With the season winding down and a full third of the NBA simply looking for ways to lose, there is a small contingent of players who cannot afford to comply. These players are at all ends of their careers with some being young guns looking for their first big deal, some are recovering from injury and still, others are just looking for their last real NBA contract. On the whole, these players are still useful if placed in the right circumstances, but each of them also come with a sufficient amount of baggage to give teams pause. These are the players whose careers hang in the balance of the remaining 20 or so games of the season.
When IT got injured entering the playoffs last season, not a soul expected that he was beginning one of the more compelling falls from grace in the last decade. Thomas went from an MVP contender, albeit by no means the leader, to trying to stay in the league on his third team in less than a full calendar year. Indeed march of last season was more of an eruption point whereas this march may actually be the second (or third? Or fourth?) nadir for his career.
For the season IT has only played 21 games and been largely ineffective shooting a paltry 36% from the field and 26.9% from three while taking five a game. Those numbers are about as bad as it can be for a very undersized guard who will turn 30 next seasons. While things are bleak the door is still slightly ajar. Even if he doesn’t turn it around this season there will be teams willing to give him a one year flyer predicated on two things: his health and his mouth. One of those he can control, the other he can’t.
This is a name few people expected to be on lists like these at the beginning of the season but is undeniably plummeting. As a triple-double threat, he put pressure on his opponents from 17ft out and was the 1a to the 1b of Michael Conley Jr. Yet each year Conley would get hurt, the Grizz would max out with a late playoff exit, and reality would rear its head. Now he is a malcontent on a team that has lost ten straight and hasn’t won a single game on the road since the calendar flipped.
Now at 33 Gasol is inching closer and closer to that Rule of 36 line in terms of contracts and has enough mileage and character concerns that he might not be able to find work. He does still have another two years remaining on his contract but his play and his attitude might make that number unpalatable. There have even been rumors that he might want off the team to finish his career in Europe. Either way, it would make for an inauspicious end to one of the better international careers in the history of the sport.
It would be hard not to acknowledge that Derrick Rose’s career is probably over. After becoming the youngest MVP in NBA history, Rose has seen the most dramatic career shift of the last decade. When he joined the New York Knicks many wondered if he had anything left in the tank, and while he did it was clear he wouldn’t be what he once was. Then he literally quit on the Knicks and left the team for a couple of weeks as he tried to clear his mind and decide if basketball was for him. Apparently, it was and he returned but was mediocre for a team that was lottery bound even before his going AWOL.
When he landed with Cleveland many wondered about his fit next to the injured Thomas and aging Dwyane Wade. In all his minutes were of the “meh” variety but it didn’t take long before Rose was back to his old antics and he had left his second team in as many seasons. Having never developed a dependable jumper and never fully embracing a “pass-first” mentality, if Derrick Rose wasn’t a potential flight risk he would still have a chance to make a roster. Instead, it is likely over for him as he simply hasn’t matured enough as a human to make the most of his opportunity. Don’t feel too bad though as he has banked over $100 Million in NBA contract money alone.