NBA Stars Who've Been in the Same Place Way Too Long

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 26, 2019

NBA Stars Who've Been in the Same Place Way Too Long

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    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    Let's make this crystal clear right away.

    We're not trying to stir the pot. We're not suggesting these five players should seek out new locations. That's their prerogative, and those decisions are made for a wide variety of reasons, ranging from financial compensation to championship pursuits to sheer comfort.

    Star players (really, all players) should enjoy the ability to control their futures, and we commend loyalty to an organization just as we praise the willingness to start anew when doing so is the correct choice.

    You do you, as the saying goes.

    We are, however, claiming that this quintet has remained in the same place for too long. Each member has put in the requisite time and effort in the current location, and success hasn't necessarily followed in recent years. They've earned the right to leave with no hard feelings, whether through trades or free-agency decisions.

    Whether they do so? That's a topic for another time.

Mike Conley, Memphis Grizzlies

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    Joe Murphy/Getty Images

    Seasons with Franchise: 12

    Playoff Appearances: Six

    Regular-Season Record With Franchise: 403-362 (0.527)

    Playoff Record With Franchise: 28-28 (0.500)

    At some point, Mike Conley needs recognition. 

    Toiling away with the Memphis Grizzlies for a dozen years, some of which have admittedly resulted in substantial playoff runs during the heart of the grit-and-grind era, he's consistently played at an All-Star level without ever representing the Western Conference in the midseason festivities.

    That's unlikely to change in 2018-19, considering Memphis' placement near the bottom of the standings and the remarkable depth of backcourt talent populating the tougher half of the NBA

    Dating back to the beginning of the 2010-11 campaign, Conley has accumulated 58.2 win shares during the regular season alone. That leaves him trailing just 21 players. DeAndre Jordan (one) is the only member of that group with fewer than three All-Star appearances.

    Conley is clearly an aberration.

    Perhaps ready for a change, Memphis is now listening to offers for him prior to the February trade deadline, per ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski. And though finding a deal for his massive contract could be a difficult endeavor, a move might be beneficial for both sides. The Grizzlies would get to start from scratch with a true rebuild, while Conley might finally get a chance to break through in the recognition department. 

Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

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    Sam Forencich/Getty Images

    Seasons with Franchise: Seven

    Playoff Appearances: Two

    Regular-Season Record With Franchise: 211-240 (0.468)

    Playoff Record With Franchise: 5-8 (0.385)

    Kudos to Anthony Davis if he'd like to stick around and try to make something of the New Orleans Pelicans. But at this point, it's also perfectly understandable if he wants out, ready to chase after a championship with a cadre of compatriots ready to outdo his current cast.

    Davis has functioned as a full-fledged superstar for a while now, even shedding the injury-prone label (recent finger issue notwithstanding) by playing in 75 games each of the last two seasons. But the Pelicans have consistently failed to place high-quality pieces around him, and this year is no different.

    Talented as Jrue Holiday and Julius Randle may be, they don't make up for the glaring lack of useful depth and piecemeal solutions on the wings.

    Since Davis made his first All-Star appearance in 2013-14, take a gander at the complete list of players who have qualified for the scoring title and posted positive box plus/minuses for the Pelicans: 

    • Anthony Davis (six times)
    • Jrue Holiday (four times)
    • Tyreke Evans (twice)
    • Alexis Ajinca
    • Toney Douglas
    • Julius Randle
    • Jeff Withey

    That's only seven players in six seasons, and just three are still with the team. Plus, we're only talking about above-average play, not even contributions that deserve significant recognition. 

    Eventually, Davis has to receive the luxury of operating alongside a more palatable supporting cast.  

Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies

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    Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

    Seasons with Franchise: 11

    Playoff Appearances: Six

    Regular-Season Record With Franchise: 405-358 (0.531)

    Playoff Record With Franchise: 29-30 (0.492)

    The Grizzlies are also receptive to overtures for Marc Gasol, per Wojnarowski. And though the reasons differ from the ones that should justify a split-up between Memphis and Conley, they're still valid. This center needs a chance to play for a contending team before his decline grows too dramatic.

    Unlike his long-time point guard, Gasol has been recognized plenty for his excellence on Beale Street. A three-time All-Star, the Spanish 7-footer has won Defensive Player of the Year, factored into multiple All-NBA squads and consistently earned recognition as a top-tier center with two-way prowess.

    But his skills are slowly eroding on both ends of the floor as he attempts to transition into a perimeter offensive role and counteract his declining foot speed on the preventing end. A fresh start might be tough, taking him away from the city that's engendered so many positive feelings over the years, but it would also present his best chance to play competitive basketball while he can still fill a major role. 

    Just as an example, imagine him lining up for the Los Angeles Clippers and giving Tinseltown a more threatening playoff outfit in the immediate future. Bleacher Report's Dan Favale has done exactly that: 

    "Gasol jibes with the Clippers' immediate playoff chase and offseason ambitions, if he's declining his player option. He isn't a defensive panacea, but he's disciplined on the less glamorous end. He helps tone down Los Angeles' foul fests and (might) dissuade some shots at the rim, which would be a nice complement to the team's three-point prevention."

    That's by no means the only potential landing spot, but the overarching point remains true: Gasol deserves another shot at contending for something more meaningful than a top spot in the lottery pecking order. 

Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic

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    Seasons with Franchise: Seven

    Playoff Appearances: Zero

    Regular-Season Record With Franchise: 151-301 (0.334)

    Playoff Record With Franchise: 0-0 (0.000)

    Nikola Vucevic, who has an objective case to be considered a snub in the Eastern Conference's starting lineup for the All-Star Game, has emerged as a legitimate force. He's single-handedly kept the Orlando Magic somewhat competitive with his blend of perimeter offense and low-block dominance, boosting the team's net rating from minus-10.5 without him to 1.2 when he plays. 

    But Vucevic has never made a playoff appearance in Orlando (he briefly appeared for three minutes as a garbage-time rookie with the Philadelphia 76ers), and it's unlikely that changes in 2018-19.

    Currently, FiveThirtyEight.com's CARMELO model gives the Magic only an 11 percent chance of playing beyond Game 82. Not only does that mean Vucevic is seemingly doomed for yet another lottery finish, but it will also keep him from escaping a certain set of ignominious rankings.

    Among active players who have logged at least one minute during the current go-round, Vucevic ranks No. 89 in career win shares (37.1). But now, let's filter out everyone but those who haven't suited up in multiple postseason games. Yes, we're manipulating this a bit to include Vucevic, but the point is that he—and others like him who might have logged an early-career appearance that shouldn't really count—hasn't tasted the playoffs:

    1. DeMarcus Cousins: 41.9 win shares and zero playoff games 
    2. Nikola Vucevic: 37.1 win shares and one playoff game
    3. Nikola Jokic: 34.0 win shares and zero playoff games
    4. Omri Casspi: 19.4 win shares and zero playoff games
    5. Kyle O'Quinn: 16.3 win shares and zero playoff games

    Once Cousins and Jokic grace the postseason stage courtesy of the Golden State Warriors and Denver Nuggets, respectively, Vucevic will nearly double the win-share tallies of everyone else in this category. That should just about say it all. 

Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Seasons with Franchise: Eight

    Playoff Appearances: Two

    Regular-Season Record With Franchise: 229-341 (0.402)

    Playoff Record With Franchise: 3-8 (0.273)

    During the last four years, Kemba Walker has served as a shining example of a one-man wrecking ball. Time and time again, he's thrived for a Charlotte Hornes outfit that's been unable to place the right pieces around him and often has difficulty assembling a bench that can avoid hemorrhaging the leads earned by the starting point guard.

    Take a peek at the on/off splits Walker has endured each of those last four seasons:

    • 2015-16: 3.5 net rating with Walker on; minus-1.6 net rating without Walker 
    • 2016-17: 3.2 net rating with Walker on; minus-7.1 net rating without Walker
    • 2017-18: 3.6 net rating with Walker on; minus-6.8 net rating without Walker
    • 2018-19: 1.1 net rating with Walker on; minus-1.7 net rating without Walker

    With a second unit bolstered by the arrival of a resurgent Tony Parker, the Hornets have managed to minimize the split this season. But that's also happened while the starting five declines around Walker, as Nicolas Batum and Co. aren't enough as primary supporting pieces.

    Just when one thing goes right, something else happens to limit the organizational ceiling.

    Of course, none of this seems to have deterred Walker, who continues to enjoy a well-deserved love affair with the Queen City and could very well re-sign on a long-term deal this summer.

    Team owner Michael Jordan doesn't plan to trade him, per The Athletic's Shams Charania. And as Walker himself told Bleacher Report's Jonathan Abrams, who detailed the connection between point guard and city: "I know a lot of things haven't been accomplished here, and this is my eighth season here now. Just important because I want to help build that. I want to help build that. I want to help accomplish those goals and help get this organization far—as far as possible."

    If Walker does want to keep plugging away, more power to him. Just know that he, much like the other stars featured in this article, would be more than justified if he felt otherwise.

                

    Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @fromal09.

    Unless otherwise indicated, all stats accurate heading into games Jan. 25 and courtesy of Basketball Reference, NBA.com, PBPStats.com, NBA Math or ESPN.com.

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