5 NBA Stars Who Need a Change of Scenery Most

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 20, 2021

5 NBA Stars Who Need a Change of Scenery Most

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    With the exception of Giannis Antetokounmpo's free-throw routine, nothing lasts forever in the NBA.

    Here, we'll hit on a few partnerships between stars and their teams that, for the benefit of the player, should come to an end sooner than later.

    In some cases, like the one involving Ben Simmons, an immediate split seems best for all involved. In others, like the one featuring Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans, we're getting way out ahead of things by suggesting a breakup before the superstar forward forces his team's hand.

    Everyone needs change once in a while, but these stars stand to benefit the most.

Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    What's the plan here?

    Hope the combination of new head coach Wes Unseld Jr., a healthy Thomas Bryant and development from Rui Hachimura and Deni Avdija gets the Washington Wizards to, say, 45 wins? Would the subsequent first-round elimination, brought about because playoff defenses can exploit a limited roster and dare Russell Westbrook to shoot, be satisfactory?

    Progress is progress, I guess. But it's tough to get enthused about that outcome.

    Beal and the Wizards have remained committed to one another, which is easy to understand from the organization's perspective but much harder to grasp on the player's end. On some level, you have to admire Beal's steadfastness, but you also have to admit Washington doesn't look like the best place for him to succeed at the highest level. The ceiling is well below contention, even if almost everything breaks right.

    Beal is 28 years old, heading into his 10th season. Damian Lillard is the only player with more total minutes logged over the last five years.

    It has snuck up on us, but Beal may be approaching the downward side of his aging curve. He's in his prime, but the next three or four years are unlikely to be as productive as the last handful. It'd be nice to see him in peak form on a team with a chance to make real playoff noise.

    Beal and the Wizards might credibly view the window from 2013-14 to 2016-17, when they won three playoff series in a four-year span, as the good old days. That's a little discouraging.

Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    Honestly, it was a struggle to include Damian Lillard here.

    While Lillard could certainly use a change of scenery, do we really want him to leave the Portland Trail Blazers?

    If it were to happen, everyone would understand, and no one would label the conspicuously loyal Lillard a turncoat. Still, Dame's departure would be disappointing on some level. It would remove the possibility of Lillard being rewarded for sticking it out with a gratifying, improbable breakthrough championship in Portland.

    But take his situation objectively, and it becomes clearer that he'd be best off exiting sooner than later.

    Per TrueHoop's Henry Abbott: "As an organization, the Blazers have been melting since their playoff exit. Coach Terry Stotts was cut loose. Sources say billionaire Jody Allen plans to sell the team. The Blazers are prominent in trade rumors."

    Add to that the messy hiring of Chauncey Billups as Stotts' replacement, and Portland, for years a paragon of stability and reliably competitive play, looks to be on shaky ground.

    Lillard can point to the Milwaukee Bucks' all-in pursuit of Jrue Holiday, which cost them three first-rounders and two pick swaps, as evidence the Blazers have more resources to exhaust, that there's always a way for a team to get markedly better if it truly has the will to do so.

    The Blazers own all their own first-rounders from 2022 on, so they could mortgage their future to maximize Lillard's present. The longer they go without doing that, the easier it'll be to justify Lillard asking out.

Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    If you didn't expect Ben Simmons to show up here, I'd like to know how you avoided one of the biggest offseason storylines for so long. How deep is the cave you're in, exactly? Do you require search and rescue?

    The necessity of splitting Simmons from the Philadelphia 76ers is undeniable.

    When the team's head coach and franchise player expressed doubt and frustration about him in the aftermath of a playoff defeat, it all but sealed Simmons' fate. The two-time All-Star's reluctance to shoot had been a point of concern for years, but when Simmons actively refused to take part in his team's offense when buckets were needed most, attempting just three fourth-quarter shots in a close seven-game series, it pushed things past the point of no return.

    It's an unfair comparison because Simmons is objectively a worse free-throw shooter (and overall player) than Giannis Antetokounmpo, but the two-time MVP's willingness to keep attacking the basket, despite entire arenas reveling in his struggles at the line, is a perfect foil for Simmons' decision to retreat in a similar situation.

    Yes, Simmons can do a lot to help his team. He's among the league's best and most versatile defenders, he's a dynamite passer with the size to see angles most can't, and he supercharges an offense's transition attack. Wherever he lands, he'll improve those key aspects.

    But the Sixers need more than Simmons can provide. For him and for them, a change of scenery is a must.

Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    If Myles Turner were to change teams, it would hardly come as a shock.

    The Indiana Pacers have tried to move him in the past, and it's difficult to find an NBA team for which he wouldn't be an ideal fit. The combination of his own organization's documented willingness to deal and Turner's extreme portability—rim protectors who can hit threes work anywhere—means a trade should be the expectation.

    We've been weighing the merits of the Turner-Domantas Sabonis pairing for years. Eventually, it has to happen.

    Turner needs a chance to function as a full-time 5, ideally on a team constructed with his game in mind. In Indy, he'll never escape the suboptimal pairing with Sabonis. With those two on the floor together, the Pacers posted a minus-3.8 net rating this past season. That's part of the reason new head coach Rick Carlisle is looking to stagger their minutes going forward.

    Turner isn't a perfect player. He has to rebound better, and the 38.8 percent he shot from deep in 2018-19 looks like an outlier when set against his 34.4 and 33.5 percent hit rates of the last two years. But the 25-year-old plugs in everywhere and is only due $36 million over the next two years of his contract.

    If the Pacers ever get around to splitting up their ill-fitting centers by dealing Turner, he'd be in a better position to thrive—almost by default.

Heading in That Direction: Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    The New Orleans Pelicans' interest in free agent Kyle Lowry, first reported by Marc Stein, suggests they're serious about appeasing Zion Williamson, their 21-year-old franchise cornerstone.

    It also suggests they're desperate.

    Maybe Williamson's official trade demand is a year or two away. Then again, maybe reports of his family's frustration with an organization that parted ways with Stan Van Gundy after just one season, signed Steven Adams to that inexplicable extension and failed to surround Williamson with enough shooting will speed up that timeline.

    It's exceptionally rare for a player to force his way off a team this early in his career. Kristaps Porzingis made it out of New York on his rookie deal, but even he hung around until his fourth season. Williamson would be blazing a new trail by angling for a trade any time soon.

    When a lottery team targets an expensive, 35-year-old guard, it broadcasts an unsettling level of urgency.

    The Pelicans lose stars. Chris Paul and Anthony Davis engineered their own exits, and the early plans for Zion's road out of town already appear to be taking shape.

    Lowry would help, but New Orleans isn't set up to maximize Williamson's game. It lacks shooting, secondary playmaking and wing defense—not to mention a center who can deter opponents at the rim without getting in Zion's way on the other end.

    It's not necessarily easy to build around a ball-handling, suspect-shooting power forward, but the Pelicans are making it look a lot harder than it ought to be.

           

    Stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference and Cleaning the Glass. Salary info via Spotrac.

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