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15. Rajon Rondo
He no longer has the Big Three with him, so Rondo still needs to prove that he can be elite without them. Playing for a team that chose to rebuild makes him one of a kind as he is sticking it out alone with his new coach and teammates. Since returning from an ACL injury, it seems to be taking him a bit longer to get back into basketball form. Being the competitor he is, Rondo hates to lose and will forever be playing with a chip on his shoulder until he proves he can win on his own. In his mind, he doesn’t need Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce or even Ray Allen as he’s said before that he’s content and wouldn’t mind spending the rest of his career in Boston. For now, he needs to use what’s left of this season to prove that he’s getting his legs back and ready for a contract year next season.
14. Luol Deng
After rejecting a three-year, $30 million extension from the Bulls, Chicago gave up on Deng and traded him away to a mess in Cleveland. He may have earned himself the honor as the player with the most to prove the second half of the season. Rejecting Chicago’s extension put pressure on his own self to perform the rest of this season on a losing team. The Bulls didn’t seem to blink and had no problem with him rejecting their offer by immediately trading him for a problematic Andrew Bynum and future draft picks. He’s been pretty consistent throughout his career, but really just added a ton of pressure on his own self to finish the season strong in a losing environment.
13. Lance Stephenson
It couldn’t have come at a better time for him to be having a career year, as he is playing for a contract. Stephenson arguably should have been an All-Star, posting four triple-doubles this season while shooting 50 percent from the field. With the rise of Stephenson and Paul George, it makes it easy for Indiana to think about trading or cutting ties with Danny Granger very soon. Stephenson plays with high energy, truly giving it his all this season. He needs to keep up his play in the second half throughout the season and into the playoffs in order for him to earn a big contract. If so, he would earn money this offseason that he’s never seen before.