhaps Eddy Curry is the new Popeye Jones since it is very unlikely to see him in an NBA uniform ever again.
But then again, he may have very serious competition in..
Year Drafted: 2005 (7th Overall)
Charlie Villanueva a.k.a. CV31 is arguably one of the NBA's most colorful personalities. He is a spokesperson for the National Alopecia Areata Foundation and is one of the league's most active Twitter users (he even uses the site to call out other people that have offended him).
But all of these colorful traits, unfortunately, have not yet translated into any playoff appearances for the teams he has played for. And that's unlikely to change anytime soon.
For CV31 fans out there, you might say that teams that he plays for never seem to make the playoffs is pure coincidence. But these facts below might prove otherwise:
- He spent his rookie season with the Raptors in 2005-06 - which also happened to be the first full season post-Vince Carter. They missed the playoffs that season. They traded Villanueva to the Milwaukee Bucks the following season. As a result, they won 47 games en route to their first division title and first playoff appearance since 2002.
- The Bucks, who made the playoffs in 2005-06, did not make the cut the following season in Villanueva's first year with them - and the next 2 seasons that followed. Following the 2008-09 season, they let CV31 become a free agent and, as a result, made the playoffs during the 2009-10 season.
- The Pistons signed Villanueva to a 5-year $35 million contract to help offset the departure of the aging Rasheed Wallace. What happened? They won 27 and 30 games, respectively, in Villanueva's first 2 seasons with them.
It definitely hurts me to write something like this about CV. I actually like his game a lot and I'm not giving up on him just yet to live up to his fat contract. But the facts stated above are simply too hard to ignore and I can't help but wonder:
Why does Charlie's teams suffer like this? Is it because he plays next to no defense? Or could he possibly be a locker room killer? Does he tweet way too much for his own good? Does his temper often get the better of him even in practice?
As a Pistons fan, all I can do is speculate and cross my fingers in hoping for better things to come from Villanueva. He is only 26 and still has about a decade of productive basketball ahead of him. That's more than enough time for him to prove his doubters wrong.