8 NBA Players with Big Shoes to Fill in 2014-15
In life, if the shoe fits, you wear it.
In the NBA, if the shoe doesn't fit, sometimes you have to wear it anyway.
Replacing another player is rarely easy. When a team loses one player to free agency, trade or injury—or a case of nostalgia—the next man up is immediately gifted additional responsibility. If replacing an on-court liability or financial albatross, this isn't a challenging undertaking. If supplanting a valued asset, it's the exact opposite.
Heavy, then, is the burden certain players will be carrying in 2014-15. Offseason happenings have forced a number of teams to look to new or familiar faces that weren't in this position last year.
Most of these replacements won't actually replace everything, or even anything. But adjusting expectations doesn't change the context of their new roles: These case-specific players will be donning someone else's shoes, whether they fit or not.
Chris Copeland, Indiana Pacers
Filling the Shoes of: Paul George
There is no exact science of replacing Paul George, mostly because it, like doing naked push-ups on the moon, isn't possible.
George is expected to miss all of 2014-15 after suffering a compound leg fracture during a Team USA scrimmage, according to Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears. The Pacers—despite flirting with Shawn Marion, ESPN's Mark Stein says—haven't even tried to fill the gaping hole his absence creates, because, again, it's not possible.
The only player on the roster who can begin to replace even a fraction of what George brings is Chris Copeland. No, he can't defend. Or play point forward. But he can score. As we all know, the Pacers—who ranked 22nd in offensive efficiency last season—need scoring.
Touted for his instant offense, Copeland barely played last season. He appeared in only 41 games, logging 265 total minutes. The good news? Copeland tallied the most points (153) among every player who logged no more than 265 total ticks last year.
Small victories don't get much smaller, but it's something. Imagine what he could do with more minutes and consistent playing time.
If the now-George-less, still-offense-deficient Pacers are smart, there won't be anything left to imagine much longer.
Mirza Teletovic, Brooklyn Nets
Filling the Shoes of: Paul Pierce
Mirza Teletovic isn't, without question, Paul Pierce's successor for the Brooklyn Nets. More than anything, this is by default.
With Lionel Hollins at the helm, and Kevin Garnett and Brook Lopez presumably healthy, the Nets will most likely be running more traditional, two-big lineups from the jump, diminishing the need for floor-spacing forwards who can play both the 3 and 4 spots. But that also means such talent will be harder to come by.
In just his second NBA season, Teletovic began finding his touch from deep. He converted 39 percent of his three-pointers in 2013-14, emerging as one of Brooklyn's most deadly shooters.
Although he cannot replace the leadership—or raw fire—Pierce champions, Teletovic figures to play a bigger role in his absence. Three-point shooting is an integral part of today's offenses, and the Nets—who finished 11th in three-point efficiency last year—need someone to supplant the defense-stretching skill set Pierce took to Washington.
No one on their roster, be it as a sixth man or starter, is more suited to recoup the offensive damages of Pierce's departure than Teletovic.
Paul Pierce, Washington Wizards
Filling the Shoes of: Trevor Ariza
He who leaves shoes to be filled must sometimes fill someone else's shoes himself.
Trevor Ariza was a vital part of the Washington Wizards' success last season on both sides of the ball. Pierce enters the locker room as an established leader and NBA champion, but pushing 37 years old, he has his work cut out for him.
Not only was Ariza the Wizards' most lethal shooter—he banged in 40.7 percent of his three-balls last season—but he was their most effective perimeter defender. When he wasn't on the floor, Washington was significantly worse in all facets of the game.
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Most advocates of Pierce's deal, like The Washington Post's Thomas Johnson, tend to evaluate his arrival against future free-agent spending.
"By signing Pierce, the Wizards maintain cap space and flexibility in the all-important summer of 2016 for Bradley Beal’s extension," Johnson writes. "It is also the summer a certain D.C. native (Kevin Durant) becomes a free agent."
Valuable as the financial implications may be, can Pierce actually replace Ariza? Can he match his hot shooting from behind the rainbow? His staunch perimeter defense? Will he even come close to matching his availability (35.4 minutes per game)?
The Wizards—with a little help from Otto Porter—are going to find out.
Trevor Ariza, Houston Rockets
Filling the Shoes of: Chandler Parsons
And so continues the chain of shoe-filling.
Potential offseason dominance regressed into disaster for the Houston Rockets in what felt like a matter of minutes. They went from retaining Chandler Parsons and signing Chris Bosh to, well, doing neither of those things.
Truth be told, the Rockets essentially chose Ariza over Parsons. They could have matched the three-year, $46 million offer Parsons received from the Dallas Mavericks, but general manager Daryl Morey rolled with the more cap-friendly Ariza instead.
As a three-point threat and pesky defender, Ariza isn't on-court flotsam. But Parsons joined LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Gordon Hayward and Michael Carter-Williams as the only six players to average at least 15 points, five rebounds, four assists and one steal per game last season. Those are quite the shoes to fill.
Ariza doesn't project as someone who can match Parsons' offensive output, if only because he falls short in the playmaking department. After trading Omer Asik—and still employing James Harden—the Rockets don't figure to dominate the defensive end any more than they did last year, making offensive execution that much more important.
Parsons was a huge part of the Rockets' fourth-ranked offense for 2013-14. Ariza must be a huge part of ensuring that offensive standing doesn't change.
Rodney Stuckey, Indiana Pacers
Filling the Shoes of: Lance Stephenson
Like filling Paul George's un-fillable shoes wasn't enough.
Not re-signing Lance Stephenson was a bad decision for the Pacers. It looks flat-out awful after George's injury. Any hope the team—and its anemic offense—had of remaining respectable could have rested with Stephenson, who was one of only four players who averaged at least 13 points, seven rebounds and four assists per game last year.
Instead, it lies with Rodney Stuckey.
This just in: Uh-oh.
Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal took the Pacers' biggest offseason acquisition to task, highlighting Stuckey's—and C.J. Miles'—inability to touch Stephenson with a 50-foot pole:
During his final season with the Detroit Pistons, Stuckey averaged 13.9 points, 2.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game, shooting 43.6 percent from the field and 27.3 percent from beyond the arc. He doesn't bring the same level of rebounding or facilitation to the table and is simply not as talented as a scorer.
Plus, there's this whole defense thing, which Stephenson thrives at and Stuckey prefers to pretend doesn't exist.
Stephenson and George, two of the best defenders on the NBA's best defensive team, will be replaced by mere complementary role players, neither of whom play defense or figure to match their offensive impact point for point, assist for assist.
The times in Indiana, they are are a-changin'.
For the worse.
Thaddeus Young, Minnesota Timberwolves
Filling the Shoes of: Kevin Love
Enduring another season with the tank-now, tank-forever Philadelphia 76ers would have been easier for Thaddeus Young to stomach than what he faces with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Young now has the unenviable task of replacing Love—undesirable because it's unfair.
As in impossible.
Love is coming off a historic season, during which he became the first player in NBA history to maintain averages of 26 points, 12 rebounds and four assists per game while also burying at least one three-pointer. He ranked third in win shares. He was an All-Star. He threw touchdown passes that would make Peyton Manning jealous.
But according to ESPN.com's Marc Stein, the Timberwolves still see Young as Love's "replacement." Never mind that he only began re-introducing the three-point shot into his offensive repertoire last season (he attempted just 34 threes between 2010 and 2013). Or that he's worse at protecting the rim than both Love and Nikola Pekovic, two well-known shot-blocking liabilities. Young now has to replace Love, even if only in spirit, despite what he himself might think.
"I'm not trying to replace Kevin Love," Young said at his introductory presser.
Statistically, he won't. He can't.
That doesn't make him any less of a replacement. Where Love once stood, he now stands. Where Love once played (power forward), Young will play.
The enormous shoes Love once wore are now Young's oversized, poorly fitting sneakers to sport.
Carlos Boozer, Los Angeles Lakers
Filling the Shoes of: Pau Gasol
Nothing ever comes easy for Carlos Boozer.
He was lambasted for his lack of defense while with the Chicago Bulls. That he nearly averaged a double-double during his time in Chicago was often overlooked.
One trip down Amnesty Lane later, life isn't any easier.
Boozer is now charged with replacing Pau Gasol—he was essentially traded for him, though not really—who, despite aging fast, remained one of the NBA's most productive big men. Gasol was the only player to average at least 17 points, nine rebounds, three assists and 1.5 blocks per game last season.
Although the Los Angeles Lakers aren't built to win anything next year, the memory of Gasol lives on. He won two championships in Los Angeles. He played in three All-Star games. He befriended the unfriendly Kobe Bryant. There is no forgetting Gasol in that sense.
"We’ve got some talent on this team," Boozer said, per Dime Magazine's Warren Shaw. "We have some guys with stuff to prove, myself included, and I think we’re going to surprise some people.”
Among the most surprised may be Boozer himself, once he realizes what he's up against.
Regardless of what he does, Boozer won't be viewed as fondly—in the moment or otherwise—as the future Hall of Famer whose elephantine frontcourt shoes are now his own.
Luol Deng, Miami Heat
Filling the Shoes of: LeBron James
Ridiculously LeBron James-sized ones are the shoes Luol Deng must fill.
Viewed objectively, and logically, signing Deng was huge for the Miami Heat. In the wake of James' return home, they could have crumbled the way the Cleveland Cavaliers did four years ago. They could have lost Bosh. They could have overpaid an aging, day-off-prone Dwyane Wade.
They could have called the Eastern Conference's lightless—and therefore hopeless—doldrums home.
Bringing in Deng insures the Heat against implosion. They project as a playoff team in the question mark-addled Eastern Conference, which goes down as a huge win, all things considered.
There's only one problem: Deng isn't James. He won't win two MVP awards with the Heat. In all likelihood, he won't win two championships with them, either. Deng, to that end, is a winning investment chained to a losing set of circumstances.
"He won't be asked to be LeBron James," the Sun Sentinel's Ira Winderman wrote of Deng. "For that loss, there is no replacement part."
Indeed, there is no replacing the man dominant enough to be perceived as myth. But that's what Deng is: the followup to an act which cannot be followed.
A wearer of shoes that will only ever fit the player he isn't.