Every NBA Team’s Biggest Waste Of Talent
It takes a special kind of talent to even make an NBA roster. And you need to be even more special to become a star player in the NBA, someone whom you can count on to add to the stat sheet, and more importantly, to the win column. But what happens when one avoidable factor or another contributes to a player becoming a disappointment for his team or a pariah to the fans? It’s simple – that talent gets wasted, not only for the fans expecting much more, but also for management, who paid a handsome sum to sign or re-sign said player.
When qualifying “wasted talent,” I didn’t want to look at NBA busts who came in with a ton of expectations, yet didn’t even come close to tasting stardom – guys like Chris Washburn, Kwame Brown, or Ed O’Bannon. What makes a talent truly wasted is if he comes into the NBA, has quite a productive run for a while, yet sabotages his career not through injuries alone, if applicable, but mainly through his own doing – it could be drugs, alcohol, feuds with coaches, laziness, or miscellaneous attitude problems. That’s why you also won’t be seeing the likes of Brandon Roy in here, as he was a solid citizen cursed with two bad knees, and nothing more to greatly abbreviate his stellar pro career.
So with that said, let’s look at all 30 NBA teams, and see which player was the biggest wasted talent of all-time on those teams.
30. ATLANTA HAWKS: EDDIE JOHNSON
Despite being a mere 3rd-round pick in 1977, “Fast” Eddie Johnson wasted little time establishing himself as the Atlanta Hawks’ starting point guard. Aside from living up to his name with his blazing speed, Johnson was arguably more known for his scoring ability, also excelling as an undersized shooting guard when playing alongside the likes of Charlie Criss, and later on future Clippers coach Doc Rivers.
What casual fans didn’t know was that Johnson was becoming more of a mess off the court as his career progressed, serving several suspensions due to his cocaine addiction. After being traded to Cleveland midway through the 1985-86 season, and spending his final pro season in Seattle, Johnson was permanently banned from the NBA. He’s now doing a lifetime jail sentence without parole, over a series of sexual assault charges.
29. BOSTON CELTICS: BOB MCADOO
Does a quarter of a season with one team qualify one to be said team’s biggest wasted talent of all-time? If your name is Bob McAdoo, then it might. By the time he joined the Boston Celtics late in the 1978-79 season, he had played in five All-Star Games, won three scoring titles, and won league MVP honors. But at that point, he was only 27 and looking more and more like a flash in the pan. Sure, he averaged over 20 ppg for Boston, but these were largely garbage stats for a pre-Larry Bird Celtics team that went just 29-53. It didn’t help either that McAdoo had a lingering reputation as a selfish, stats-first malcontent.
McAdoo’s next two NBA stops (Detroit and New Jersey) were even more unproductive for a man of his talent, but when the Nets traded him to the Los Angeles Lakers for a 2nd-round pick on the day before Christmas, 1981 – a sign of how far his stock had fallen – it was the perfect holiday present. McAdoo’s minutes and numbers were down as a Lakers 6th/7th man, but he was finally happy, and much more of a team player than he ever was in the past.
28. BROOKLYN NETS: MICHEAL RAY RICHARDSON
There was great interest in Micheal Ray Richardson from the moment the New York Knicks picked him 4th-overall in 1978 – he was, after all, hyped up to be the “next Walt Frazier.” And just like Clyde, he would excel as a combo guard who could score, pass, and hound the hell out of his opponents on defense. He was then traded to the Golden State Warriors in 1982-83, then shipped to the New Jersey Nets midway through that season after an underwhelming 33 games in the Bay Area. And it was in the Garden State where Micheal Ray had his best NBA season, averaging 20.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 8.2 apg, and 3.0 spg in 1984-85.
Sadly, Richardson’s career renaissance was short-lived, as his drug problems finally came to a head with a two-year NBA ban in 1986. He chose not to return to the NBA when he became eligible for reinstatement in 1988, and while he did get clean like many others in this list, that potential Hall of Fame career literally went up his nose, to say the least.
27. CHARLOTTE HORNETS: LANCE STEPHENSON
Lance Stephenson was seemingly on the verge of NBA stardom after the 2013-14 season with the Pacers. Aside from averaging a well-rounded 13.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg, and 4.6 apg, he reached peak notoriety when he blew into LeBron James’ ear during the Eastern Conference Finals. Oh, we still remember those antics, don’t we? But they might as well be forgotten, because the rich contract Stephenson signed with the Hornets in 2014 proved that he wasn’t, well, “Born Ready” for the next level of stardom.
Although injuries contributed to Stephenson’s lack of productivity in his lone season as a Hornet, his attitude also left a lot to be desired, as he all too often appeared to be dogging it. Save for a brief period of productivity for the Memphis Grizzlies, Stephenson was largely an afterthought thereafter, and as a sign of how far the nearly-mighty had fallen, he split the 2016-17 season playing 6 games each for three teams. Let’s see how long he lasts with the Pacers in his second go-around in Indiana.
26. CHICAGO BULLS: RAJON RONDO
And now, we’ve got another modern-day example for you. Although it seemed like Rajon Rondo would have the starting point guard job handed to him on a silver platter when he joined the Bulls in 2016-17, he would eventually lose that starting job on account of three things – one, his attitude, two, nagging injuries, and three, Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg’s aversion to traditional point guards in the starting lineup.
After averaging just 7.8 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 6.7 assists – pretty much his worst numbers since his rookie year, Rondo was waived. Now 31 years old, he’s now a New Orleans Pelican for the 2017-18 season, but we’re not expecting him to return to his glory days as a Celtic. Not close. Instead, we’re looking forward to another extended stint on the bench for this once-brilliant point guard, this time as Jrue Holiday’s backup.
25. CLEVELAND CAVALIERS: DELONTE WEST
Delonte West’s eccentric and oftentimes troublesome behavior as an NBA player could possibly be chalked up to his bipolar disorder, which we could get. Still, it’s hard to say whether he was regularly getting help for this all-too-serious issue, which is what puts him in this list as a highly debatable case. West’s off-the-court troubles can be blamed for his rather short, eight-year NBA career, which included two and a half seasons for the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he enjoyed a productive stint as a 3-and-D combo guard alongside the pre-“Decision” LeBron James. Whose mother he allegedly slept with.
West could have easily been useful beyond the 2011-12 season, which is when he last played in the NBA. Instead, he’s got his varied shenanigans partly to blame for the fact that he’s spent the last five seasons globetrotting, if not making appearances in the D-League, and getting into even more trouble off the court. Here’s hoping West is indeed getting the help he needs, as recent reports have claimed.