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

Preston EllisContributor IJanuary 29, 2020

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

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    While some NBA players may prefer loyalty over championships, Kevin Garnett once said: "Loyalty is something that hurts you at times because you can't get youth back."

    We know that swapping teams is not a cardinal sin. Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James have each earned championships with different franchises in the past 10 years.  

    So, who would benefit from a change of scenery?

    These six stars have played six or more seasons with their respective franchises without a single conference finals victory to show for it. 

    Whether it's before the Feb. 6 trade deadline or during the offseason, it's time for a change.

Bradley Beal

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    Bradley Beal is midway through his eighth season in a Washington Wizards uniform after the team selected him third overall in 2012. 

    Despite Washington's recent misfortunes, the two-time All-Star has reinforced his dedication to the capital city again and again. 

    "I respect the fact that they drafted me, that's first and foremost," Beal told Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports on Posted Up (via NBC Sports Washington) on Jan. 23. "Just being in one spot for your whole career, having your jersey in the rafter one day, being that important to an organization, those were all things that drew me."

    The Wizards have put that dedication to the test in the past 12 months. Since advancing to the Eastern Conference Semifinals in three of Beal's first six seasons, Washington has gone 47-80 (.370 winning percentage). 

    That's come from a combination of poor personnel decisions and bad luck in the form of John Wall's Achilles injury. Either way, Beal finds himself amid another rough season with the 11th-place Wizards, and it seems the losses are taking their toll.

    "I don't like losing. I'm sorry," Beal told reporters after losing to the Bulls on Jan. 15. "Especially winnable games." 

    About his frustration, he said: "I don't like losing, so it's gonna keep building up for me until we start winning and changing our culture."

    Because Beal inked a two-year extension last summer, he is not eligible to be traded before the February 6 deadline. Still, it might be in everyone's best interest to propose a split this summer. At 26 years old, Beal is still ascending into his prime while the Wizards are facing a rebuild. 

    Even if Wall returns from his ruptured Achilles at 100 percent in 2020-21, his four-year, $171 million contract makes building a contender around the duo problematic. With the cap estimated at $116 million next season, the Wizards already have over $99 million dedicated to just those two. 

    Washington could walk away with a king's ransom from a potential trade, and Beal could spend his best years chasing championships. 

Damian Lillard

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    There may not be an NBA athlete more devoted to his franchise than Damian Lillard is to the Portland Trail Blazers.  

    "I'm going to bring a ring to this city or go down swinging," Lillard wrote in The Players' Tribune's "Loyalty Over Everything" on Dec. 10. 

    His fealty to a franchise that stood by him amid tension with incumbent superstar LaMarcus Aldridge is understandable. Since the Blazers drafted him sixth in 2012, they've largely been his. During that time, the Blazers have enjoyed moderate success. They have advanced to the playoffs each of the past six seasons, including the conference finals in 2018-19. 

    However, realistically, the Blazers haven't been close to challenging the NBA's elite. After being swept by the New Orleans Pelicans in 2018, Portland survived the Oklahoma City Thunder and Denver Nuggets, only to be again swept by a Kevin Durant-less Golden State Warriors last summer. 

    The supporting cast is dependable. CJ McCollum is scoring over 20 points per game for the fifth consecutive season. At just 25 years old, Jusuf Nurkic may grow into one of the NBA's better bigs after he returns from his compound leg fractures. 

    But the Blazers don't have a surefire secondary star to complement Lillard, and at $107 million dedicated to the 2020-21 cap, they have no means to add significant free-agent talent. 

    Dealing any or all of their future firsts along with McCollum may be enough to add a true second star, but which possibly available player is enough to carry them past the Lakers, Clippers or Jazz? Jrue Holiday? Beal?

    It would behoove Lillard to move on.

Jrue Holiday

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    It's been a long, unrewarding six-plus seasons in New Orleans for Jrue Holiday, who has just one playoff series win to show for it. 

    After surviving the Anthony Davis debacle, the 29-year-old Holiday rededicated himself to the Pelicans at executive vice president David Griffin's behest. Griffin touted Holiday as a dark-horse MVP candidate over the summer, giving him "permission to dominate." 

    While Holiday's been solid, it hasn't worked out. 

    The Pelicans have been better of late, winning 11 of their past 17 games. Moreover, No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson has lived up the hype so far, averaging 31.2 points and 12.9 rebounds per 36 minutes in his first three games. 

    But the Pelicans are going nowhere in 2019-20. Since their 13-game losing streak ended Dec. 17, New Orleans has inched back toward the eighth seed but still sits 4.5 games back.

    Holiday's age and role have complicated things alongside Zion. The veteran's 25.3 percent usage rate throughout the season has fallen to 21.5 percent in the past three games. 

    The Pelicans are loaded with young playmakers in Zion (19 years old), Brandon Ingram (22) and Lonzo Ball (22). Ingram has put up All-Star-caliber numbers, and Ball hasn't been far behind lately. Over his past 15 games, Ball is up to 14.5 points, 8.7 assists and 6.9 rebounds per 36 minutes while shooting 38.9 percent from three. Josh Hart's versatility has been immeasurable, and the Pelicans are high on Nickeil Alexander-Walker's future. 

    So while the Pelicans' outlook might be bright, it's becoming increasingly difficult to envision Holiday's role within it. An elite three-and-D shooter in the mold of a younger Danny Green may be a better fit alongside this youthful core of playmakers. The Pelicans could also use a floor-spacing 4 to put alongside Zion in small-ball lineups.  

    Both sides may benefit from a break. Holiday can reinforce a veteran team with title aspirations while the Pelicans can continue their rebuild.

Nikola Vucevic

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    After seven-plus seasons and 522 games with the Orlando Magic, Nikola Vucevic needs a change.

    The 29-year-old earned his first All-Star bid in 2018-19, registering 20.8 points, 12.0 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game while shooting 54.9 percent from two and 36.4 from three. While his contributions helped the Magic win 22 of their final 31 contests, they only stole one game from the Toronto Raptors in a first-round series loss. 

    The Magic have benefited from a bounce-back campaign from 2017 No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz, but their fortunes remain unchanged. A knee injury cut short Jonathan Isaac's All-Defensive-level effort in early January, and Al Farouq-Aminu underwent surgery for a torn meniscus roughly a week later

    The Magic expected more. They posted the seventh-best net rating after the All-Star break last year and hoped that success would carry over. Instead, they sit six games below .500, having lost four straight and seven of the past 10. 

    The appreciation shared between Vucevic and the Magic was solidified last summer with a four-year, $100 million deal. But it's time to reevaluate their partnership. The Magic are not contenders and have limited flexibility thanks to an overloaded frontcourt that still has first-round pick Chuma Okeke to add during the summer. 

    The Magic could continue to tread water, or they could package Vucevic, Evan Fournier and picks in win-now deals to acquire whichever veteran star becomes available at the deadline. 

    But as difficult as it may be to stomach, they'd probably be better off dealing Vucevic for assets and starting from scratch around a core of Isaac, Fultz, Mo Bamba, Okeke and their 2020 first-round pick.      

Andre Drummond

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    This one may be the most obvious of the bunch. 

    The Detroit Pistons have suffered more than most since the days of Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton. In Drummond's seven-plus seasons, they've managed just two playoff appearances, each four-game sweeps.

    Blake Griffin underwent knee surgery Jan. 7 and is out indefinitely, and while the Pistons sit just 3.5 games from the final playoff spot, their future is bleak beyond this season. Should Tony Snell and Drummond each pick up their player options, they, along with Griffin, would combine to eat nearly $78 million

    There may not be a plethora of teams interested because of his exorbitant $27.1 million salary and the nature of his position, but Drummond is still one of the NBA's most effective bigs. In 2018-19, he placed in the 96th percentile in efficiency differential, 99th in points per possession, 98th in effective field-goal percentage and 94th in offensive rebounding, per Cleaning the Glass. 

    This season, Drummond is first in rebounding, second in steals and ninth in blocks. Drummond can be a useful player in the right system. His salary is overpriced, but a team like the Atlanta Hawks could give up nearly nothing (Chandler Parsons and an asset) for the chance to roll him out next to Trae Young.

CJ McCollum

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    The Blazers drafted CJ McCollum with the 10th pick in 2013, creating one of the NBA's most devastating backcourts.

    At 28 years old, McCollum is at the crest of his prime, reaching or matching career highs in scoring and rebounding through 43 games. As durable as he is dependable, he's missed just four contests this season and just 21 games in the past five years.

    There's no immediate need for a separation. The Blazers have reached the playoffs in all six of his seasons and sit just 2.5 games back of the Memphis Grizzlies from doing so again.

    But the Blazers are not good enough to compete for a championship. In their six consecutive playoff appearances, they lost in the first round three times and made it to the conference finals just once.

    Even after Nurkic returns from a broken leg, this team won't have what it takes to challenge the Western Conference's top seeds.

    The Blazers can keep the status quo, or they can face the music. McCollum has just one year remaining on a four-year, $106.6 million deal, at which time he'll ask for a maximum deal that will take him into his mid-30s and clog the Blazers' books.

    It's time for a change. This team isn't competing, and McCollum may have what it takes to push a would-be contender over the top.


    Contract info via Spotrac unless otherwise noted.