The Missing Piece: Reclamation Projects
Michael McNamara -- Hornets247.com
Go big or go home on these possible missing pieces
It would have been hard to believe a couple of seasons ago that Zach Randolph and JR Smith could have been the missing piece on championship contenders, but as we stand almost a full month into the 2012-13 season, that is most certainly the case. Zach Randolph was considered a headcase, both on and off the court. A guy who just looks to fill his own stat sheet with no concern for wins and losses. JR Smith was a chucker who drove nearly a half a dozen coaches (including one in China of all places) to the brink of insanity, and now he is part of the most efficient offenses in the entire NBA.
We always hear of this magical elixir called the “change of scenery” that is supposed to cure athletes of all that ails their game. A guy chokes his coach and he just needs a change of scenery to become a stable individual. What is the solution for a player that goes into the stands and punches a paying customer? Change of scenery. What if you have a point guard who is on the verge of eating himself out of the league? A change of scenery beats any diet.
It sounds rediculous, and most times it is just that. More times than not a player does not change and the organization that acquires him just moves his baggage on to the next destination, but sometimes it does work. This year we have Randolph and Smith rewarding the teams that took a chance when nobody else would. In the past we have seen Latrell Sprewell lead the Knicks to an unlikely Finals run, Artest help the Lakers win Game 7 in the Finals, and Baron Davis help the Warriors pull off one of the greatest playoff upset of all time.
When you close your eyes and take that home run swing, you usually strike out, but every once in a while you smack a long ball that can completely turn around your franchises fortunes. With that in mind, we take a look at the guys who come with baggage, but could be the final piece to getting some hardware.
DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
If *you were to tell me that there is a guy in the league that will have his career play out exactly like Zach Randolph’s I would bet on Cousins. Like Randolph, Cousins came into the league too young and immature and finds himself in the middle of minor incidents both on and off the court. His coaches and teammates would be the first to tell you that he is not a bad person, he is just “a little off.” In two years, the Kings will have to make a big financial decision on Cousins and this is one franchise that is not in position to take a risk on a player as volitile as Cousins. If they look to move him this summer before they have to make that decision to extend him on October 31st, might a package of our 1st rounder and Robin Lopez suffice? And if so, should the Hornets do it? Remember, Zach Randolph needed a couple of changes of scenery before he got his head straight.
Andrew Bynum, Philadelphia 76ers and Greg Oden, Free Agent
These guys are both on the list for the same reason, and while Bynum has at least played in games over the past couple of seasons, it isn’t clear as of right now which one of these guys has a better chance to stay healthy over the next 5-7 seasons. Bynum cannot stay healthy in a bowling alley, meanwhile Oden is taking the year off and getting some of the same treatment that has lead to a Kobe Bryant rebirth. Oden also would come with the cheaper price tag at this point, but Bynum has the higher ceiling if he stays healthy. Either would be a gamble at this point, especially when you have a roster with Eric Gordon on it, but just imagine the potential of this team with a dominant young center next to Anthony Davis and a healthy Eric Gordon on the wing. More likely than not, we would need a completely different type of elixir to make that a reality, but sometimes you just got to take a chance.
Andray Blatche, Brooklyn Nets
It’s not often that you see a 25 year-old without massive injury issues amnestied by a team that spent six seasons developing him, but that is exactly what happened to Blatche after a series of run-ins with coaches and management. Now he is in Brooklyn on a vet minimum contract having a bit of a resurgence after a change of scenery. Last week’s game against Sacramento showed exactly what he is capable on the court as he scored 22 points on 12 shots in just 19 minutes, leading the team in scoring off the bench. This is a guy who average 17 and 8 just two seasons ago, but has struggled to stay in shape throughout his career. Perhaps a double change of scenery can keep the weight off for good, and the Hornets could be rewarded with a guy who has the potential to be what Rasheed Wallace was offensively in his prime.
Tyreke Evans, Sacramento Kings
When the class of 2009 were all getting their contract extensions at the end of October, it was hard not to notice Tyreke Evans missing from the list. Evans was the runaway Rookie of the Year that season, and now most people would likely rank him outside of the top ten in that class. It is surprising to see how much he has fallen since coming into the league and posting a 20, 6, and 5 as a rookie. Usually, players improve as they get acclomated to the league, but Evans has been lost on a Sacramento team that is full of guards and wings with his same shoot first mentality. While he will never be a knock down perimeter shooter, Evans has the ability to get to the rim at will and is only 23 years old. Perhaps pairing him with an unselfish superstar like Anthony Davis and a hard nosed head coach like Monty Williams is exactly what this guy needs to turn his game back around.
[h=3]Check in on the Young Pups[/h
]Hopefully you all watched the UCLA-Georgetown game I reccomended in last week’s Missing Piece. If you did, you saw the debut of Shabazz Muhammad and the coming out party of Otto Porter. Both are likely to be top 10 picks in June, and while Muhammad is essentially a lock to go in the top three, Porter could figure into the top five if he keeps playing the way he did against UCLA. Porter was already known by scouts as a defensive specialist akin to a young Andrei Kirilinko, but now he is showing a smooth stoke from mid-range and the ability to attack the basket off the dribble. Muhammad, meanwhile, struggled in his first contest but that is to be expected with any player thrown into the lineup just days after being reinstated. In his first start the following day, he led the team with 21 points on just 12 shots, showcasing a bevy of moves that will help him excel at the next level.
Cody Zeller, meanwhile, has struggled somewhat against athletic players this season and some of *his numbers are actually down compared to what he put up as a freshman. I have always thought the talk of him going #1 was a bit proposterous and I actually think a Sullinger-like scenario is more likely for him than most realize. Part of Sullinger’s fall was due to some medical issues, but even before that teams were sliding him down their draft boards because of what they saw during his sophomore year. Once teams started looking at tape on him, they recognized that length and athleticism could bother him, and now teams are doing the same with Zeller. He has posted huge numbers against the Sam Houston State’s of the world, but against Indiana’s two legitimate opponents this year (Georgia and Georgetown), Zeller is averaging just 11.5 points and 6 rebounds and is shooting 40% from the field.
If you want a sleeper to watch this season, check out Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart. Smart is a 6’4″ *freshman combo guard who went head to head with super freshman Rodney Purvis this week and absolutely demolished him as OSU upset #6 NC State. Smart’s stat line was Dwayne Wade-esque as he had 20 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists, 4 blocks, and 4 steals. He isn’t a super elite athlete, but he plays as hard as anyone you have ever seen every minute of the game and is always around the ball. Expect to hear his name a lot more in the weeks to come.
The Missing Piece is a weekly column that runs every Saturday only on Hornets247.com. For past articles, click here.