One of the most bittersweet things to exist in any sport can be summed up in three words: injury-riddled stars. As for the NBA, dozens upon dozens of players enter the league, eager to dominate and with the talent to do so, only to be bed-ridden by the injury bug. Today, some of the most infamous “what if” players in NBA history will be highlighted.
Anfernee Hardaway (or Penny Hardaway) was drafted by the Golden State Warriors with the third overall pick in the 1993 NBA draft. He was shortly traded away to the Orlando Magic where his impact was immediate. In his rookie season, Hardaway averaged 16 points to go along with 6 assists and 5 rebounds all on 47% shooting.
Not only did he finish runner-up in the rookie of the year race, but the tandem of himself and Shaquille O’Neal also led the Magic to a 50-32 record. In the following year, Hardaway took his game to the next level. He upped his scoring average to 21 and made his first of four all-star appearances. Orlando ended up making it to the finals that year, where they got swept by a Hakeem Olajuwon-led Rockets team.
The future looked bright, and it was for the next couple of years. Hardaway would be an all-star for the next three seasons and although they never made it back to the finals, deep playoff runs were common. After Shaq left to join the LA Lakers in 1996, Hardaway was the proven leader of the Magic. In the 1996-1997 NBA season, Hardaway suffered a knee injury that would sideline him for 63 games.
This injury jump-started the derailing of his career. Hardaway would never reach the 20 points per game mark again and as time went on, injuries upon injuries started to pile up. This caused Orlando to ship Hardaway off to Phoenix for the 1999-2000 season. Although he averaged 17 points per game in his first year in a Suns uniform, it was clear he wasn’t the same.
Having always been known for his explosiveness and beating defenders off the dribble, his injuries made this hard for him to do. Hardaway would play in Phoenix for four more seasons until eventually joining the New York Knicks and even the Miami Heat for a singular year.
Overall, Hardaway was the future of the league. From competing with a prime Michael Jordan in an MVP race to making highlight-reel plays every game, Hardaway was taking the league by storm. Injuries stole a long and illustrious career from both himself and NBA fans alike.
Much like every player’s story in the NBA, Rose’s is one of both triumphs and losses. It all started when Rose was drafted with the number one overall pick in the 2009 NBA draft to his hometown team, the Chicago Bulls. In his first season, many fans were both ecstatic and anxious to see him play.
It’s safe to say he didn’t disappoint. Rose averaged 17 points, 6 assists and 4 rebounds on 47% shooting per contest, ultimately solidifying himself as one of the best point guards in the league. His game was premised on electrifying dunks and insane layups that weren’t common at the point guard position.
Rose would go on to make the all-star team in his next three seasons and even win the MVP award in the 2010-2011 NBA season. His MVP numbers consisted of 25 points to go along with 8 assists and 4 rebounds. Not only was he the youngest player to ever receive this award, but he was also constantly recognized as the second-best player in the league if not the first.
All was well until the beginning of the 2011-2012 playoffs. In the first playoff game of the year against the Philadelphia 76ers, Rose suffered a torn ACL. This injury caused him to miss the entire 2012-2013 NBA year. In the next season, Rose played in 10 games before tearing the medial meniscus in his right knee, therefore having had two major injuries, one to each knee.
After coming back to play in the 2014-2015 season, Rose was showing flashes of his old self.
A bit slower and less athletic, but there was still hope that Rose could return to all-star form. This is when Rose re-injured the same medial meniscus that he had previously healed from. At this point, it looked as though retirement was a serious possibility for this young 26-year-old.
Instead of retiring, Rose decided to come back and play in the 2015-2016 season, where his production was solid but nowhere near where it once was. All of the injuries to Rose caused the Bulls to seek trades for him, eventually dealing him to the New York Knicks.
After playing one season with the New York Knicks, Rose found himself on the Cleveland Cavaliers. After playing 16 games with the Cavaliers, he was then traded to the Utah Jazz. This is when he was waived and picked up by the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Timberwolves proved to be a blessing in disguise for Rose. This is where he rejuvenated his career. In the 2018-2019 NBA season, fans were astounded when Rose dropped 50 points in a single game. This made many cry because of how much pain this man has endured from physical to emotional.
After a solid year, Rose signed a 2 year, 15 million dollar contract with the Detroit Pistons where he has been averaging 18 points, 5 assists, and 2 rebounds as a backup point guard.
Although he’s doing well now, the NBA world was certainly robbed of seeing his full potential. Many say that Rose could have easily been a top-five point guard in league history if he wasn’t so injury prone, and it’s hard to disagree.
Brandon Roy’s story is a saddening one, to say the least. Much like these other guys, his career pretty much ended before it started. Roy was taken with the sixth pick in the 2006 NBA draft. Originally, he was drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves but was traded to the Portland Trailblazers on draft day.
Roy was able to snag the 2006-2007 rookie of the year award with averages of 17 points, 4 assists, and 4 rebounds on 45% shooting from the field. It was clear: the NBA had a future star on its hands. Although his rookie season looked like a perfect one; it wasn’t. Roy only played in 57 games that season due to a knee injury. This would foreshadow what was to come years later.
In the next season, Roy was selected to his first of three all-star games. Although he suffered an ankle injury the game before the all-star break, Roy chose to play through the pain. This would prove to be a detrimental choice and vastly affect his play in the remaining games of the season.
Before the 2008-2009 NBA season started, Roy chose to undergo a surgery that would remove cartilage from his left knee. This forced him to miss the beginning of the season while he strived for a healthy recovery.
When he came back, Roy looked as good as new. He averaged 22 points to go along with 5 assists and 4 rebounds. He was then selected to the all-star game for the second year in a row. During the 2009-2010 NBA season, Roy partially tore his meniscus in his right knee.
He underwent surgery, but surprisingly didn’t miss a beat, coming back and helping Portland to a game four victory of the first round. This season was the last that Roy would be an all-star.
In the 2010-2011 season, Roy would go on to play in 47 games and only average 12 points, the lowest ppg (points per game) in his career.
Roy’s knees were pretty much done for; he couldn’t play anymore without them hurting. This caused him to retire for the 2011-2012 season. Roy would come back the next year and appear in five games for the Timberwolves, but that was it. Roy’s basketball career was over. While reading about Roy’s story, this simply can’t sit right with anyone.
Most injury-plagued stars at least play for a somewhat long time. Roy was only able to play in six seasons, one of those seasons only being five games. He was certainly an up and coming star.
One of the more controversial players in NBA history, there’s no doubt that Demarcus Cousins’s career has been taken by injury. Cousins was taken with the fifth pick in the 2010 NBA draft by the Sacramento Kings.
Although the Kings aren’t known for their drafting ability (in fact, they’re known for their inability to draft), this pick was a home run. Cousins managed to make the all-rookie team in his first year with averages of 14 points, 2 assists, and 8 rebounds per contest.
Sacramento finally had their starting center. For the next couple of years, Cousins kept improving until he was finally named an all-star in the 2014-2015 season. Cousins would go on to be an all-star for the next five seasons.
In each of these seasons, Cousins not only averaged over 24 points, but he also averaged over 10 rebounds. To say this is impressive is an understatement; this is top of the line quality products. During the 2016-2017 NBA season, the Kings traded Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans. This paired him up with fellow big man Anthony Davis.
In the 2017-2018 season, Cousins looked just as good in a Pelicans uniform, averaging 25 points to go along with 12 rebounds. That offseason was going to be the one where he finally got paid big. Then, tragedy struck. Cousins tore his Achilles 48 games in.
This caused many teams to be cautious with signing him because having a torn Achilles is certainly hard to recover from. He ended up signing a one year deal with the Golden State Warriors worth $5.3 million, nowhere near the $170 million he was set to make. Cousins was ready to prove himself and show that he can still play at a high level.
Cousins was fairly solid with the Warriors late into the season, but a left quadriceps injury made him miss the playoffs, once again bringing his value way down. This caused him to sign another one year deal, this time with the Los Angeles Lakers. This deal was worth even less this time around, garnering only $3.5 million
Again, Cousins was looking to prove to the world that through all the adversity, he could still play basketball at a high level. Right before the season started, Cousins suffered another knee injury during training. This would later prove to be a torn ACL, which sidelined Cousins for the entirety of the 2019-2020 NBA season.
This caused the Lakers to waive Cousins.
The question remains; will we see Demarcus Cousins in the league again? Only time will tell, but there’s no doubt that injury took one of the most dominant big men in the NBA today down.
Tracy McGrady is recognized by many as the poster boy for this type of category. When fans think of ‘injury-riddled stars’, McGrady is one that comes to the forefront of their mind. T-Mac was drafted by the Toronto Raptors with the ninth pick in the 1997 NBA draft. Although his rookie season wasn’t anything spectacular, flashes were shown of the player he could evolve into.
By his third year in the league, he was averaging 15 points to go along with 3 assists and 6 rebounds. It was clear that he was an up and coming star, but something was holding him back. It was determined that by playing with his cousin, Vince Carter, he would never reach his full potential. This is when Toronto signed and traded him to the Orlando Magic.
The trade paired McGrady with star player Grant Hill, who unfortunately would only play 57 games in his four-year stint with the Magic. This trade would prove to unlock McGrady’s final evolution. In his first year with Orlando, T-Mac averaged 27 points, 1 assist and 7 rebounds. This season would allow him to make his first of seven all-star appearances and show the world just how good he was.
The highlight year of his career was when he averaged 32 points along with 6 rebounds in the 2002-2003 season. After the 2003-2004 NBA season, Mcgrady was sent to the Houston Rockets in a blockbuster trade that involved Steve Francis.
T-Mac would not slow down with the Rockets, as he averaged over 20 points for the next four seasons. The first major injury came in the 2005-2006 season, where he only appeared in 47 games due to a multitude of injuries, the most prominent being back spasms.
There was even a point where McGrady had to be carried off the court midgame. He would come back in the 2006-2007 season and have his last all-star season for the rest of his career. Fast forward to the 2008-2009 season, where McGrady not only struggled with back spasms, he now had shoulder and knee injuries.
After the Rockets first round exit, McGrady underwent arthroscopic surgery on both his left shoulder and left knee. This would prove to be the end of T-Mac’s great career, as he played in five more seasons with the Rockets, Knicks, Pistons and Hawks. He never again hit the 10 points per game mark. He would go on to play in China for a little bit before eventually retiring from the game of basketball.
Although Tracy McGrady probably saw the most out of his career than others in this article, there’s no doubt that if it weren’t for injuries, McGrady would have had a couple more all-star seasons.