NBA superstars in uniforms we wish we could forget

Jordan Cohn
May 27, 2020 - 1:52 pm
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Saying goodbye is never easy. What if one party isn't ready to let go?

Many players stay on too long, and many teams are too eager to keep such players -- for reasons that may or may not have to do with winning.

It's not a new phenomenon. Going way back, even Babe Ruth retired as a Boston Brave. In basketball, Michael Jordan of course called it a career as a Washington Wizard after an underwhelming stint that some say set back a developing team. An aging Karl Malone tried to get his ring with the Lakers -- but the spunky Pistons had other thoughts. A diminished Willie Mays returned to New York as a Met, in perhaps the defining example of these ill-fated late-career unions.

The Giants of course traded Mays to the Mets, but the rise of free agency and the dumping of albatross contracts only intensified these sorts of moves, across all sports.

Sometimes they work out, but many do not. Remember these late-career cups of coffee in the NBA?

Paul Pierce
Paul Pierce averaged 12 points per game in his lone season in Washington, DC Photo credit Getty

Paul Pierce: Washington Wizards, Los Angeles Clippers

Pierce's post-Celtics career began with the famously lopsided deal that sent him to Brooklyn along with Kevin Garnett. Pierce was still a useful player in Brooklyn, and I even remember him finishing up with his old Celtics coach Doc Rivers on the Clippers -- but I honestly don't recall his Wizards stint in 2014-15. The Wiz reached the second round of the playoffs before they were ousted by the Hawks that year, but Pierce's efficiency rating was a pedestrian 15.23 in 26 minutes per game, per ESPN. The Truth was still useful as a savvy veteran, but his best days were well behind him. -- Dan Mennella

Kevin Garnett
Kevin Garnett played one-plus season with the Nets Photo credit Getty

Kevin Garnett: Brooklyn Nets

Garnett became an All-Star in Minnesota and a champion in Boston, but unfortunately for Brooklyn, they had him for the "decline" phase, and the deal that brought them Garnett is considered one of the worst in sports history. The Nets reached the playoffs in his lone full season in Brooklyn, before being bounced by LeBron James and the Heat in the second round, but Garnett didn't contribute much to the effort, playing poorly in just 20 minutes per game while struggling with injuries. The Wolves reacquired Garnett from the Nets in a midseason trade in 2014-15, and the former No. 5 overall pick finished his career back where it started. -- Dan Mennella

Patrick Ewing
Patrick Ewing averaged 6.0 points and 14 minutes per game with the Orlando Magic in 2002. Photo credit Getty

Patrick Ewing: Orlando Magic, Seattle Supersonics

Knicks fans, avert your eyes. The sight of Ewing in Magic threads is still jarring. The aging big man signed on with the Magic in 2001-02 -- after his lone season with the now-defunct Seattle Supersonics -- in the hopes of nabbing that elusive NBA title, on a team built around Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady. It didn't come to pass, and Ewing was merely a role player before retiring. -- Dan Mennella

Jason Kidd
The Knicks reached the playoffs in Jason Kidd's lone season in New York. Photo credit Getty

Jason Kidd: New York Knicks

Jason Kidd was drafted by the Mavericks, broke out as a superstar with the Suns, carried the Nets to respectability, and returned to the Mavs to win a title. So, no, no one would blame you if you'd forgotten about his farewell tour on a decent Knicks team that reached the Eastern Conference Semifinals in 2012-13. Kidd played a lot that year, averaging 27 minutes in 76 games, but he wasn't especially productive, contributing just six points per contest on 37 percent shooting. -- Dan Mennella

Shaquille O'Neal
Shaquille O'Neal's stellar career ended with stops in Phoenix, Cleveland and Boston. Photo credit Getty

Shaquille O'Neal: Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Phoenix Suns

Shaq is no stranger to weirdness, and his late-career odyssey was no different. The Big Aristotle is best known for ripping down backboards in Orlando and later winning rings with Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, but now on the wrong side of 30, Shaq went on something of a mercenary tour as an aging veteran star and defensive big body. He won a fourth title with Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat in 2006, before later playing for the Suns and Cavs. Craziest of all, though, the Lakers franchise legend finished up with their arch-rivals, the Celtics. -- Dan Mennella

Dwyane Wade
Dwyane Wade was one-and-done in his hometown. Photo credit Getty

Dwyane Wade: Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers

Wade learned it the hard way: You can't go home again. The likely future Hall of Famer signed with his hometown Bulls amid a contentious exit from Miami, and played well in his lone season in Chicago, clocking in at an 18.55 efficiency rating, per ESPN. But the team finished .500 and was knocked out of the playoffs in the first round by the Celtics, and the Bulls decided to rebuild in the offseason. Jimmy Butler was shipped out, and Wade was bought out. He later signed with the Cavaliers, where he played one even more forgettable half-season before returning to Miami. -- Dan Mennella

Tracy McGrady
Tracy McGrady played with six teams in his 15-year NBA career. Photo credit Getty

Tracy McGrady: New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons, Atlanta Hawks, San Antonio Spurs

McGrady sure bounced around a lot for a seven-time All-Star. Slow to develop after being drafted out of high school, McGrady steadily improved until he broke out to the point that he led the league in scoring in consecutive years amid a strong run of play with the Raptors, Magic and Rockets. McGrady appeared to decline on the young side, though, and was already slowing down by his late 20s. As such he kicked around in his final seasons, finally finishing up as a role player with the Hawks in 2011-12, where he averaged just 5 points in 16 minutes per game. He returned to the NBA after a 2012 stint in China, joining the San Antonio Spurs for the playoffs in 2013. -- Dan Mennella

Hakeem Olajuwon
Hakeem Olajuwon stretches before a Raptors-Kings game in 2001. Photo credit Getty

Hakeem Olajuwon: Toronto Raptors

It might have felt like a dream come true for Raptors fans when they traded for legendary big man Hakeem Olajuwon prior to the 2001 season, exchanging a first and second round pick in return for the future Hall of Fame center. Following a 47-35 season, Toronto was looking to add one big cog and replace Charles Oakley. But The Dream came up short, averaging a pedestrian 7.1 points and 6.0 rebounds per game as a split starter-role player. His field goal percentage neared his career worst, and he was unusable from the free throw line, registering a 56.0% clip. Olajuwon retired a year later. -- Jordan Cohn

Chris Webber
The Pistons signed Chris Webber in January 2007 after his midseason release by the Sixers. Photo credit Getty

Chris Webber: Detroit Pistons

Though C-Webb is best known for his time in Sacramento, he had memorable stints in Washington and Philadelphia, registering a 20 PPG season for both of those teams. He emerged as a rookie star in Golden State in 1993, and finished his career there in 2007. The shortest stop of his career lasted only half a season, when Webber was acquired by the Pistons. The Sixers waived Webber in January of 2007 after his play had dropped off significantly -- at the time of his release, he was shooting 38.7% and scoring a career-low 11.0 PPG -- but that didn’t stop the Pistons from giving the veteran a shot to play in his hometown.

After signing Webber on the 16th of January, the 21-15 Pistons surged ahead, finishing at 53-29, though Webber didn’t see an increase in his overall production. -- Jordan Cohn

Andrew Bynum
Andrew Bynum's Sixers jersey was briefly a hot seller even though he never stepped foot on the court for them. Photo credit Getty

Andrew Bynum: Philadelphia 76ers

Bynum never stepped foot on the court as a member of the 76ers, so he may never have donned that red and blue, but that doesn’t stop fans from wanting to forget that jersey ever existed. Take me as an example: I bought two of his jerseys when my Sixers acquired our first young, big-name center since.. gosh, Moses Malone maybe? Dikembe Mutombo, Chris Webber, and Elton Brand weren’t young, Sam Dalembert and Theo Ratliff weren’t exactly stars.

In any case, it had been a while since a star center was brought into Philly at a young age, entering the prime of his career. Bynum could have been just that, but knee injuries, exaggerated by a bowling setback, kept him off the floor throughout his whole stint in Philly. -- Jordan Cohn

Stephon Marbury
Stephon Marbury's NBA career ended with a 23-game stint in Boston. Photo credit Getty

Stephon Marbury: Boston Celtics

There were four teams that witnessed Marbury’s handles, exceptional finishes and floor general abilities while he was playing at a high level. His peak came with the Nets and the Suns in the early 2000s, when he earned All-Star and All-NBA recognition, but he was no slouch with the Timberwolves at the start of his career and with the Knicks as he neared age 30. But his 23-game stint in Boston carried none of the same flair as other points of his career, and he chose to pursue other ventures after averaging just 3.8 points with the Celtics. -- Jordan Cohn

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