LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh silenced their critics when the Miami Heat finally won an NBA title. They proved that the drama, the hype, the heartache, and even the hate was worth it the moment they achieved what they set out to do. They got the job done and it put some closure in that chapter of their saga.
This season, other NBA players are on deck with something to prove of their own. Whether it’s about their ability to take their respective teams to the next level, if they’re ready to take up the mantle of a leadership role, or just simply show the internet that they are not a moron. Here are 10 such players and the respective chips on their shoulders.
10. John Wall, Washington Wizards
He was welcomed to the team in 2010 like rock star as the franchise’s savior and future. It has been, and in fact still is, a huge challenge for Wall. At the time, he welcomed it with open arms and with excited optimism. In his second year with the team, the Wizards only bested the league-worst Charlotte Bobcats in the Eastern Conference, which wasn’t really too much of an accomplishment to be proud of. “They sucked, just not the hardest.” The team made some roster changes and even picked up Bradley Beal third overall in the 2012 NBA Draft, but in order for Washington not to suck this season they’re going to need a huge year from John and he knows it. I like this kid. He’s carrying a huge responsibility on his shoulders, to lift a franchise out of the gutter. Not only does he own it, he embraces it. However, contrary to Wall’s declarations (hopes) as chronicled by the Washington Post, I don’t see the Wizards becoming a playoff team just yet. If Wall can at least lead the team to become even slightly more competitive, you know finish this regular season closer to a .500 winning record, that would be a huge step in the right direction. He “wants to be the savior,” well he’s got this season to prove that the Wizards fans’ faith isn’t misplaced.
9. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
I’ve never been much of a fan, but I do respect what Melo can do and what he is capable of achieving. Honestly, I was impressed with his Olympic-record setting achievement of dropping 37 points against Nigeria. Let’s not even mention that a big chunk of that change came via his 10-of-12 shooting from downtown. Let’s take out of context that it was against Nigeria for a minute, this dude can shoot the lights out when he catches fire. In the course of a shortened season and change, Anthony has played a total of 82 games for New York. It began when the Knicks gut its roster to acquire him from the Denver Nuggets. The Knicks fired a coach, Mike D’Antoni, that was finally getting somewhere as far implementing his offense was concerned – well with the exception of fitting Melo in it. It went through the throes of Linsanity, and we’re all still reeling from the surreal acid trip that it was. In spite of all of that, after recovering from a nagging injury, Melo brought the Knicks back to the NBA playoffs. Will he be able to rise up and take his team farther into the postseason, or will he remain haunted by the stamp of being “a scorer who can’t lead a team to a championship?” He’s going to have to bust out of his “Mr. 37 points in the Olympics” shell this season and bring it on, big time.
8. Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics
It’s done. It’s over. The era of Boston’s “Big Three” is a thing of the past. The era itself was already flailing about last season, but Ray Allen and his decision to “take his talents to South Beach” was the final nail in the coffin. The transition has been a rocky one, but we’re here now. It’s time. It’s Rondo time! He may not be a sweetheart in the locker room, just ask Doc Rivers and maybe even Ray Allen, but Rondo is one hell of a talented point guard. Two of the remaining Big Three, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, have a limited shelf life and Boston needs direction for the future. Is Rondo the man to guide the Cs to that new direction? Is his passion, drive, and talent enough? Now that the Celtics are his team, his responsibility, how is he going to keep the franchise competitive and moving forward? Like it or not, we’re going to get answers to some of these questions this year. Whether Boston fans will like what they hear and see is up to Rondo.
7. Brook Lopez, Brooklyn Nets
Hobbled by injury, Brook was limited to playing a measly five games for the Nets last season. The year before that, he amped up his scoring but was grabbing rebounds like he was allergic to the ball. In spite of things, Brooklyn opted t osign Lopez to a big contract while in the midst of the Orlando Magic-wooing, Dwight Howard maelstrom. No, he’s not a Dwight Howard type player, nor will he ever be. Nonetheless, Brooklyn chose at the time that it was in their best interests to secure Lopez’s services for the long haul. At this point, the Nets’ roster is set and they’re ready to compete. They will be counting on Lopez to be their main man in the middle. The question is, in technically his fifth, but effectively only his fourth season in the league, will Brook be able to deliver? Will he be able to layeth the smacketh down and show Brooklynites that they didn’t really need Howard?
6. Elton Brand, Dallas Mavericks
Fewer things must sting a player’s ego than a team using its “amnesty clause” on you. It’s like a kick in the nuts or a stomp on one’s pride, depending on how visceral you want to visualize the experience. Brand was recently the recipient of such a “nut kicking,” care of the Philadelphia 76ers. He got the boot for what? So they could sign Nick Young and keep Spencer Hawes? Ouch! That must have stung like mistaking a tube of BENGAY for hemorrhoid cream. Not that I would have any first-hand experience with any such folly, but you get the picture. Brand is only 33-years-old and feels he’s still got something left in his tank and has even been working his butt off to prove it. It’s true that he was hounded by quadricep problems in his first season with the Sixers and after that rocky start he never really got into the right groove as things didn’t work out. He’s not a has-been, well at least not yet, and this season will be his chance to prove it.
5. Javale McGee, Denver Nuggets
The internet hasn’t been too kind to Javale McGee. He’s been the butt of a lot jokes poking fun at his intelligence. It’s this above photo of McGee among a few others that have been at the center of many memes portraying him as dumb, a dufus, or simply idiotic. While the dude may have to work on his basketball I.Q., his occasional absentmindedness and his general penchant for committing dumb plays, McGee has the potential of being one of the league’s elite big men. I’m now not sure whether that sentence was oxymoronic or okay because I was talking about Javale McGee. Needless to say, we know he’s a talented shot blocker, a decent rebounder, and may be able to improve his offensive game after working with Hakeem Olajuwon this summer. While the memes, jokes, and well-intended puns won’t disappear overnight; IF a mature, more focused McGee shows up this season, perhaps the laughter will be more celebratory and out of elation and less condescending. He’ll be blocking shots, running the floor, and taking names for Denver, and serving all of that with a huge slathering of “shut-up sauce!”
4. Josh Smith, Atlanta Hawks
I can’t remember the last time I heard a trade rumor involving the Atlanta Hawks without seeing Josh Smith’s name being thrown into the hat. Let’s face it, over the last couple of years the team has been shopping J-Smoove, at the very least sending out feelers to gauge interest. That shopping around, was just salt being rubbed in the wound that was already festering and infecting the relationship between him and the team. He too, at times, was quoted or misquoted as “wanting to be traded” every once in a while. An interesting chain of events, culminated by the hiring of Danny Ferry and his trading away of Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams, has shifted the balance of what was once a shaky foundation between Smith and Atlanta. For this season at least, the Hawks are in Smith’s able hands and will be riding on the shoulders of his defense and athleticism. He’s in the last year of his contract and will want to put on a show that will say he’s worth a max deal. Now, whether he can do it is one story and whether the deal will be offered by Atlanta or some other team is another tale to tell. Either way, expect the Smith highlight reels to be hitting the media like strobes in a seizure test this season, flashing brightly and causing uncontrollable body twitching.
3. O.J. Mayo, Dallas Mavericks
Mayo was rotting on the Memphis Grizzlies’ bench for most of 2010 through 2012. Somehow, the sixth man gig wasn’t really working out for him. Well he’s now with Dallas, a team that needs a potent scorer to help alleviate pressure off Dirk Nowitzki and who can fill the role once played by Jason Terry. This season, Mayo will get a chance to be that guy. He will get the chance to show everyone that he’s worth being given a starter’s role and minutes. The Mavs see a bright future ahead for him and a lot of potential. It’s now up to Mayo to live up to all of it this season.
2. Nicolas Batum, Portland Trailblazers
Outside of the Dwight Howard sweepstakes that was ongoing this summer, Nicolas Batum and his very vocal desire to sign with the Minnesota Timberwolves was probably one of the noisiest. Statements were released left and right about him wanting to “move on” and all that, but the thing is he was a restricted free agent and the Blazers had every intention of matching any offer made to Batum, and in the end they did. Apparently, Batum was just unhappy that he didn’t have a big enough role with the team. After Portland opted to commit to paying this kid a truckload of money and given his versatility and highly unreached and untapped skill cap, it will come as no surprise that the Blazers will be demanding more from him. I hate players who generate so much unnecessary drama surrounding their free agency (or its soon to be pending status). Toss Melo, Dwight, and Nic Batum all together in that hot stinky mess. I know he’s got skills, but this kid had better wow the socks off me and Blazer fans night in and night out for him to be worth all of this summer’s media hullabaloo.
1. Jeremy Lin, Houston Rockets
The Rockets traded away, let go, waived, and amnestied pretty much everyone worth keeping outside of Kevin Martin, for whom they probably couldn’t find any takers. They tossed out furniture, cleaned house, and even laid out some potpourri, all in vain as they were unsuccessful in landing either Dwight Howard or Pau Gasol this offseason. Their roster was gutted almost to the bone. They almost found themselves without a point guard after trading Kyle Lowry to the Toronto Raptors and allowing Goran Dragic to sign with the Phoenix Suns through free agency. Enter Jeremy Lin, you know, the hero of the fabled Cinderella story from New York. Well, unfortunately for Lin, his stay with the New York Knicks didn’t end as storybook or as happily ever after as he would have preferred, prompting him to leave the NBA’s biggest market and play somewhere else. Jeremy is starting a new chapter in his story and in this one, it’s about him validating his brief stint of success with the Knicks. Was it really him, or was it because of who was coaching him and the system that was being run and executed? Was it just a serendipitous flash in the pan moment that he rose to the occasion while the team’s “true star” was down with an injury? In short, is Lin and, subsequently, Linsanity the real deal? He’s now on a team that needs Linsanity to strike again. But will Lin prove that it is the man and not the hype we should all go crazy about?