6. PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS: SHAWN KEMP
As a Seattle SuperSonic, Shawn Kemp was the “Reign Man,” a strong, athletic power forward who could virtually do it all. He was a force inside when he teamed with Gary Payton on those successful Sonics teams of the ’90s, and even when his weight began to balloon after a trade sent him to Cleveland, he still had good, and even great numbers to hide his growing disinterest in the game. Then he became a Portland Trail Blazer, or should we say, Jail Blazer, and that’s when his career truly began heading south.
Not only was Kemp battling weight problems as a Blazer, he was also dealing with a growing addiction to cocaine and alcohol. And with his laziness truly showing, it finally reflected in his numbers, as Kemp’s two worst NBA seasons were the ones he spent in Portland. He closed out his career in Orlando, and while his numbers were slightly better, it was clear that his vices (drugs, booze, presumably food) clouded what could have been a surefire shot at the Hall of Fame.
5. SACRAMENTO KINGS: PHIL FORD
Phil Ford’s case is a rather obscure one, but a sad one nonetheless, as he had quickly gone from bona fide superstar and Second Team All-NBA selection to journeyman who couldn’t even muster double figures. The decline started in Ford’s fourth season, his last in Kansas City (where the Kings played in before moving to Sacramento), as he went from 17.5 ppg and 8.8 apg to just 9.9 and 6.3, despite not losing his starting job nor sitting out extended periods due to injury. Allegedly, Ford was battling a drinking problem around that time, while also unable to adjust to the Kings’ switch to a more deliberate style of play.
Ford’s NBA career never recovered, and by his final season in 1984-85, he was down to just 1.8 points and 2.4 assists per game, and out of the NBA at the age of 28. (The Rockets waived him in December 1984.) He would go on to enjoy more success as an assistant coach for his alma mater, the North Carolina Tar Heels, and even served as an assistant for the Charlotte Bobcats in the late-2000s.
4. SAN ANTONIO SPURS: WALTER BERRY
Statistically speaking, Walter Berry was the epitome of young up-and-comer for the San Antonio Spurs in 1987-88, averaging 17.4 points and 5.5 rebounds in less than 30 minutes a game for a struggling Spurs team that was still waiting for 1987 top draftee David Robinson to finish up with his Navy commitments. But he was an absolute headache to Spurs coach Larry Brown, as the original “Truth” (well before Paul Pierce assumed the nickname) didn’t play defense, and made no apologies for his lack of fundamentals.
Berry’s crummy, me-first attitude essentially turned him into persona non grata in the NBA, as he was out of the league in 1989, aged only 24, after splitting his third and last NBA season with the Nets and the Rockets. He did, however, have a very productive overseas career, playing in the international circuit until his retirement in 2002.
3. TORONTO RAPTORS: KEON CLARK
Former UNLV big man Keon Clark had a pretty average, if short NBA career, and you may even call him a mild disappointment for someone drafted 13th-overall in 1998. But he was showing a lot of promise in the season-and-a-half he spent with the Toronto Raptors, including one full season (2001-02) where he averaged 11.5 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks despite being a part-time starter. Heck, he even set the Raptors single-game blocked shot record, with a 12-block game late in the 2000-01 season!
What’s simultaneously amazing and disappointing is Clark’s later admission that he may have done all that while under the influence of booze. Clark claims he “never played a game sober” in the NBA, and by 2013, he was sentenced to an 8-year prison sentence for weapons charges. Had he stayed sober, he just might have spent twice as many years (at least) than the six seasons he played in the NBA.
2. UTAH JAZZ: JOHN DREW
In an era when the NBA’s simplistic, uptempo play style allowed a plethora of super scorers to thrive, John Drew was one of the best. Scoring was a way of life for this 6’6″ forward, who starred for the Atlanta Hawks for several seasons, before joining the Utah Jazz in 1982. It was there where his cocaine habit became more than public knowledge, as he missed almost all of the 1982-83 season due to drug rehab. One season later, he was ostensibly clean as a whistle, and won the NBA’s Comeback Player of the Year award, averaging an unthinkable 17.7 points in just 22 minutes a game!
Drew, however, would relapse big-time by 1985, and one year later, he got a permanent ban after numerous drug arrests and drug policy violations. He’s since cleaned up, though it’s hard to say if he’s making a comfortable living these days, as reports have suggested he’s been working as a Houston-area cab driver since the 2000s.
1. WASHINGTON WIZARDS: GILBERT ARENAS
Hibachi. Agent Zero. Dude who wished Javaris Crittenton a merry Christmas by reminding him of his gambling debts with a gun. For three short years in the mid-2000s, Gilbert Arenas was one of the NBA’s biggest and most colorful stars, and while injuries are certainly to blame in part for his decline, it’s not like his attitude didn’t play a huge role as well. With the Wizards plunking down a cool $110 million over six years to keep Arenas in DC, the Hibachi responded not only by getting hurt, but also with all manner of shenanigans, not the least that little gun incident with Crittenton that had him serving a lengthy league-imposed suspension.
By the time the Wizards shipped him to the Magic for fellow albatross Rashard Lewis, Arenas was a mere shadow of his old self, as he backed up Jameer Nelson in Orlando, then Mike Conley in Memphis in his final NBA season. Arenas hasn’t played in the NBA since 2012, and reports have since claimed that the onetime $110 million man is now too broke to send his kids to private school.