Posted Sep 1 2010 10:24AM
One year, a player seems on top of the basketball world, enjoying the high as well as the view below. The next year, he's falling without a parachute, wondering when he'll finally land, and how hard.
This happens. This is sports. Everyone declines, even the greats, unless they leave before their feet touches the ground. Just like taxes and a Mark Cuban rant toward a referee, it's inevitable. And it usually doesn't happen suddenly; most of us can see it coming, for a variety of reasons: age, competition or a change in team dynamics.
That said, here are 10 players who appear most vulnerable to a slide in 2010-11, and why:
Amar'e Stoudemire (Knicks): He lost Steve Nash and he gained a potentially hostile crowd. Those are the hazards facing Stoudemire in his new digs. The Nash factor is very real; Stoudemire owes a bunch of his highlights to a point guard who excelled in the pick-and-roll and knew how to deliver the ball. As for the New York atmosphere, it might get gruesome should the Knicks falter and/or their new big man fail to meet the steep expectations. If you recall, Stoudemire was a bit touchy last spring when he was called out in the postseason. Therefore, is he too sensitive to deal with media that's triple the size of what he saw in Phoenix, and twice as skeptical?
Vince Carter (Magic): This may be a contract year for Carter, and if that doesn't motivate him, nothing will. The scenario in Orlando doesn't favor his odds of getting an extension. He shot 43 percent during the season and 40 in a poor postseason. Plus, J.J. Redick is poised to make a push for the starting job. Clearly, the Magic are ready to move on, if Redick does cut significantly into Carter's minutes. Anyway, Carter's best years were in Toronto and New Jersey. His stop in Orlando mirrors many others who migrate to Florida. They come to slow down and eventually retire.
Yao Ming (Rockets): After missing all last season and limping through stretches of recent seasons, can he ever be a 20 and 10 guy again? It is possible Yao can shake off the rust and be an All-Star. Or, his best years are well behind him. Nothing is certain for a player who could have revolutionized the center position had he stayed healthy from foot and knee issues. Instead, his health will remain a question until his body demonstrates otherwise. Also, his surroundings are a bit different than the years spent with Tracy McGrady, a tandem wrecked by injuries to both players.
Tony Parker (Spurs): It's a contract year for Parker, and therefore, risky to say he's headed for a spill. But it's also undeniable that his numbers fell across the board last season. And would you say, without hesitation, that this is the same Parker of two seasons ago, when he posted career highs of 22.0 points and 6.9 assists a game? If Parker were still on top of his game, would the Spurs think about listening to offers for him (as they supposedly did this summer)? Or wait before giving him an extension? Parker is certainly not old (only 28) or in his twilight (he's one of the top five or six point guards), but perhaps not as dangerous as before. With George Hill hungry for playing time (and eventually, money), Parker has every reason to turn back the clock.
Baron Davis (Clippers): In two seasons with the Clippers, Davis has shot 39 percent and averaged 15 points a game. That's not the kind of production the Clippers thought they'd get after handing him the big bucks. Just the same, Davis thought he'd be playing with Elton Brand. Regardless, something's seems amiss in this marriage, at least so far. The Clippers can only hope Davis is motivated by a lineup that welcomes Blake Griffin.
J.R. Smith (Nuggets): Great skills, fragile maturity. Those warring factions have kept Smith from his true potential. One episode is usually followed by another with Smith, who can't seem to shake drama. He averaged 15.4 points a game last season, the highest of his career, and was a legit sixth-man candidate. Then he followed it up with a scuffle this summer. He's in a contract year, but can money set him straight?
Kevin Garnett (Celtics): KG managed to ignore body aches and the persistent pull of gravity to come up big in spurts during the playoffs and The Finals. But anyone can plainly see KG is slowly regressing from All-Star level. He still has the will and the smarts to outplay most big men, but is exposed over the season and playoffs. At this point, the days of KG getting 20 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks a night are likely gone.
Lamar Odom (Lakers): His shooting percentage and scoring average has dipped the last three years, and he seemed noticeably average during the championship run. Odom still has value to the Lakers as a rebounder, but the rest of his game has faltered. Once the Lakers cease winning championships, his weaknesses will become magnified. And that could happen this season.
Mo Williams (Cavaliers): Does he take on added importance and responsibility with LeBon James gone? Or does the absence of LeBron, who opened lanes and gave teammates open looks, mean fewer easy baskets for Mo? Suspect the latter. Williams must create his own chances now, and also feed Anderson Varejao and Antawn Jamison because, for the most part, LeBron was Cleveland's point guard. Now, it's Mo's "team," so to speak.
Elton Brand (Sixers): For the fourth straight year, Brand's scoring average dropped (from 24.7 in 2005-06 to 13.1 last season) along with his rebounding (once double-figures, then 6.1 rebounds a game last season). He blamed the system, which will be changed by new coach Doug Collins, whose priority is making Brand a top-10 power forward again. Maybe Brand was a victim of bad coaching the last few years. Or perhaps Brand, who'll turn 32 this season, is past his prime. With three years left on a roughly $16 million-a-season contract, Brand carries a hefty price as a second or third option.
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