18. LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS: BENOIT BENJAMIN
At this point, we’re preparing for the eventuality that the Clippers may be back on the road to mediocrity, or worse, outright awfulness. But during Donald Sterling’s long reign of terror as the Clips’ owner, the team fielded a motley crew of busts, underachievers, washed-up vets, and out-and-out wasted talents. Guys like Benoit Benjamin, whom the Clippers picked over the likes of Chris Mullin and Karl Malone as the 3rd pick in the 1985 draft.
To be fair, Benjamin looked like an exciting prospect out of mid-major Creighton, thanks to his size and potential as a two-way force. And his numbers with the Clippers weren’t all that bad. But he never got to shake his reputation as a soft underachiever. By the time the Clips finally gave up on Benjamin in 1991, it was time to go downhill, as he became a certified NBA nomad, playing for eight (!!!) teams over the next nine seasons.
17. LOS ANGELES LAKERS: DENNIS RODMAN
Going back to our Celtics entry on Bob McAdoo, we must remind you that playing only 20 or so games in a season doesn’t absolve you from “wasted talent” status, as long as you stayed long enough on the team (and 20 games is long enough) to make any kind of impact. In Dennis Rodman’s case, the former Pistons/Spurs/Bulls bad boy/NBA resident weirdo played just 23 games for the Lakers in the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, but it was long enough for him to disrupt chemistry on a team that already had Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. Who, as you should remember, oftentimes didn’t get along.
Rodman obviously wasn’t the missing piece in the puzzle to help the Shaq/Kobe Lakers win some titles. Worse, he was clearly dogging it, to the tune of 11.2 rebounds per game (low by the Worm’s standards), and an abysmal 2.1 points per game and 34.8 percent clip from the field. He then moved on to Dallas for his final NBA season, which was even shorter (at 12 games), yet even more troublesome for the Mavs coaching staff that had to deal with his antics.
16. MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES: BRYANT REEVES
To be a bit fair to “Big Country” Bryant Reeves, hardly anyone was expecting him to be a star at Oklahoma – he was a legit 7-footer, albeit a very raw, small-town project. But he went on to become a star for the Sooners, and parlayed that into a 6th-overall selection in the 1995 NBA draft, becoming the Vancouver Grizzlies’ first-ever draft pick. He had a solid first two seasons, and that convinced Grizz management to give him a rich six-year, $61 million deal as their franchise center.
Reeves’ first year in that new contract was another solid one, but in the years that followed, weight and back issues combined to cut his career short to a mere six years. In the end, it was millions of wasted dollars for the Grizzlies, and a ton of wasted talent for someone who could have at least eked out a longer career (as long as his back would have allowed) if he had probably slimmed down to 260 from his usual 280-plus pounds.
15. MIAMI HEAT: MICHAEL BEASLEY
As the 2nd-overall pick in the 2008 NBA draft, Michael Beasley was expected to be beastly, pardon the bad pun. He was joining a Heat team that went 17-65 the year prior, and even with a healthy Dwyane Wade expected to suit up, many were looking forward to the 6’10” Kansas State product making an immediately awesome impact. Instead, what Miami fans got was a mostly one-dimensional volume shooter whose character issues from college oftentimes flared up, as evidenced by multiple team-imposed fines.
Heat management had had it with Beasley after just two seasons, and while he initially proved them wrong with a career-best 19.2 ppg in his first season in Minnesota, he would soon return to his original role as a rookie – instant offense off the bench. He’s just 28 as of this writing, and fresh off another similar role for the Milwaukee Bucks, so there’s still time for him to live up to his potential. But for now, he’s another example of a player whose attitude limited him to a good career, instead of the great, Kevin Durant-esque career expected out of him.
14. MILWAUKEE BUCKS: LARRY SANDERS
Larry Sanders was the 15th pick in the 2010 NBA draft, and he was a huge defensive presence for the Milwaukee Bucks, averaging a career-high 9.8 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks in 2012-13. Now these aren’t great numbers, especially on offense, but the kid had huge potential, only for him to blow it through off-court incidents. And while I’m not the type to argue that weed always leads to a wasted NBA career, it was rather irresponsible of Sanders to have two positive marijuana tests (and two suspensions) in the 2014-15 season.
Citing issues with anxiety and depression, Sanders essentially retired from basketball after his second weed suspension, only aged 26 at the time. He would then make a 5-game comeback for the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2017 before getting waived. Apparently, he was still the same head case he was during his tumultuous last two seasons in Milwaukee, with his desire to play still falling far short of his talent.
13. MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES: CHRISTIAN LAETTNER
Christian Laettner didn’t have as good an NBA career as what you would expect from the 3rd pick in the 1992 NBA draft, and the only college player in the 1992 “Dream Team” that dominated that year’s Olympics. While he was a big-time contributor for the moribund, pre-KG Minnesota Timberwolves, he wasn’t happy in the losing environment of the time, and it manifested through unprofessional behavior and frequent clashes with the T-Wolves coaching staff. As such, they were probably glad to see him go when he and Sean Rooks were traded to Atlanta in 1996, for journeyman center Andrew Lang and a past-his-prime Spud Webb.
Although Laettner made his only All-Star Game appearance for the Hawks in 1996-97, it was downhill from there, as he would spend the rest of his 13-year NBA career bouncing from team to team. What could have been a first-ballot Hall of Fame career turned out to be a merely solid one, and you can chalk up a lot of that to Laettner’s attitude.