NBA PM: 5 NBA Veterans Who Must Step Up
There comes a time in an NBA player’s career where they have to establish themselves and define their place in the league. This is especially true of players who have a great deal of potential or are acquired with a high draft pick, yet have trouble living up to that potential and/or that pick.
Today, in the first part of a two-part series, we take a look at the first five of ten players who need to have breakout seasons to establish who they are going to be in the NBA.
1) Andrew Bynum, Philadelphia 76ers – For several years now Andrew Bynum has quietly made it known that he wants to be the franchise player on his own team, and now that he’s landed in Philadelphia he has a chance to be just that. The expectations are clear; Bynum is going to lead the Sixers deeper into the playoffs than they have been in years, and hopefully help them compete for a championship. That’s a lot of weight to put on any one player’s shoulders, but Bynum asked for it and now he’s got it. Bynum is coming off of the best season of his career, in which he averaged 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks while appearing in 60 of the Los Angeles Lakers’ 66 games. Considering that he was often the third option in LA behind Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, there is every reason to believe that he can be even better in Philly. If the oft-injured and inconsistent Bynum shows up instead, there will be serious repercussions for the team, as well as for Bynum. Philly sports fans are notoriously unforgiving.
2) Andrew Bogut, Golden State Warriors – Ask any head coach in the NBA about Andrew Bogut and you’ll hear essentially the same thing: he’s one of the best centers in the league. There is always a caveat, of course. He’s considered to be one of the best centers in the NBA when he’s healthy. Among other things, the Milwaukee Bucks got tired of piecing together lineups while Bogut rehabbed the next in a long line of injuries, and finally traded him to the Warriors. The fractured foot that kept Bogut out of all but 12 games last season has all but healed, and he’s talking like someone who is ready to get his career back on track. If he can do that, the Warriors look very much like a playoff team. If he can’t, the Warriors simply become the next team to wonder how good they might be if Bogut every got healthy.
3) Carlos Boozer, Chicago Bulls – When the Bulls acquired Boozer via sign-and-trade from the Utah Jazz, it was thought to be the move that put the Bulls squarely back in the category of perennial NBA Finals participants. He proved to be a 20 and 10 player during his tenure in Utah, and playing alongside Derrick Rose would surely only bring out the best in Boozer. Unfortunately, to date, that hasn’t proven out. He averaged 17.5 points and 9.6 rebounds in his first year with the Bulls and fell off a bit to 15.0 points and 8.5 rebounds last season. The Bulls owned the East’s best record both years, but Boozer was much more a role player than a team leader, and Chicago fans expect a lot more from him than that. The Bulls are going to play a large number of games without the injured Rose this season, and while they have proven that they can win without their captain, they are going to need significant contributions from everyone if they are going to hold their own in an increasingly tough East. Boozer has a chance to step up and be the player the Bulls thought they were getting. If he doesn’t, don’t be surprised if Bulls fans are once again calling for Boozer to be amnestied, as they did over the summer.
4) Roy Hibbert, Indiana Pacers – The Indiana Pacers’ braintrust didn’t walk into free agency believing that Roy Hibbert was a max player. They really didn’t. A good player, yes, and with a work ethic that promised a high upside, but max? Max contract centers are guys like Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum, who have the ability to dominate on both ends of the floor. Hibbert simply is not in that league. Still, when all was said and done, and with the Portland Trail Blazers knocking on the door, the Pacers coughed up the dough for Hibbert. Now it’s up to Roy to prove that their investment was a sound one. Hibbert did have the best year of his career last season, averaging 12.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.0 blocks, and he was named to the All-Star team. Granted, that had a lot to do with the fact that Dwight Howard and Brook Lopez were injured, but Hibbert played very well and was deserving of the honor. Expectations for the Pacers are the highest they’ve been since Reggie Miller retired, and for the team to reach their lofty goals Hibbert is going to need to take the next step in his evolution as a player. He’s now in the unenviable position of being scrutinized for his salary, and he’s going to have to start looking like a max player on the court or risk the ire of the Pacers faithful.
5) Brook Lopez, Brooklyn Nets – The Nets were extremely hopeful that Dwight Howard would be their starting center on opening night, but their backup plan has the potential to be very good, as well. Brook Lopez might not be the low post force that Howard represents, but he is a very capable scorer and has the potential to be one of the best starting centers in the NBA. Before being derailed by injury in the lockout-shortened 2011-12, Lopez appeared in all 82 games of his first three pro seasons and improved on the offensive end each year. He averaged over 20 points per game while shooting just under 50% from the field and 80% from the line in 2010-11, while also blocking 1.5 shots and dishing 1.6 assists per contest. What the Nets need now is for Lopez to make a commitment to being a top ten rebounder in the league, as he managed just 6.0 boards per game in 2010-11. If Lopez can get back to scoring 20 points per game and up his rebounding game, the Nets could challenge the Miami HEAT for Eastern Conference supremacy. If he can’t, the Nets might fall well short of the expectations brought about by their very expensive payroll.
Honorable mention, as chosen by some of HOOPSWORLD’s senior staff: Andre Iguodala, Ben Gordon, Danny Granger, Joakim Noah.
Mark Cuban Explains The Death of A Champion
The Dallas Mavericks were one of the top feel-good stories of 2011 for a number of reasons. First, they beat the NBA’s new villains from Miami in the NBA Finals, endearing the Mavs to the hearts of seemingly every basketball fan outside of Miami. Second, that championship team featured some veterans like Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry and Shawn Marion, who were all deserving of hardware to show for their years of NBA excellence. Finally, it was the first championship in franchise history for the Mavs, and it’s always great to see a first-time winner get a banner.
Since then, however, things have not gone as well for the Mavericks, though their owner says he believes is long-term plan is coming together.
“It’s kind of been according to plan, believe it or not,” Mark Cuban explained on the Ben and Skin Show on ESPN radio. “We went for it, we went out and signed older guys, tried to make sure that their contracts kind of expired at the same time, knowing that they weren’t 21. They weren’t even 31. So, we knew that we couldn’t have the same guys playing forever. We went for it, we won, it was amazing, and then there’s the big changes with the CBA and, honestly, I didn’t think we were going to have a season last year. We kind of hodgepodged it together based off of that.”
It’s been less than a year since the new CBA was adopted, and yet people are already wondering what it really accomplished. Cuban has been quite vocal in saying that the new CBA didn’t solve the big problems, and maintains that stance.
“We certainly didn’t achieve all we needed to achieve. I’ve said it multiple times that in the old CBA, financially, teams were drowning in 10 feet of water, now we’re drowning in two feet of water. It’ll be interesting. Obviously, the Nets just went out and spent a boatload of money. It’ll be interesting to see if that works for them or against them.”
What the Mavericks hodgepodged together when the new CBA dropped into place fell well short of expectations, losing in the first round of the playoffs last season. Still, Cuban takes issue with those who suggest be blew up a championship team.
“As much as you want to think that everything’s going to fall just the way it fell for our championship run, look at the Lakers. They won two and then they got swept and then they blew it up and now look at them. You’ve got to be realistic and recognize that, A, it’s going to be tough to keep all the pieces, and, B, if we would’ve kept all the pieces, that’s our team for a long, long, long time. While it really, really sounds good to think, ‘Yeah, we kept them together,’ well, you look at Detroit. They went to the Conference Finals six years in a row, won one time and, in my opinion, because they tried to reward their guys for having gotten them there so many times, where are they at in the conversation today?”
The big hope for Mavs fans this summer was that the team would land free agent point guard Deron Williams, who met with Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle and GM Donnie Nelson before choosing to return to the Nets long-term.
“Obviously I had a conflict, but I was texting him,” says Cuban of his absence from the meeting. “We were going back and forth quite a bit. … Maybe [I could have made a difference being there], because I always think I can close a sale, but in hindsight I don’t know if I would’ve been happy. I think we’re in a better position now than we would’ve been in if we would’ve gotten him.”
The Mavs were between a rock and a hard place in attempting to sign Williams, as giving him a max deal would have cost the Mavericks most of their ability to make any other roster moves.
“I don’t want to pick on Deron Williams, because he’s a great, great, great, great player. So it’s not necessarily him per se. The conversation we had was, OK, once you take and add $17.1 million in salary to what we have, then what do you do? That’s your squad, and it’s not just your squad for this year, it’s your squad for next year. … So, that was a challenge that we had, because we want to win, and everyone talks about Dirk’s window. Not only would it have been difficult to add players, it also would have been difficult to trade players. In reality, that was the same problem that Deron had.”
As things stand, the Mavericks are a bit of a hodgepodge team heading into 2012-13, as well, and it will take quite a performance from players like Chris Kaman, Elton Brand and Darren Collison if the Mavs are going to keep their 50-win season streak alive and make the playoffs in an ever-tougher Western Conference.
Joe Johnson Talks Brooklyn Nets
The unlikely trade that sent Joe Johnson to Brooklyn may have come as a shock to Atlanta Hawks fans, but Johnson himself recently told Sports Illustrated that he actually got wind of it several days before it went down.
“My agent told me about four or five days before the trade that there was a rumor going around,” Johnson told SI. “He doubted it would happen, but he wanted me to know the rumor was out there. So the day of the trade, probably like 11 a.m., our old GM, Rick Sund, and our GM, Danny Ferry — they were telling me that the rumors were true, and that if anything goes down, it was probably going to go down by 4 p.m. that day. I was like, ‘Cool. It is what it is.’”
Hawks fans are not known as the most rabid around, so Johnson was a little but taken aback by the excitement that greeted him at the press conference for the trade in Brooklyn.
“I’ll tell you what: I’ve been to New York, but I’ve never really been out in New York like that. I had never been to Brooklyn until the press conference, and that was something like I’ve never experienced before. It was unbelievable — all the fans coming out to welcome us. It was something I’ve never been a part of. I had a great time.”
Another shock for Johnson was how much it costs to live in New York, as compared to Atlanta.
“Man, I’m from the south, and you get a lot for your money in the south,” Johnson explained. “I’ve been to New York a few times since the trade, and I’ve looked at about 30 different places. No exaggeration … and I think they are just finding the highest rent prices and taking me to those places.”
There’s little question that the star-laden Nets can generate enough offense to be among the East’s best, but the defensive end is something else. Johnson says it will be a matter of establishing a defensive mentality, especially in Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries.
“It’s just a mindset that you have to embed in those guys. Everyone knows Kris Humphries is a relentless rebounder, and I think both him and Brook Lopez can be good defenders, man. It’s just going to take some time and some communication. It’s going to depend on how bad they want it. But I think everyone is inspired right now by this Brooklyn thing. I know I’m excited. I’m doing things I’ve never done before as far as working out and preparing myself.”
It took the Miami HEAT a year to figure things out before they were ready to win a championship together; Johnson envisions no such learning curve for the Nets.
“That’s what we are shooting for — the ring. There’s no need to sell ourselves short. You talk about gelling and figuring it out, and I think we have the perfect pieces: a great point guard, a great center. I don’t think any of our positions are the same or overlap at all.”
Johnson has no hard feelings towards Hawks fans who applauded the trade because of the size of his contract. He’s just excited to give his all to his new team.
“You just have to tune it out. We had a great squad there. Unfortunately, we got hit by the injury bug last season, with Al [Horford] getting hurt early in the season. It happens. I can take the criticism, as long as I know I’m giving it everything I have.”
Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to insure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @TheRocketGuy, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @alexraskinNYC, @SusanBible, @DPageHoopsWorld , @stevesraptors, @TommyBeer and @YannisHW.
NBA Chats: There is one NBA chat today starting with Yannis Koutroupis who will drop his weekly chat at 11am EST. Yannis serves as a Senior NBA Writer and the College Basketball Editor for HOOPSWORLD so get your questions in early as Yannis’ chats fill up fast. You can always find the next upcoming chat here: Upcoming NBA Chats or if you are looking for a chat that already completed try here: Previous NBA Chats