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The NBA’s Most Depressing Players of 2008

Vince Carter, an All-Star and quite depressing

Vince Carter Photo Credit: Icon SMI

Vince Carter, G, New Jersey Nets

The rest of the players on our list are but footnotes to the King of Depressing Players, Mr. Vince Carter. It goes far beyond his on-court performance, the lack of substantially positive results his teams have met with over the years, and the individual accolades and reputation he’s accrued over the years for being what many consider a primetime scorer. No, it’s much deeper than that, and to find it all you have to do is look into the man’s eyes during a random Tuesday or Wednesday night regular-season game… especially when his moribund New Jersey Nets are playing a, say, Charlotte Bobcats or Milwaukee Bucks.

They say the eyes are a window into the soul, and if that’s true, we see a broken man when we see VC. And folks, we don’t tune into the revered NBA League Pass on a nightly basis to watch broken men put up 25 points in a losing effort on a bad team. It ruins our night, sucks the flavor out of our take-out sushi, and turns our red wine into sour, syrupy goo.

The last man standing in New Jersey from the old “Big Three,” VC and the Nets are tied at the hip for the foreseeable future after they gave him a ludicrous contract extension that’ll pay him $48.8 million the next three seasons, with a team option for $18 million in 2011. Unless they give Kevin McHale a call up in Minnesota, that basically equates to an untradeable contract. It was a desperate move by a desperate franchise that’s made exactly one good move–trading Jason Kidd for a package headlined by Devin Harris–in a long time. If LeBron doesn’t come in 2010… oh, we cringe at the thought. It’s just too depressing to think about a team led by VC in his mid-30s.

Ben Wallace, C, Cleveland Cavaliers

He should have finished out his career in Detroit for less money; the precipitous decline in his once-famous across-the-board stat-stuffing from the moment he donned that Chicago Bulls jersey for the first time would have been a lot easier to stomach. Instead, we’re left with this version of Ben Wallace, the 25th highest-paid player in the NBA (he makes more than teammate LeBron James, for one). He’s a man who’s seen his per-game averages in rebounds, steals, and blocks–the three categories he staked his reputation on during those All-Star years with the Pistons–fall off a cliff. Oh, he’s also scoring even less than he used to… and we’re talking about a career 6.4 point/per player here.

Of course, Big Ben is also playing less, too, but that’s because he’s simply not nearly as effective overall at doing all the small things exceptionally well as he used to be. At 34 years old, there’s just not much left in the tank, and every time that famous Big Ben gong sounds in Cleveland, it’s more a sad reminder of what used to be than anything else. An undrafted underdog out of Virginia Union, Wallace won a NBA title and a slew of Defensive Player of the Year awards to go along with those All-Star selections. For a six-year stretch, he was the face of one of the NBA’s most successful franchises. Seeing him now fighting for playing time with the likes of Anderson Varejao is something we’d rather not endure.

More of the NBA’s most depressing players after the jump…

Tracy McGrady, G/F, Houston Rockets

T-Mac, the 7th most well-compensated player in the league with a salary of $21.1 million this season, is finally, definitively, facing a make-or-break year. He was supposed to be ready to carry his team to at least a first-round victory in each of the past, oh, three seasons, but it never happened for various excuses reasons: Yao was out. He himself wasn’t even close to 100%. His teammates were too young / too small / too inexperienced. The coaching wasn’t great.

Well, there are no excuses this year with him surrounded by one of the strongest supporting casts of his career. McGrady is clearly not the explosive player we’ve seen over the years, and his positively slow start to the season is not a good omen for his chances of finally, after 11 NBA seasons, advancing past the first round of the playoffs.

That’s a well-known criticism of McGrady that we’ll spare you much rehashing and discussion about, but it really does bear pause: never in his entire career has a player some have ranked in the top-10 in the league been able to rise up and carry his team past anybody when it counts. Never. Not once.

That’s obviously depressing as it is. A look at his individual stats through 10 games, then, is like piling fresh shit on top of a long-decomposing manure pile: 38% FG (career low), 4.8 boards (lowest since rookie season), 4.8 assists (lowest since 2000), 0.3 blocks (lowest since 2001), 16.7 points (lowest since 1999). Sadly, T-Mac is also suffering a bit from the VC Eyes Syndrome, and that is not a good thing whatsoever.

Bruce Bowen, F, San Antonio Spurs

Outside of the corner three-pointer, Bowen has never been mistaken as an offensive threat. Still, the eight-time NBA All-Defensive Team selection took nearly three games to score his first field goal of the season; thus far he’s averaging a paltry 3.4 points, 2.6 boards, 0.5 steals, and 2.3 FG attempts per in eight contests–all career lows since his 1999-00 season that was split between the Philadelphia 76ers and Miami Heat. Worse yet, the 37-year-old Bowen just isn’t having the same kind of consistent defensive impact he’s hung his hat on during this amazing decade of dominance for the San Antonio Spurs.

The fact that he’s no longer the defensive stopper he used to be, and that the Spurs aren’t going to realistically compete for a title this season, makes Bowen’s lingering presence in San Antonio a little sad. This franchise’s stubborn refusal to do any sort of meaningful retooling of their aging roster seems to finally be coming back to bite them, and though he’s certainly not to blame for that, Bowen is representative of it. Owed $4 million annually for this season and next, we can’t blame Bowen for not walking away from two big, final paychecks, but last summer would have been a good time for him to call it a day. Instead… this. Ugh.

Bruce Bowen, depressing

Richard “Peanut” Jefferson, F, Milwaukee Bucks

There’s something appropriate about Peanut landing in Milwaukee; it’s the perfect marriage of a perpetually depressing player joining one of the most depressing franchises in all of the NBA. Yes, he’s played for the Team USA Olympic team, he’s even played in the NBA Finals, but there’s absolutely nothing about RJ and his one-trick pony game that says anything more than mediocrity to either of us here at ETB.

And we know there’s a lot of you out there that disagree with us. Hey, this is a career 17.4 points/per scorer we’re talking about, right? He’s shot 47% for his career and was one-third of New Jersey’s “Big Three.” That’s all well and good, but he’s also a player who hasn’t done much to contribute to a winning cause in a long, long time either. Sure, he can put the ball in the basket, but given 39 minutes a night and 16 field-goal attempts, most NBA players with marginal offensive talent can too; give Gerald Green the same opportunity and you’re going to get relatively similar results.

And despite his obvious desire to still be considered an elite talent who can carry a team, he just isn’t. Elite players don’t shrink under the spotlight as often as he does, like during last Saturday’s overtime loss to the Boston Celtics when he couldn’t do anything right during the extra stanza. It all adds up to a player whose incessant whining, flopping, and flailing makes for one seriously joyless watch on a mostly joyless team.

Jerome James, C, New York Knicks

An unheralded 7-1 man joins the NBA in 1998 after being drafted in the second round by the Sacramento Kings. He never averages more than 5.4 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks/per until the 2005 NBA playoffs, when over the course of two series he scores in double digits and flirts with a double-double eight times. In fact, at times he suddenly looks dominant for the Seattle Supersonics, such as in Game 1 against the team that drafted him when he finished with 17 points, 15 boards, and 5 blocks.

Of course, it was a contract year, but surely those relatively impressive performances had more to do with James busting out and announcing his arrival on the NBA stage then just auditioning for a bloated payday… right? Well, that little hoodwinking of Zeke Thomas and the NY Knicks sure worked out well for him and his agent–a five-year, $30 million deal–but not so much for his new team. A permanent fixture at the very end of New York’s bench, James averaged about 2.5 points, 1.8 boards, 0.4 blocks, and about 8 minutes/per during his first three seasons at MSG, three seasons in which he’s played in a total of 87 games. It’s unlikely he’ll even equal those numbers in this, the fourth year of his gift that keeps on giving from Knicks management. Only 1 1/2 more years to go, Knicks fans. Only 1 1/2 more years.

Joe Smith, F/C, Oklahoma City Thunder

Somebody please get Joe Smith off the OKC Thunder’s roster. Release him, trade him, buy him out, offer him his full $4.8 million salary to just watch the games from the locker room–there’s absolutely nothing worse than a veteran on the tailend of a mediocre career that never lived up to billing floundering away on a team as bad as the Thunder are.

Though he’s still an effective post player at 33 years young, the former first-overall pick has been reduced to stop-gap status in Oklahoma City, a 20-minutes-a-night vet whose modest contributions could mean something to a playoff contender, but here mean nothing but helping keep the Thunder within 25 points in the second half. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent next year, and is all but guaranteed to join his tenth franchise since being taken at the top of the draft in 1995 by the Golden State Warriors. That you just know that lucky #10 likely won’t be his last stop, either, makes his impending move even sadder than it already is.

Shaquille O’Neal, C, Phoenix Suns

Loyal ETB readers know there’s no love lost here for one of the league’s dirtiest players of all-time. I’ve already written at length about O’Neal’s casual rascist remarks over the years, his over-the-top braggadacio that most major media outlets choose to frame as innocent jokery, and the downright dangerous elbows, body blows, and cheap shots he’s so fond of delivering to his opponents.

But you can read all about that stuff here; on a strictly performance level, O’Neal’s ongoing belief that he’s still the game’s most dominant force is what lands him on this list of the NBA’s most depressing players (seeing this 325-pound lug wearing a purple jersey doesn’t help either). In the words of wise man ‘Sheed Wallace, “that ball don’t lie.”

Yes, he can still power dunk with the best of them and has been dialing back Father Time’s clock lately with some nice performances in Phoenix. But his output has undergone a steep decline these past 4 seasons or so, and watching him huff and puff up and down the court at 36 years old (and getting fatter than Chris Webber in his new NBA TV gig) is a bit depressing to those of us who remember his high-flying, above-the-rim days with the Orlando Magic.

And really–it’s a little unbelievable that after all these years as a professional basketball player, one who’s called himself “The NBA’s Most Dominant Force” for a long time now, he still never bothered to learn how to shoot free-throws or to score anywhere outside the paint. Honestly, when was the last time you saw him hit a jump shot? I know, I know–he doesn’t need to. Hogwash.

Jamaal Magloire, C, Miami Heat

We’ve all heard the “Big Cat” apologists trot this line out every time he lays a big ol’ basketball egg and is subsequently released and signed by another team desperate for end-of-the-bench depth: “He was an All-Star 4 years ago, and he’s still only 30 years old.” That’s nice, it really is–but the cold, hard facts surrounding this former NBA talent prove that his best days are far, far behind him. In fact, his days of offering any sort of, well, anything seem over and done with too.

The Miami Heat mark the sixth team Magloire’s been employed by in the past four seasons… and he’s currently out until at least sometime in December with a fractured hand. An All-Star during the 2003-04 campaign when he averaged 13.7 points, 10.3 boards, and 1.2 blocks in playing in all 82 games, Magloire has since bounced around between the Bucks, Trail Blazers, Mavericks, and Nets as a stop-gap solution that could never live up to low expectations. Whether he’s lost his passion for the game or just plain lost it, Magloire is barely hanging onto a roster spot. Though in today’s NBA it basically equates to chump change, he’ll make $570,919 this year for simply being a depressing presence on the otherwise much-improved Heat.

Chucky Atkins, PG, Denver Nuggets

This season just might be the last season in the NBA for this journeyman point guard, and though if anything else he’s proven to be a gamer over the years, Atkins is another one of these players desperately hanging onto a roster spot that really should go to a younger, hungrier prospect. Since joining the Denver Nuggets–his seventh team in nine seasons–the 34-year-old, pint-sized PG has played in a whopping 24 of 90 regular-season games due to injury; his latest malady, a surgically repaired right knee, has him out indefinitely with no definitive timetable for his return announced.

He’s on the last year of a contract that’ll see him collect $3.4 million for simply rehabbing his knee and sitting on the bench in a well-tailored suit, and you have to believe the Nuggets–or any other reasonable team with a plan for the future–won’t be in a hurry to sign an aging, undersized, injury-prone guard sporting a career field-goal percentage of 41.5%. Seeing him languishing on the bench in street clothes makes us sad enough as it is, but if he comes back and reinjures himself again, we just might never be able to watch another Nuggets game until he’s been removed from the public eye.

Other Players Who Make Us Sad:

– Mark Madsen, F, Minnesota Timberwolves
– Austin Croshere, F, Milwaukee Bucks
– Sean May, F, Charlotte Bobcats
– Jeff Foster, F/C, Indiana Pacers
– Quentin Richardson, G, New York Knicks
– Tony Battie, C, Orlando Magic
– Mark Blount, C, Miami Heat
– Chris Mihm, C, Los Angeles Lakers
– Robert Horry, F, San Antonio Spurs (?)
– Michael Finley, G/F, San Antonio Spurs
– Donyell Marshall, F, Philadelphia 76ers
– Jerry Stackhouse, G, Dallas Mavericks
– Lorenzen Wright, C, Cleveland Cavaliers
– Desmond Mason, F, Oklahoma City Thunder
– Stephon Marbury, PG New York Knicks (Reader’s Pick)
– Darius Miles, F, ex-Portland Trail Blazers (Reader’s Pick)
– Brian Cook, F, Orlando Magic (Reader’s Pick)
– Adam Morrison, G/F, Charlotte Bobcats (Reader’s Pick)
– Steve Francis, G, Houston Rockets (Reader’s Pick)
– Zydrunas Ilgauskas, C, Cleveland Cavaliers (Reader’s Pick)
– Al Harrington, F/C, Golden State Warriors (Reader’s Pick)
– Ron Artest, F, Houston Rockets (Reader’s Picks)




Bruce Bowen Photo Credit: Icon SMI

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