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Shaun Powell

DeShawn Stevenson's hand-in-the-face gesture is part of his reputation around the league.
Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

These players can still shape their NBA fates

Posted Oct 22 2009 11:21AM

Everyone wants to be known for a particular distinction, be it defense, scoring, assists, rebounding, whatever. There's something to be said about being the best at what you do. A reputation is formed. A career is enhanced.

And then there's DeShawn Stevenson, who'd wear his particular badge of honor if he could, except it might get lost among all the tattoos, which crawl up his neck.

"I think I'm the most hated player in the league," he said. "In fact, I know I am."

If a poll were confined to Cleveland, then it'd be unanimous. Folks there don't forget. Just last week, Stevenson and the Wizards made a preseason stop in town and he was heckled before he reached baggage claim. Any member of the Pittsburgh Steelers would go over better in Cleveland than Stevenson, who had the courage, or the nerve, or both, to famously call out LeBron James two years ago in a heated playoff series.

Then last season Stevenson missed 50 games with a herniated disk, and shot only 31 percent when he did play, and was booed by the home team. So maybe he has a point. Even Bill Laimbeer, the Godfather of reviled players, found open arms instead of closed fists in at least one NBA city.

Stevenson is an aggressive player with an edge sharpened during a hard-knock life in Fresno, Calif., and he makes no apologies for that. He won't hesitate to get under someone's skin, if he feels it gives him an advantage. His ritual of running his hand across his face after making a big shot will also annoy some fans and players.

"Sometimes I do things that are kind of crazy," he admits, "but that's my thing."

What Stevenson needs this season, besides good health and a more accurate jump shot, is an image makeover. Very often, in the case of Stevenson and others, the positive is overwhelmed by something else. In his career, Rasheed Wallace has dropped plenty of three-pointers from the key, played unselfishly at times and grabbed more than a few tough rebounds -- but his NBA tombstone will cite all the techs and ejections. It's too late for a fresh start, although winning a championship with the Celtics without being a disruption would make up for plenty.

It's not just Stevenson and Wallace. The league has a handful of players who'll carry some sort of tag into the season. They'll either change perceptions or enhance them. Their choice.

Stephen Jackson, Warriors: This could get ugly. It seemed only yesterday when the Warriors gave Jackson a contract extension and team captainship. Now they'd love to grant his wish and dump him, except nobody's rushing to take on his money and attitude. He's always had a chip on each shoulder, but if he shuts up and conforms -- admittedly, that might be asking too much -- he can regain respect within the organization. And maybe a new address.

Tim Duncan, Spurs: What's the Big Fundamental doing on this list? Certainly not for any baggage or off-court issues. Duncan makes the cut because of his reflexive whining every time a whistle doesn't blow his way. Ask any player and they'll say Duncan complains more about the refs than any star, with Kobe Bryant a close second. Duncan is far too talented to beg for extra help.

Mark Cuban, Mavericks: Cubes is actually a decent guy and owner. He just can't control his emotions, which get the best of him. Make that the worst of him. Forget all referee heckling and the record fines. Rock bottom for Cuban was approaching the mother of Kenyon Martin and letting loose. Interesting: In his awkward apology, Cuban invited the Martins to watch a game in his suite. Half of Cuban's problems would be solved if he watched from a suite.

Kenyon Martin, Nuggets: He took on Tim Thomas while in New Jersey, then a wise-cracking fan and a radio reporter in Denver. If someone starts a confrontation, Martin rarely resists a chance to finish it. He can't help himself. The obscenities he screamed toward Cuban, caught on camera, were surprisingly ignored by the NBA police.

Mo Williams, Cavaliers: One poor playoff performance does not cement a reputation for coming up short when it counts. But two? That's something Williams can't afford next spring, not after shooting 37 percent in the conference finals and failing to give LeBron James enough help. The Cavs were alarmed enough to seek out another second banana, just in case, in Shaquille O'Neal.

Rajon Rondo, Celtics: Something unexpected happened in an otherwise terrific breakout year for Rondo, who had a pair of triple-doubles in the thrilling playoff series with Chicago and clearly aligned himself with the Big Three. By summer, his relationship with management turned edgy. Word is Rondo began to think much too highly of himself. His name was even tossed around in off-season trade talk. It's all been patched up, and he and the Celtics are talking contract extension. But: Will financial security satisfy him, or empower him?

Nate Robinson, Knicks: Pound for pound, he's the best athlete in the league. Nobody can run as fast, jump as high or flex more muscle. But while he's no Stephon Marbury, Robinson's maturity issues began to wear on the Knicks internally last season. If contract talks with the club take a slow turn this summer, it won't only be over money.

Allen Iverson, Grizzlies: Is he a fading star in a contract year looking to grab his share of shots and minutes, or a helpful veteran anxious to show leadership? The "answer" to this question will emerge once the Grizzlies go through hard times. This is Iverson's chance, once and for all, to show us another side.

Delonte West, Cavaliers and Michael Beasley, Heat: Let's hope they both recover from troubling off-seasons where they dealt with personal demons. Of all the players listed here, these two have the most to prove.

Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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