Shoals Unlimited: Pseudo-Stars Ready to Fizzle

Welcome to Shoals Unlimited, where Bethlehem will post a long-form piece on basketball once a week.
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↵Last week, I brought you my list of players fixin' to make a major leap in 2008-09. Now, the sorrow stuff. Below are five guys who, after putting themselves firmly on the map last season, probably will lose ground or tread ugly, stagnant water in the coming months. Some of it is their fault, some of it isn't. But fans of these 2007-08 breakouts had better brace themselves for some long nights or, if nothing else, exercise unsentimental restraint on fantasy draft night. In alphabetical order: ↵

↵Al Jefferson, Minnesota Timberwolves: Jefferson is the Wolves' new franchise player, in effect their replacement for Kevin Garnett. ↵He's not an athlete like Dwight Howard, or even quite as towering as Andrew Bynum. But he's tough, hungry, and this past season looked every bit the future All-Star not quite as futuristic a force as Howard or Bynum, but maybe a Moses Malone for those who never caught the first showing. He also was pretty much the only thing doing on a bad team. ↵

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↵Jefferson admirably handled tons of defensive attention and never got too greedy, and even began to intimidate more consistently at the other end of the floor. The thing is, you've always got to wonder about a player who
↵thrives—however admirably—in such a crappy situation. Having added the
↵vastly underrated Mike Miller and McHale clone Kevin Love this offseason,
↵the Wolves will now have a deep threat who takes a lot of shots and some help for Jefferson underneath. Whether his stats take a slight dip is not the issue, but rather whether he takes advantage of these new digs and consolidates his strengths, or struggles to find a new groove.
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↵Chris Kaman, Los Angeles Clippers: He is tall, proud, motivated, relatively skilled, and America's most loyal German non-citizen. And by the end of last season, many were wondering if Kaman wasn't receiving his due as one of the NBA's premier‹and granted, few‹true centers. All these things are worth considering. But remember, the Clippers were pretty much without Elton Brand for the duration of 2007-08, and other than that, just didn't have much to work with. ↵

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↵It's a testament to Kaman's talent that he could plug the leak and provide the output. It's also exactly why the Clippers brought in Baron Davis and Marcus Camby during the offseason. Davis likes to shoot, and grab rebounds, and pretty much run a free-flowing offense according to his inner frequencies. Camby may have taken the trade as an insult, but no one's scoffing at his presence around the basket, if only to block shots and board. The opportunities and responsibilities just won't be there for Kaman on this new-look squad. ↵

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↵Travis Outlaw, Portland Trail Blazers: I wish the Blazers could play 200 guys at once. Last year's upstart nucleus is joined by new faces Jerryd Bayless, Rudy Fernandez and Ike Diogu, and of course, Greg Oden's deferred rookie year begins. That means LaMarcus Aldridge moves to power forward full-time, where do-it-all Outlaw got his share of minutes, and spot-up shooter Martell Webster becomes a no-brainer in this offense. ↵

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↵So where does that leave Outlaw, who can play positions 2-4 and last year learned clutch and the longball? Well, he's certainly not going to get as many shots as Roy and Aldridge got in 2007-08, which is his stated goal. And he's no longer as desperately needed as a situational stop-gap. Expect Outlaw to be used selectively, as a match-up scrambler, defensive fright, and occasional big-shot option. But after last season's meteoric arrival, this year he'll be receding back into the rotation. ↵

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↵James Posey, New Orleans Hornets: Posey has this funny habit of winning rings and walking away to try his fortunes elsewhere. Maybe that means he's weird. Or maybe it's ↵because, while he's an accomplished, long defender who hits 3s at the right time, he also only comes up big in the playoffs. He makes these moves because, simply put, that's when his market value is at its highest. This isn't wanderlust, it's smart capitalism. ↵

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↵Thus, with the Hornets hoping to jump up another rung in the West, you've got to wonder: Are they bringing in Posey for veteran presence down the stretch‹with him, a relative term that could mean the last eight games of a long playoff run‹or to add to their attack? If it's the latter, they've made a mistake, especially if it keeps Julian Wright from getting his fresh-legged, eager and crazy, minutes. This could be a two-tiered letdown: ↵Posey will disappoint those expecting a full year of his post-season heroics, and the Hornets might find themselves stumbling if they bank too much of their 2008-09 plan on him. ↵

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↵Hedo Turkoglu, Orlando Magic: Boy, was the joke ever on Otis Smith and the Magic organization. After over-paying Rashard Lewis because he was exactly what they needed to complement Dwight Howard, it was Turkoglu who made a real difference. With his size, guard-like abilities, 3-point range, and ridiculous ability to put up points down the stretch, he made Shard's versatility (tall and shoot 3s) look like a bad joke. It was a dream season: ↵Turkoglu won the Most Improved Player award, he went from valuable role player to semi-star, and the Magic found themselves with a third deadly weapon. ↵

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↵Here's the rub: This is supposed to happen in baseball, not basketball. In baseball, career years come out of nowhere, after a player's fate seems set. ↵NBA guys tend to follow more tidy, and predictable, narratives. Given the abnormal nature of Hedo's rise, it's hard to not think it wasn't also something of a fluke‹another marker of the MLB career year. What's more, now teams are approaching him, not Lewis, as the Magic's number two. So while he's obviously found a good situation in the Magic, there's no way the high continues unabated. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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