The NBA has seen its fair share of great players team up and do spectacular things on a basketball court together. Tim Duncan and David Robinson; Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen; LeBron James and Dwyane Wade… NBA history’s star NBA duos — and even trios — goes on. But lest we forget the teams that tried and failed to put together a great duo. Sometimes, for whatever reason, it’s just not a great fit.
The Bulls recently added Wade to a roster that already features Jimmy Butler, a player at essentially the same position who plays a similar style. We won’t know exactly how it will turn out until the season is underway — and it’s possible that some new teammates will actually benefit from this major change in Chicago — but here are five star NBA duos of the past that weren’t so successful.
1. Scottie Pippen and Hakeem Olajuwon
Back in the 1997–98 season, the Houston Rockets had a Hall of Fame trio in Charles Barkley, Clyde Drexler, and Hakeem Olajuwon. But all three were on the downside of their careers, and the team finished just 41-41, which led to a first-round defeat at the hands of the Utah Jazz. Drexler retired that offseason, causing the Rockets to look to replace him with another future Hall of Fame player: Scottie Pippen.
Houston worked a sign-and-trade for Pippen, pairing him with a still quite productive Olajuwon in what should have been a dream duo. While Olajuwon stayed healthy and performed well, with 18.9 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game, Pippen didn’t exactly hold up his end of the bargain. Most people thought he’d excel now that he was yet again out from under Jordan’s shadow. But the 33-year-old’s shooting percentages dropped and his scoring output went down from 19.1 points to 15.4.
The Rockets went 31-19 in a lockout shortened season, but Pippen absolutely killed his team in a short series in the first round, averaging 18.3 points on 17.5 shots per game, but shooting a dismal 32.9% from the field. The Rockets were eliminated in four games, and immediately made a deal with the Portland Trail Blazers to get Pippen off the roster.
2. Vince Carter and Jason Kidd
After three years out of the playoffs, the New Jersey Nets made a move to dump point guard Stephon Marbury while bringing in a 28-year-old Jason Kidd back in the summer of 2001. It immediately transformed their team, along with 24-year-old Kenyon Martin, rookie Richard Jefferson, and veteran forward Keith Van Horn. The Nets won 52 games the next season and made back-to-back trips to the NBA Finals.
But they didn’t win a championship, and the following season they were eliminated in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. In 2004–05, the team started the year 7-14 before making a move to freshen up the blood and put them back in position as a title contender; they traded Alonzo Mourning and others to the Toronto Raptors for Vince Carter.
The deal couldn’t possibly be viewed poorly at the time, given that Mourning’s career as a star player was essentially over and he was later released by the Raptors anyway. The Nets did push to finish 42-40 that year, getting eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. The next season they were 49-33 and made it into the second round, but the fit between Kidd and Carter — both players that operated with the ball in their hands — was not great, and the team never achieved anything with the duo.
3. Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis
The combination of Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp — and later Vin Baker replacing Kemp — helped lead the Seattle SuperSonics to an average of 59 wins per season from 1993 through 1998. But in the lockout shortened 1999 season, the Sonics missed the postseason with just a 25-25 record. They were a slightly above .500 team over the next few years, making the postseason twice with first-round exits.
Then, on trade deadline day in 2003, the Sonics made a franchise-altering move. They dealt 34-year-old Payton in a blockbuster deal to the Milwaukee Bucks in exchange for shooting guard Ray Allen. With sweet-shooting small forward Rashard Lewis already on the team as an up-and-coming star, putting them together seemed like a great way to build up another contender in Seattle.
Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. While Allen developed further into the Hall of Fame player we remember, Lewis never took that next step forward. The 2003 Sonics didn’t make the playoffs, and in fact the team only made the postseason one time in five seasons with Allen and Lewis together. The good news? Their ineptitude helped the franchise land Kevin Durant, which is exciting, even if he only played one season in Seattle.
4. Mitch Richmond and Rod Strickland
Back in 1995–96, the Washington Bullets (later the Wizards) had a logjam in the front court. With Rasheed Wallace, Chris Webber, and Juwan Howard, the team had a surplus of young power forwards but nobody to distribute the ball to them. So that summer, they made a deal to send Wallace to the Portland Trail Blazers in return for point guard Rod Strickland.
It worked out well in the first season, as Webber showed signs of developing into a star and the team made a run to the postseason before losing to the Chicago Bulls in the first round. But the next year, injuries hit several key players and the Wizards only put together a 42-40 record — just missing out on making the playoffs to the New Jersey Nets. Thinking that more change was needed, they put together a deal to send Webber to the Sacramento Kings in exchange for shooting guard Mitch Richmond.
This was a huge mistake. The Wizards went from a young, budding playoff contender to cellar-dweller in an instant, while Webber helped turn the Kings into an overnight sensation along with Vlade Divac and Jason Williams. Richmond and Strickland didn’t fit well, and neither put together great shooting performances for the Wizards. Even Howard’s performance dropped off. The Wizards bottomed out at 19-63 in 2000–01 before team president Michael Jordan expelled all the players from the roster and returned to the court himself.
5. Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony
When the Denver Nuggets drafted Carmelo Anthony in 2003, the young star made the team instantly legitimate. In his rookie year, Melo helped lead the Nuggets to the playoffs for the first time since 1995, but the task of pushing the team beyond the first round was too much for Anthony alone. In 2006, with the team off to a solid 14-9 start, the Nuggets made a push to go from playoff team to title contender; they traded forward Joe Smith and point guard Andre Miller for Allen Iverson.
At the time, NBA fans were stunned at the possibilities. Anthony and Iverson were two of the elite scorers in the NBA at the time, and the ability to run up the score would make the combination absolutely lethal — or so everyone thought.
The truth is, Iverson and Anthony never gelled. The Nuggets concluded that season 31-28 after the trade and were yet again knocked out in the first round of the playoffs. It wasn’t until Denver finally gave up on their experiment, dealing Iverson just three games into the 2008–09 season, that they finally saw some real success on the court. With Anthony and the newly acquired Chauncey Billups, the Nuggets made their first ever appearance in the Western Conference Finals.
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