For every recreation league and weekend gym rat, it’s pure joy to watch NBA games and gawk at the sheer athleticism and how easy the league’s superstars make the game look.
Off-balance turnaround jumpers, long three-pointers with the shot clock winding down, killer crossovers, leaps for rebounds, and dunks that seem to simply freeze time—it can make ordinary basketball folks wonder what it would be like just to have those skills for just one Saturday at the local gym.
That’s why it’s that much more frustrating to watch certain players with a myriad of hoop skills and blessed with speed, agility, and size not realize their full potential and let it all go to waste. That downfall can come from a variety of reasons: injuries, contract situations, dislike for the coach/organization, or just plain stupidity.
Here is a list of players that make me shake my head and hurl obscenities at the television in disappointment each time for one reason or another when I see this list of characters play.
10. Wally Szczerbiak, Cleveland Cavaliers
His inclusion on this list is mainly due to some stupid owner or general manager who gave him a gaudy contract extension. Wally World, who was averaging 6.4 PPG and 1.3 RPG entering play this week, will make almost as much as LeBron James and nearly $5 million more than Mo Williams this year.
This for a guy who cannot create his own shot, isn’t a great passer, and doesn’t play a lick of defense or rebound. Yes he made the All-Star team one year while playing with KG in Minnesota, but come on, each time I see him on the tube it makes me cringe when I think how horribly overpaid he is.
9. Erick Dampier, Dallas Mavericks
Granted, some of this vitriol comes from the fact he often dogged it for my Golden State Warriors, but Dampier is the epitome of an inconsistent player. In his 2004 contract year with the Warriors, the guy averaged 12 PPG and 12 RPG and showed flashes of promise. He has yet to get back to those numbers, and he will make $11 million this year, topping out at $13 million in 2010.
While Dampier doesn’t have a great post game or defend well against great centers, he does run the floor well. But I always get the feeling he could average more points if he sprinted hard on every possession, especially in the run-and-gun Mavs’ offense. Let’s not forget he once lost his starting spot to DeSagana Diop.
8. Drew Gooden, Chicago Bulls
It doesn’t take long to wonder why this guy has been with four teams in seven seasons. If this former No. 4 pick put as much imagination and coordination into his game as he put into his hair/beard combination, he might be an all-star one day.
Gooden is another model of inconsistency. The guy has never met a jump shot he doesn’t like, even though he has a decent low-post game. While it’s not too late to turn it around, he should have shown more improvement in his scoring numbers by this point in his career.
7. Chris Wilcox, Oklahoma City Thunder
Another head-scratcher when it comes to consistency.
Wilcox seemed to have things turned around after getting traded from the Clippers to the then-Sonics in 2006. He showed potential in 2006 grabbing 24 rebounds in a game, the best rebounding game by a Sonics player since Jack Sikma grabbed 25 in a game in 1983. A couple more inspiring performances got Wheezy a three-year, $24 million deal from the Sonics.
But the next year he could never follow up big games with anything even respectable and seemed to all-out disappear in others. It will be interesting to see how he finishes out this year, and his contract, on a horrible Oklahoma City team.
6. Robert Swift, Oklahoma City Thunder
I hate to be picking on the former Sonics here, but Swift is true wonder.
I initially questioned why Swift declared for the draft out of high school instead of opting to go to USC. Yes he got a big payday, but is it worth a crappy, short NBA career in the long run? For all the time wasted riding the pine the first four years, the 7'1" center could have been dominating the Pac-10.
When he has gotten playing time, he has looked lost on the floor with shorter, faster guys scoring all over him. Granted he did get hurt just as he was beginning to turn the page, but now he just looks too muscled and like he’s taken a step back in his development. Swift started at center for the second consecutive game on Saturday, but had just one rebound in 14 scoreless minutes in a loss to the Sixers.
5. Baron Davis, Los Angeles Clippers
When Baron is happy, everything is great. When he’s injured, gets his feelings hurt, gets in the coach’s doghouse, or has a bad shooting night (which is often)—look out. Talk about a baby. He is a wonder to watch when he feels motivated to play, but the baggage that comes along with his game is enough to make me want to change the channel.
4. Steve Francis, Houston Rockets
Like Szczerbiak, this is another case of truckloads of cash for someone not deserving of it. A solid player—albeit very temperamental—for the early years with Houston and Orlando, Francis has been a joke lately.
In July of 2007, the Washington Post and Newsday both reported that Francis received about $30 million of the $33.6 million he was owed over the final two years of his contract as part of buyout by the Blazers after acquiring him from the Knicks in a trade. And then—here’s the kicker—Francis was able to sign with the Rockets for another $2.5 million for a one-year deal. He’s currently collecting his check while rehabilitating after last February's knee surgery.
3. Kwame Brown, Detroit Pistons
What more is there to say that hasn’t been said already? Brown will be forever linked with Michael Jordan for his biggest mistake as an NBA executive.
The 6'11", 270-pound center has a solid NBA body, but just can’t seem to get the right head to go with his body. You’d think by now he’d have hired a personal coach, psychologist, personal trainer, or even Tony Robbins to help him through his issues.
He has the body and has shown some improvement over the years, but not even the lowly Grizzlies opted to keep him after his contract expired.
2. Ron Artest, Houston Rockets
Artest’s journey shows that no matter how many mistakes you make, if you have great talent someone will still want you on their team. He’s one of the NBA’s best defenders, but it seems he has a couple of screws loose. Maybe that’s what gives him an edge. He can bring a team to the next level or tear it down entirely. The jury is still out on his experimental tenure with the Rockets.
1. Stephon Marbury, New York Knicks
Great talent, good heart (he did come out with cheap basketball shoes) but just couldn’t get it together.
He didn’t get along with T-Wolves coaches about his role in the offense early in his career (even after helping lead the Wolves to the playoffs in 1997 and 1998), couldn’t take the Nets to the next level, had issues in Phoenix, and while with the Knicks was called by the New York Daily News "the most reviled athlete in New York."
You’d think he would have gotten the message one of those stops along the way and tried to straighten things out. What a waste.