Making it in the NBA is arguably harder than any other professional sport in the United States. Besides the fact that you have to be a genetic anomaly to even compete with the monsters that roam the court, you also have to have an uncanny strength of will and the ability to tune out the critics who get paid to talk about you all the time. Thinking about that, it’s no shocker that so many players will fall to pieces after having one bad season.
There is also a tremendous toll that the game puts on your body. A twisted ankle can lead to years of futility, and eventually the loss of a career. This all stems from the fact that an NBA team averages 14 players on a roster. That means there are around 420 employed basketball players in the NBA each year. To put it in perspective, the MLB (baseball) employs 1,200. Yea a player can play in leagues around the world, but they aren’t as prestigious as the NBA. Keeping that in mind, a player who receives a maximum contract or at least a high draft pick must be good, though they often are not.
There have been a ton of bad basketball players, but most of them don’t have high expectations. It’s those who are meant to rebuild or help a team that get under a fan’s skin. Here are the 15 most disappointing NBA players of all time.
15. Sam Bowie – Trail Blazers
Sam Bowie is one of the most famous names in NBA History, and not because of what he did on the court. People know Bowie for one reason, being taken ahead of Michael Jordan. The 1984 draft was stacked with talent, and the Trail Blazers had their pick of everyone after the Rockets selected Hall-of-Famer Hakeem Olajuwon with the number one pick. The Trail Blazers had guys like Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and John Stockton on the board, but as expected Portland picked up Sam Bowie, the center from Kentucky. Now this pick looks so terrible because they passed on Michael, but at the time it made sense. The Trail Blazers had Clyde Drexler, who was a Hall-of-Famer himself, and Bowie was pretty good during his time in college. Bowie was at best for Portland, but he did put together a season scoring 16 points a game. Bowie was a mediocre player whose potential was derailed by injuries. Though in spite of his injuries, the man had a couple good seasons with the Nets after being dumped by the Blazers. If he hadn’t been taken over the best player ever, Bowie would not have even made the list.
14. Lamar Odom – Mavericks
Fresh off his 2011 6th man of the year award winning season, The Lakers attempted to trade him to New Orleans for All-Star Chris Paul. The NBA eventually shot down this trade for being too one-sided. However, Odom took exception to almost being traded to The Hornets saying that he felt “disrespected.” To mitigate that disaster, the Lakers’ were forced to trade Odom to the defending champion Dallas Mavericks. Odom was expected to take some of the scoring pressure off Dirk following the loss of a number of key players; instead Odom got himself banned from the team and playing extremely lazy basketball and fighting with Mark Cuban. This season would lead to a string of bad choices that eventually would end with Odom passed out in a brothel. It wasn’t that the Mavs gave up a lot for Odom, it’s just how much was expected from him. Odom is now looked at as a horror story for basketball players. The fame got to his head. We all wish him well and are thrilled to see that his life is back on track, but it was a very disappointing season for the Mavs, and Odom was the highlight of it.
13. Eddy Curry – Knicks
Eddy Curry was a good player for a few years with the Bulls. He was a solid starter, but was dumped by the Bulls when they asked for proof that he didn’t have a heart condition. The Knicks were quick to snatch up the man, inexplicitly giving him a six-year contract worth $60 million. Coaches immediately started to complain about Curry’s work ethic and refusal to play defense, but he eventually started to play a bit better under Isaiah Thomas’ tutelage. In the 2006-07 season Curry averaged 19.5 points a game, while averaging 35 minutes a game. While some saw this as a bright future for the young big-man, it may have been the sharp increase of minutes that led to the string of injuries that would eventually end his career. He never played a full season after that year, and had several scandals that made him more of a distraction than anything else. The best thing that Eddie Curry was able to do was when they used his contract as a major piece to get Carmelo Anthony, and even that didn’t turn out so well.
12. Elton Brand – 76ers
Clippers owner Donald Sterling did a very strange thing in 2003 when he agreed to pay a young Elton Brand $82 million on a 6 year deal. It was only a surprising move because Sterling was one of the stingiest and dumbest owner in sports, and signing a young big man seemed too smart for the now infamous man. This signing is sadly one of the best moves in Clippers history, as Brand went on to put up a few 1600+ point seasons while averaging near 10 rebounds a game during that time. He was selected for the All-Star team and even led the Clippers to their first playoff series win ever. Then the Philadelphia 76ers signed the MVP candidate to another $82 million contract, and he was just never the same. Injuries ruined what was looking to be a long and accomplished career for Brand and he was only able to cross 1000 points 1 time in his tenure in Philly. He was eventually cut using the amnesty clause put in place by the 2010 collective bargaining agreement. He was never able to regain the form he had for a short time with the Clippers and the terrible contract the 76ers gave him still haunts the team today.
11. Hasheem Thabeet – Grizzlies
The Memphis Grizzlies were unfortunate enough to get the number 2 pick in the 2009 NBA draft. Before the season even started it seemed to be a forgone conclusion that Blake Griffin was going to be the top prize and that the other great players were all guards. They had just drafted star shooting guard OJ Mayo the year before, and had Mike Conley ready to start at point (not to mention an aging Allen Iverson on the bench). No one would trade for the number two pick as the guard class was so loaded that year with guys like James Harden, Tyreke Evans, Ricky Rubio, and some kid named Steph Curry. Hindsight is 20-20 and we all know now that a guy like Harden could have been great in Memphis, but Conley has been a good starter for the team and they were desperate for a center. When Griffin came off the board the Griz snatched up Thabeet who never could make the transition to the NBA. After only being able to start 13 games over the course of 2 seasons (mixed between pro and D-league), Thabeet was dumped off to the Rockets, who also couldn’t get the big man to work. A fun fact about Thabeet, he is the highest drafted player to be sent to a D-league roster, that’s just disappointing.
10. Anthony Bennett – Cavaliers
It’s astounding how fast the world gave up on Anthony Bennett. The UNLV alum was picked first in the 2013 NBA draft, a draft that has yet to produce a single All-Star. Bennett didn’t score more than 10 points in a game until late January (longer than any other number 1 overall pick). He struggled to even find playing time on the Cavs (a team that was far from a playoff contender), only averaging 12 minutes a game. The next year Bennett was pawned off to the Minnesota Timberwolves along with the next year’s number 1 overall pick, Andrew Wiggins, for Kevin Love. He was never able to find consistent minutes in Minnesota and was quickly waived by the T-Wolves. Thus far in his carreer, Bennett has only started 3 total games (all for Minnesota) and has averaged less than 13 minutes. The rest of the 2013 draft may not be All-Pro players, but none of the picks were near as wasted as the one that selected Bennett. There still might be time for the young man as he is just 3 years into his NBA career, and crazier things have happened before.
9. Brandon Roy – Trail Blazers
Form the beginning Brandon Roy looked like he was going to dominate in the NBA. Despite playing only 57 games, Roy was able to take home the Rookie of the Year award. The next 3 years straight he was selected to the All-Star team and was even in the debate for MVP. Along with LaMarcus Aldridge, the Blazers had one of the youngest and most dynamic 1-2 in the game and fans were flying high about the future and the tremendous achievements that the two young men would bring to the team. However, the 2011 season would see the end of one of the most anticipated careers. The Blazers even rewarded Roy with a max contract in 2009. He always had a suspect knee, and earlier in the year, he had arthroscopic surgery on both of his knees. He not was able to regain the starting role, but did manage contribute off the bench for the remainder of the season. The team was seriously worried about Roy’s knee heading into that offseason which would be marred with the infamous NBA lockout. Once the lockout came to a close, Roy reported that his knee had deteriorated so much that he would no longer be able to play, retiring at the age of 27. He was entering his prime when the injuries forced his hand. Roy did attempt a comeback in 2012, but just wasn’t the same. We wish we could have seen what Roy could have been, but unfortunately we never will.
8. Amar’e Stoudemire – Knicks
Amar’e was a standout player through his time with the Phoenix Suns. He made the All-Star team 5 times, and was a valuable contributor to their playoff runs. In 2010 Stoudemire opted out of his contract with the Suns with his eyes on a new $100 million deal, and he go it. As soon as he was allowed, Amar’e signed a 5 year, $99.7million contract with the lackluster New York Knicks and head coach Mike D’Antoni who coached him for a number of years in Phoenix. His first year was an overwhelming success as Stoudemire was elected to start the All-Star game, and after a trade for superstar Carmelo Anthony and veteran point guard Chauncey Billups the Knicks marched to their first playoff appearance in years. Stoudemire had one of the best years in his career, but unfortunately it would not last. The next year, Amar’e was marred with a number of injuries that kept him off the court, though when he wasn’t hurt he was extremely underwhelming. Lacking a true point guard (The Knicks had cut Billups), Stoudemire was unable to get into a rhythm and his production suffered. From then on Stoudemire suffered from a mix of injuries and lack of production. He never truly made much of an impact after his first year with the team and was eventually dumped to the Mavericks, just so the Knicks didn’t have to keep the failed reminder of their mistake.
7. Michael Olowokandi – Clippers
Olowokandi was drafted with the top pick of the 1998 NBA draft, a draft that produced players like Paul Peirce, Dirk Nowitzki and Vince Carter. Olowokandi was a good player in college, though he played in the Big West Conference, and rarely led his team into the NCAA tournament. Just like in college, his NBA career was underwhelming as he never truly blossomed into the player they believed he could be. His career stats post an embarrassing 8 points per game and 6 rebounds. The man started 80% of the games he played and those are the numbers he put up? He didn’t increase production while in Minnesota and Boston, and eventually retired in obscurity. The choice to draft Olowokandi haunted the Clippers for years, and gave them the unshakable reputation of terrible drafters. He was always viewed as a project player and there were many more “sure things” that could have been chosen instead.
6. Andrew Bynum – 76ers
Andrew Bynum got a little bit of fame playing as Kobe’s sidekick during the Laker’s back-to-back title runs in 2009 and 2010. He played well during that time so most people ignored his childish behavior and the fact that he was consistently injured. Fans and media tagged him as one of the best young players in the NBA, and the next great center to build around. In 2012 the Lakers traded the 25-year-old Bynum to the 76ers in a four-team deal that brought LA Dwight Howard. The trade turned into a wash as Howard was just a living headache, and Bynum didn’t play a single game for Philadelphia. Without even playing a game, the 76ers realized that Bynum’s presence would not be helpful for the team so they let him walk away and sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers. You could make a case that Dwight Howard should get this spot, but Bynum was somehow worse. After he left the Lakers, Bynum was better known for his atrocious haircut rather than his atrocious play. The last time we saw Bynum, he was a 26-year-old back up center for the Indiana Pacers, only appearing in 2 games. 2 total games. We are talking about a player called “the next coming of Shaq” after the 2010 season. It’s horrifying to have watched the fall from grace that Bynum went through.
5. Gilbert Arenas – Wizards
Gun control, right? Gilbert Arenas is arguably one of the best players in Wizard’s team history, pre-2007. After that everything went to hell. Early in his career, Arenas was a 3-time all-star for the Wizards and led the often forgotten team to the playoffs twice. Many looked at him as the franchise point guard that the team desperately needed. In the 2007 season, Arenas tore his MCL and missed the playoffs. The next year Agent Zero was only able to appear in 13 total games, so obviously the Wizards gave him a 6 year $111 million dollar deal following the season. For the remainder of his time with the Wizards, Arenas played for less than 60 total games before they had to trade him to Orlando, partly just to get rid of him. The most memorable moment from Arenas’ career will always be when he was suspended indefinitely for having guns in the locker room and using them to threaten teammate Javaris Crittenton. Years later, teammate Caron Butler spoke about the incident and informed the public that the whole fight stemmed over $1,100 dollars. This was a hefty chunk of money for Javaris Crittenton, who was on a minimum contract, but Arenas was living on that $111 million contract referenced above. Gilbert is now a laughing stock, but at least he’s honest, admitting to TMZ that he may have the worst contract in NBA history.
4. Stephon Marbury – Knicks
And here we have the Knicks again. Few other teams can compare to the terrible decisions that have stemmed from this horribly run franchise, yet somehow they are still able to keep doing it. The worst part about it all is that the Knicks aren’t blowing draft picks, but instead are throwing hundreds of millions dollars away to players who are underwhelming or downright terrible. Stephon Marbury is the embodiment of the horrible front office in New York. He was a two-time All-Star before joining the Knicks, a feat he never could accomplish again. Marbury only led his team to the playoffs once (and was swept) and had well publicized feuds with two of his coaches, Larry Brown, Isaiah Thomas, and Mike D’Antoni. He even reportedly came to blows with and threatened to blackmail Thomas while on the team plane. The feuds with Brown and Thomas helped lead to the two coaches eventually being fired (though Thomas had it coming), and it wasn’t until D’Antoni took over that someone had the cajones to just tell Marbury to stay away from the team. The Knicks basically let this underwhelming head case dictate the future of their team for four years. He only once scored over 20 points per game through his whole contract, and was a leading figure in the implosion for the team that left it fragmented and the butt of every basketball joke for the next decade.
3. Greg Oden – Trail Blazers
Greg Oden had so much promise. He was easily going to be the first player taken in the 2007 NBA draft after putting together an unbelievably dominant season for Ohio State, leading them to the NCAA finals against a Florida team coached by Billy Donovan and featuring 3 players picked in the top 10 of the draft. Oden held his team up and solidified his place in the NBA. However, Oden was not the best player who came out of that draft (Kevin Durant easily holds that spot), in fact he isn’t even the best center to come out that year (take your pick between Marc Gasol, Joakim Noah, or Al Horford). He spent 3 years hurt on the bench, and was only able to play 105 games through his entire career. It’s truly a shame how poorly this turned out, because unlike many other players on this list Oden was never involved in much controversy, and his entire career was destroyed because of a set of bad knees. He was expected to join up with LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy to begin what could have been one of the great dynasties in sports, but instead he couldn’t stay on the court.
2. Kwame Brown – Wizards
Kwame was so freaking bad that the NBA changed their rules to prevent teams from making the same mistake ever again. In a year that 4 of the top 5 draft selections were players who never played in college, Kwame went number 1 to the Washington Wizards. He was expected to be the “can’t miss” prospect in a draft full of widely underwhelming players. Brown only once averaged more than 9 points per game in his career and never averaged double digit rebounds. Yea a number 1 overall pick who was nearly 7 feet coming out of high school couldn’t average 10 rebounds in a game, ever. He was able to put together a long career bouncing from team to team, but Brown will forever be known as one of the biggest busts in NBA history. He struggled to find playing time, and seemed to not care about basketball all that much after getting a high paying contract right out of the gate. It took the NBA a few years before they changed the rules of not allowing players to leave for the NBA straight out of high school, but the horror story of Kwame Brown was a big deterrent for teams to take the chance, expediting the rule change for the NBA.
1. Darko Milicic – Pistons
Poor Darko… It’s not his doing that he’s on the list, well not totally at least. Darko had the unlucky acclaim of being the guy who was drafted right after LeBron James. Here’s a list of players taken after Darko; Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Kaman, Josh Howard, Kirk Hinrich, David West, and Leandro Barbosa. All of those guys contributed way more than Darko ever did for the Pistons. Detroit had already built a championship level team, so when they were blessed with the number 2 pick in what is now recognized as one of the greatest draft classes in NBA History they had the freedom to pick whoever they wanted. LeBron was famously off the board already and many expected the Pistons to go with the acclaimed Carmelo or the raw Chris Bosh, but they defied expectations and picked some dude from Serbia. It wasn’t that Darko was bad, he just never developed into anything special, when guys behind him were winning championships and going to All-Star games. The Pistons, in part because of this pick, eventually faded into irrelevancy with Lebron and Wade leading their teams to control of the Eastern conference. The talk about the Pistons wasting their pick got into Darko’s head and even he started to question why he was picked where he was. He never played a full season with the team that drafted him and became an irrelevant journey man for the rest of his career, scarred by a team’s decision to draft him instead of other Hall-of-Fame worthy players. The difference between Darko and Sam Bowie is that the Pistons did not need a center, they had a man named Ben Wallace playing that role, and could have used a high scoring player to take some pressure off of “Rip” Hamilton. The team had a future of domination in front of them, and wasted it.