Earlier this week, Charlotte Bobcats majority owner Michael Jordan revisited a glaring draft error from his past and found himself reunited with Bobcats signee Kwame Brown.
This, of course, is the same Kwame Brown whom Jordan, as Director of Basketball Operations for the Washington Wizards, infamously selected out of high school with the No. 1 over-all pick in the 2001 NBA Draft, ahead of the likes of Pau Gasol (No. 3), Joe Johnson (No. 10) and Tony Parker (No. 28). Brown has simply never put it together as a pro, struggling through four pressure-laden seasons in Washington in which he “peaked” in his third year with averages of 10.9 points and 7.4 rebounds per game and never came close to that level of production again.
Naturally, then, the temptation is to ridicule the Bobcats’ signing, as many in media circles have done, as the failure of a stubborn man to recognize the error of his ways the first time. But, as Jordan knows first-hand, people can change in the NBA and finding the right team can go a long way in turning a goat into a hero. After all, Jordan’s Bulls won three titles after trading for controversial headcase Dennis Rodman, with “The Worm” leading the league in rebounding during each of his three years in Chicago.
For a more recent example of this “new team, new environment, newly revitalized player” phenomena, one need only look to last year’s NBA champion Lakers, who claimed their second consecutive trophy thanks to the contributions of Ron Artest.
Like Brown, there are several talented-but-enigmatic players who will be seeking fresh starts with new clubs this season. Knowing that blue chip free agents will command top dollar on the open market (see 2010, summer of), teams looking to acquire talent at discount rates seem to be increasingly drawn to offering questionable veterans a shot at redemption.
Michael Beasley has plenty in common with Brown. Both were top draft picks (Beasley went No. 2 over-all behind Chicago’s Derrick Rose in 2008) burdened by high expectations as well as character and commitment questions. In fact, the Kansas State product faced even loftier expectations as a member of a Miami squad with an elite superstar in Dwyane Wade, the still-present aftertaste of the 2006 title and postseason hopes.
It isn’t that Beasley played poorly (14.8 point and 6.4 rebound per game averages last season) so much as he was at the mercy of a Heat fan base not prepared to wait for him to develop. A casualty of the James-Wade-Bosh trinity in South Beach, Beasley will now be afforded the chance to develop amidst new surroundings, facing more measured expectations and under slightly less pressure in Minnesota.
While Brown and Beasley have accomplished relatively little in their NBA lives, one would think that Shaquille O’Neal – he of four rings and an all-but-reserved spot in the NBA Hall of Fame – has nothing left to prove. But it’s clear that a fire still burns within the Big Shamrock, as evidenced by his acceptance of a veteran’s minimum contract to join the Celtics.
O’Neal’s reputation has taken a bit of a beating in recent years during short, unsuccessful stints in Phoenix and Cleveland, seasons which have helped paint a picture of a selfish, past-his-prime type who is unwilling to work to get himself in shape. But whether his motivation is internal or external – you just know he heard Kobe Bryant’s post-championship comments about having “one more ring than Shaq” – it seems as though his focus is firmly set on helping Boston win basketball games.
While each of the previously mentioned athletes did well to get out of their prior situation, none needed the change more desperately than Hedo Turkoglu. The former Raptor and current Sun was in just his first year of a five-year, $53 million pact with Toronto when fans quickly turned against the small forward for his regular demonstrations of lazy, entitled and outright bizarre behavior. Of all players mentioned, he was the only one to actively demand a trade.
Sure enough, Turkoglu got his trade, being sent to Phoenix for Leandro Barbosa and Dwayne Jones. Now with the Suns, he could find himself serving as a key weapon in Steve Nash’s free-flowing offence. That means that while he likely won’t be carrying the ball in crunch time, as he wished in Toronto, he will have room to operate beyond the arc and could return to the near-20 points per game he enjoyed in Orlando.
None of these moves are without their critics, but then again, these players would not find themselves getting another chance without bona fide NBA skills. Odds are that not all of these marriages will work out, but if some of these players find the right motivation, the right coach and the right surroundings, they could wind up paying off in a big way.