Heard a rumor today about Stephon Marbury that was a little surprising. Apparently Steph is thinking about ending his illustrious playing career in Italy after his contract with the Knicks is up next year. Which got me to thinking about how much Marbury appears to have changed nowadays compared to when he first came into the league. Back then he was mostly seen as a player who was supremely gifted but needed an ego check, now he's kind of seen almost as the prototype NBA player/role model, probably mainly due to his much publicized affordable shoe line for kids. But then that also got me thinking about his lost potential. Starbury was supposed to be the next great point guard (along with J. Kidd) and blow up the leauge with his spectacular play but has never made it beyond the first round of the playoffs. That got me to thinking that there have been a lot of players like that, that came and went in the leauge. Their careers started off on fire but eventually cooled off so much that people forgot about how tight they used to be. So in honor of Steph thinking about playing in Italy here is my list of the top ten Woulda Shoulda Coulda NBA players (in my lifetime) with a brief descrip of what qualifies them:
10. Shawn Kemp - most often remembered for the number of kids he has or for the drug dependancy problems he had towards the end of his career, he used to be the RainMan, the ManChild. There was a time when he was considered the most explosive exciting player in the leauge next to Jordan, known for posterizing opponents in games with the type of dunks usually only seen on the playground. In fact if not for Jordan he probably would've got a ring with that Sonics squad (Perkins, Kemp, Shrempf, Hawkins, Payton, pretty good five). Averaged double figures points and rebounds 6 of 14 seasons, was on the original DreamTeam, automatic perennial All-Star.
9. Jamal Mashburn - is he still a tv studio analyst? I've lost track of Mash since he had to retire after chronic knee problems. But man don't you remember the Monster Mash!? Seriously hyped up coming out of Kentucky he fufilled all expectations in his first few years until the injuries started. It became a given that no matter how big a first half he had, he would be sidelined by the All-Star break. Still averaged 19.1 over 11 seasons.
8. Larry Johnson - Grandmama! The only player who could make a character like that work. You might have laughed at the dress, wig, and glasses but you would still be dunked on mercilessly. After the back injuries though his whole game changed because he just didn't have that lift anymore. He was like Barkley on steroids during the Grandmama days (few remember he was only 6'7" at the most). At least he went out with a bang.
7. Bernard King - How is this guy not in the Hall of Fame? One of the most prolific scorers of the '80's he also had bad luck with injuries, career 22.9 ppg average. On most of the teams he was on he was the only real scoring option routinely double and triple teamed and he still was shitting on n*$$&z. I remember watching tv profiles of him and how when they interviewed opposing coaches they would just shake their heads in amazement of how they could do nothing to stop him. By the end of his career his greatness was pretty much forgotten but this YouTube clip says it all.
6. Roy Tarpley - that's right I'm digging down deep. I remember when Roy first came out of college because that was the year I really started becoming more than a casual fan of the NBA. He was expected to be a solid player but no thought he would dominate the way he started to show he could. With Roy that Dallas team was starting to give the Lakers something to worry about (starting five included Tarpley, Rolando Blackman, Derek Harper, Mark Aguirre man the '80's NBA was good!). But now he's just remembered for being the first player banned from the leauge for substance abuse. View this obscure footage of him in action.
5. Ralph Sampson - I don't think anyone remembers anymore that in the midst of the Lakers and Celtics meeting in the finals like 8 times in the '80's there was one year the Rockets shocked everyone and got to the finals in '85-'86 with the Twin Towers. When Sampson's playing career is mentioned now it is usually in the context of a joke, but check out his stats his first three years in the leauge before the knee problems: '83-'84, 22 ppg 11 rpg; '84-'85 22 and 10; '85-'86 18 and 11 (Olajuwon was there by then). Once again YouTube backs me up. I've never seen Magic and Kareem look so frustrated.
4. Stephon Marbury - Gotta include him because he inspired the post. Career stats are guady 19.9 ppg, 7.9 apg. Remember his freshman year at Georgia Tech? Like I said he was supposed to be the next Magic, Isiah, Big O, etc. but for some reason he never reached that potential. He's not even really mentioned in a discussion of the premier point guards in the leauge anymore and hasn't been since the trade that swapped him and J. Kidd. From that clip to now if that isn't wasted potential I don't know what is.
3. Ron Harper - I'm putting him on the list because I used to be so frustrated that he used to be pretty much viewed as one of the players that just rode Jordan's (and Shaq/Kobe) coattails to get his rings like he was Jud Buechler or Dickie Simpkins. People just forgot how he used to be the man on a great Cavs team (Price, Harper, Daughtery, Nance, Gerald Wilkins) and that when he got traded to the Clips he was commonly known as the 'West Coast Jordan' before a knee injury robbed him of his explosiveness. Need proof?
2. Reggie Lewis - I'll bet no one (besides ESPN's Bill Simmons) really remembers the promise of Reggie Lewis. I'll let this page at answers.com tell the story best:
"At the time of Bird's retirement former Celtics guard Chris Ford was the coach of the Celtics. 26-year old Reggie Lewis (out of Boston's Northeastern University) was seen as Bird's successor as the franchise player for the Celtics. In Bird's final season it was Lewis who led the team in scoring, and he made his first All-Star appearance in the 1992 All-Star game. Lewis, a small forward, fainted during a 1993 first round playoff matchup with the Charlotte Hornets. It was later revealed that Lewis had heart problems, yet he was able to get doctors to clear him for a comeback. He died of a heart attack after participating in a pickup basketball game during the offseason. The Celtics honored his memory during the following season by retiring his number 35." 6 seasons 17.6 ppg average. Almost forgot a clip. (the other guy in this clip could've been on this list too)
1. Grant Hill - Most of the time when Grant's career is talked about people characterize him as a "solid player" like he was just mediocre. I used to hate Grant when he was in college because I hated Duke, but as his fate in the NBA began to unfold I began to identify with him more and more. He lived up to all the hype coming out of college (I wish the Buck had selected him with the first pick that year instead of Glenn Robinson). After his first few years he was regularly referred to as a sure fire future HOF'er. He was supposed to be the cornerstone on which to rebuild the Pistons in the post-Bad Boy era. He was one of the first players to be heralded as the "next Jordan". And to top it off he was a stand-up guy worthy of being idolized by kids (and he somehow managed to land fine ass Tamia). But that nice guy demeanor turned out to be his downfall. '98-'99 before the playoffs Grant runs into a severly sprained ankle. Realizing the Pistons will go nowhere in the playoffs without him(and afraid of being labeled 'soft' by Detroit fans), he gamely continues to play on the sprained ankle until it fractures. After that it's pretty much a wrap as ankle problems have plagued him ever since. He was Rookie of the Year! He used to get more All-Star votes than Jordan! But to this day even Piston's fans downplay how good he was because they are still mad that he went to Orlando as a free agent, even though he literally gave his all for that team. Disgraceful. Let's take one more look at the greatness of Grant Hill.
Update: Quick addition to this list
11. Steve Francis - don't know how I could have missed putting him on this list. I just began to really pay attention to that trade today and I was reading Fox Sport's Charley Rosen's view on it when it struck me that he's really the definition of this list. Rosen points out how when he came into the league he quickly established himself as not only one of the most gifted point guards but one of the best players in the league with his natural abilities. But now at 30, time and injuries have exposed the holes in his game. He's still trying to play defense by jumping the passing lanes but he isn't quick enuff with his reactions anymore. On the offensive end he's still hanging around inside trying to get putbacks (always was a good rebounder for a guard) but his knees won't let him. He also had one of the best nicknames in NBA history "Stevie Franchise"