What Happens When NBA Superstars Change Teams

For one reason or another, superstars are switching uniforms today faster than lightning can strike the ground. Whether it’s from a trade or free agency, there are multiple free agents that have changed locations in the past few years. When this change happens, it’s an interesting situation. A player that has been with one team for most of their career suddenly gets moved to an entitely new situation. Their lives are changed, but how much does this really affect them? Do these superstars look as sharp in their new uniform as they did in their old one the year after, or is there an obvious decline? Could these superstars even perform better after a move?

Every situation is different, which is why it’s so interesting to look at each case in a different perspective. I looked at some of the biggest superstars who changed jerseys recently and how they were affected from the last year with their previous team and their first year with their current team.

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First up is the point guard messiah, Chris Paul. After spending six years in New Orleans with the Hornets, Chris Paul was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers for Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman, Al-Farouq Aminu, and a first-round pick in 2012. This was a trade that shook the infrastructure of the NBA, especially since David Stern denied a trade with Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers a week earlier. Let’s look at how Paul performed in his last season with the New Orleans Hornets.

In the 2010-2011 season with the Hornets, Paul played in 80 games and totalled 2,885 minutes over the season. He averaged 15.9 PPG, 4.1 RPG and 9.8 APG while shooting 46.3 percent from the field, 38.8 percent from deep and 87.8 percent from the free throw line. One of the most important things to note about Paul’s final season in New Orleans is the fact that he was recovering from knee surgery performed in February, 2010. Dr. James Andrews removed the lateral meniscus from Paul’s right knee because Andrews could not repair the meniscus. During that final season in New Orleans, CP3 produced 18.4 wins for the team, which was 41.7 percent of the team’s victories that year. In case you were curious, the Hornets finished 46-36 (third in Southwest Divison, seventh in Western Conference) with a first-round exit in the playoffs to the Los Angeles Lakers. After this season in New Orleans, it was clear that Chris Paul had done all he could for the team. This prompted the blockbuster trade to the Clippers, taking them from the laughingstock of the NBA to a perennial playoff team.

Chris Paul went from the mardi gras flavor of the Hornets to the blue and red of the Clippers. From a relatively small basketball market in New Orleans, CP3 was now at the front of the basketball world in Los Angeles. But it was more than just about location. Chris Paul was finally supported by a powerhouse surrounding class. He was the face of the franchise in New Orleans, he was responsible for every win, as much as every loss. With the Clippers, he was finally given the help that his supreme talent deserved. Besides David West, Chris Paul had been surrounded by players like David Andersen, Marco Belinelli, Willie Green, Trevor Ariza and an aging Peja Stojakovic. Solid players, no doubt, but no players that would raise any banners.

In Los Angeles, Chris Paul would form “Lob City” with athletic superfreaks Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan during the 2011-2012 season. Along with those two, CP3 would dish dimes to Caron Butler, Chauncey Billups, Eric Bledsoe, Mo Williams and Nick Young, who was acquired late in the season. The change of scenery, along with improved sidekicks, proved to help Chris Paul throughout his first year with the Clippers. CP3 appeared in 60 games for the Clippers that season, leading them to a 40-26 (second in Pacific division, fifth in Western Conference) record in the lockout-shortened season.

While its obvious that the Clippers won more games in Paul’s first year with them, compared to his last year with New Orleans, there’s more behind it. Paul accounted for 36.8 percent of the Clippers wins in 2011-2012, down about five percent from his last season with the Hornets in 2010-2011. Along with this is the fact that the Clippers defeated the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the playoffs in 2011-2012, before being swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the second round. Chris Paul also played a total of 2,180 minutes for the Clippers in 2011-2012, down 705 minutes from his 2,885 total with the Hornets in 2010-2011. Paul’s scoring increased from 15.9 PPG to 19.8 PPG, but the rest of his statistics remained relatively the same. So here we see that Paul was able to take the Clippers farther in the playoffs during his first year with the team, even though he played substantially less minutes and accounted for less wins during the whole season. The uniform change affected Chris Paul in a positive way, with him being able to take his team farther in the playoffs without putting the pounding on his oft-injured knees that he did in his last season with New Orleans in 2010-2011.

You knew King James was going to appear in this piece in one way or another. LeBron James was the definiton of carrying a team on his back during his seven years with the Cleveland Cavaliers. His last season in Cleveland during the 2009-2010 had a different vibe. It’s almost as if it became more obvious that James was going to take his talents elsewhere after the season. This became extremely obvious in the Eastern Conference Semifinals versus the Boston Celtics, where the Cavaliers lost the series 4-2. LeBron James was dejected the whole series, often standing in the corner during possessions, not giving his team any chance of victory. After the final buzzer sounded after Game 6, LeBron James took off his Cleveland Cavaliers jersey as he was walking to the locker room and the hurricane of rumors begin. Where would he go? Would he stay in Cleveland? Were the rumors about the superteam in Miami going to be true? Before we discuss those situations, let’s look at how James performed in his last season with his hometown Cleveland Cavs.

James’ last season with Cleveland in 2009-2010 saw him appear in 76 games, leading them to a 61-21 record (first in Central Division, first in Eastern Conference). King James averaged 29.7 PPG, 7.3 RPG and 8.6 APG en route to winning his second straight MVP award. James shot 50.3 percent from the field, 33.3 percent from three-point range and 76.7 percent from the charity stripe. This last season in Cleveland, James accounted for 38.8 percent of the victories, producing 18 wins by himself. Producing almost 40 percent of the wins by himself, James suffered from a subpar supporting cast his last season in Cleveland (and his whole tenure in Cleveland, honestly). The two players who came after LeBron on the Cavs for win percentage were Anderson Varejao (15.5 percent) and Anthony Parker (10.0 percent), combining for a total of 25.5 percent of the wins. These statistics show how bad of a team LeBron was on and even so, he was able to lead them to the best record in the NBA. But with free agency impending during the summer of 2011, the feeling was that this would be LeBron’s last season in Cleveland.

Following the infamous “Decision,” LeBron James famously announced that he would be taking his talents to South Beach with the Miami Heat for the 2010-2011 season with partners Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Then came the “not fight, not six, not seven…” talk about championship rings before these three even practiced together. LeBron was going from a situation where he was surrounded by Anthony Parker and Mo Williams (no disrespect) to playing with All-Star power in Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. But how did this decision affect his play?

His first season in South Beach proved that his decision was the right one. James scoring decreased from 29.7 PPG to 26.7 PPG, but that was expected when the talent around him increased ten-fold and the ball needed to be shared more. LeBron went to the Miami Heat to win and that’s the biggest improvement that was seen. Similar to Chris Paul, LeBron’s wins produced and percentage of team wins decreased significantly in 2010-2011 with Miami. James produced 18 wins, accoutning for 29.3 percent of the Heat’s 58 victories. More important was the increase in help from his sidekicks, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Remember how Varejao and Parker combined for only 25 percent of the Cavs victories in James’ last season? In LeBron’s first season with the Heat, Dwyane Wade accounted for 24.1 percent of the team’s victories alone, with Bosh producing another 12.8 percent. In just one year of play, it shows how much James benefited from the increase of a solid support cast. He was not carrying the team on his back, he had way more help, which allowed him to save more energy during the regular season… which lead the Heat to an NBA Finals appearance during the first season “The Big Three” was together. Even though they fell to the Dirk Nowitzki-powered Dallas Mavericks in six games, it was obvious that King James was sitting on his throne in Miami.

LeBron James opted to form his version of The Avengers in Miami, instead of continuing to play Ironman by himself in Cleveland. This power move put the crosshairs of every NBA contender on the Heat. James made the right move by moving to South Beach, no matter how much he was criticized for it. His performance from his last season in Cleveland to his first in Miami proves this to be right. No, he may not have won a ring by himself, but who has? Jordan had Pippen and LeBron has Wade, so stop complaining.

James Harden is an interesting case. With LeBron James and Chris Paul, we had two players that were superstars from their last season with their former team and still were during their first season with their new team. Harden clearly erupted last season, going from coming off the bench every game in Oklahoma City to being the face of the franchise in Houston. Even though he came off the bench for OKC, Harden was still a solid player, winning the NBA Sixth Man of the Year award in 2011-2012. In his final season with the Thunder he averaged 16.8 PPG, 4.1 RPG and 3.7 APG in 31.4 MPG. With the core of Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and James Harden in the new CBA, one of the players would have to go. That’s when Thunder GM Sam Presti shipped James Harden to the Houston Rockets and Harden’s career would forever be changed.

Now as the main man in Houston, Harden would takeover the NBA hardwoord in his first year with the Rockets. While the previous players benefited from being around better players, Harden performed better statistically without his partners in OKC. His averages during his first season with the Rockets were 25.9 PPG, 4.9 RPG and 5.8 APG on 38.1 MPG. Playing about seven more minutes per game, Harden was able to increase his scoring by almost 10 points. Everyone knew Harden would be a stud, but no one knew this was coming. Harden set the Rockets franchise record of consecutive games with 25-plus points at 14 straight. Harden took his move to Houston in stride, even after a shaky NBA Finals performance in 2012.

There is no doubt that Harden was the focal point of the offense in Houston, compared to being a second or third option in OKC. Harden’s usage rate (how many plays the team runs through a player) rocketed during his first year in Houston. Harden has a usage rate of 29.0 percent during his first year in Houston, compared to 21.6 percent in his final year with the Thunder. Harden’s offensive win shares increased from 7.5 to 9.8, while his defensive win shares increased from 1.8 to 3.0 and his overall win shares increased from 9.3 to 12.8. As one can see, Harden was contributing much more in the win column in Houston than he did in his last year with the Thunder.

Harden’s change of scenery completely changed his makeup as a player. If he had opted to work out an extension to stay in Oklahoma City, who knows what would have happened? Maybe the Thunder would have had more success, but most will agree that Harden’s play wouldn’t have elevated to the level it did last season with the Rockets. Harden’s move to the Rockets caused him to elevate his game to a level that he may of not been given the chance to reach with the Thunder.

Dwight Howard is an interesting case to look at. He was one of the most beloved players in the NBA for a long time, before these last few seasons took place. Out of nowhere, Howard developed an enigma that no one could understand. Did he want to stay in Orlando, or did he want out? Most people agreed that Dwight wanted out of Orlando. For some reason, Howard decided to waive his early termination option with the Magic, ensuring that he would stay with the team at the beginning of the 2012-2013 season. What happened next? Howard fooled us all again and forced a trade to the Los Angeles Lakers in a blockbuster deal that sent Lakers C Andrew Bynum to the Sixers, Sixers swingman Andre Iguodala to the Nuggets and a plethora of young players to Orlando. Howard finally was away from Orlando, looking to build his dynasty with Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles… how would it turn out? Before we jump ahead, let’s analyze Dwight Howard’s last season in Orlando.

For his first seven seasons in the NBA, Howard missed only seven games combined. That’s one game per season. Talk about durability. Howard’s 621 games played and 22,471 minutes in his first seven seasons were the most by a center in his first eight seasons in the modern-NBA era. After being an immovable object for years in the NBA, Dwight’s statue started to fall apart. Howard only appeared in 54 games his last season in Orlando. His season ended early in April when it was discovered he needed back surgery to repair a herniated disk. Before Dwight had season-ending back surgery, he was playing 38.3 MPG, averaging 20.6 PPG, 14.5 RPG, with 13.4 FGA (field goal attempts) per game. Even though his season was cut short, Howard was averaging the most rebounds in his career. The season would end and the Dwight Howard saga began. ESPN was talking non-stop about where Howard would go. It was the hot topic of the summer. Finally, Howard was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in August for his own “Big Three” with Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant.

Everyone thought the drama was over with Howard when he was traded to the Lakers, but boy we were all wrong. A season that started with title hopes ended with an embarassing first-round playoff exit in sweeping fashion to the Spurs. Howard battled shoulder injuries all season with the Lakers, tearing his labrum and reaggravating it multiple times throughout the season. Kobe Bryant was extremely vocal about Howard when he was dealing with his torn labrum, saying, “We don’t have time for (Howard’s shoulder) to heal.” Even with his shoulder injury, Howard still played in 76 games during the 2012-2013 campaign. Howard averaged 17.1 PPG and 12.4 RPG in 2012-2013 with the Lakers, way down from his last season with Orlando. But there’s more statistics that show the regress Howard took in Los Angeles beside points and rebound stats, proving that this change of uniform might have been a bad decision.

In Dwight Howard’s last season in Orlando, he was the man. His whole time in Orlando, he was the man. When he moved to Los Angeles, he had to deal with Kobe Bryant. He’s one of the greatest to ever grace the hardwood, but sometimes his passing button appears to be broke. Dwight Howard suffered from Kobe’s ball-dominating style of play. Howard produced 10.5 wins in his last season with the Magic, accounting for 29.7 percent of the Magic’s 37 wins (lockout season) in 2011-2012. His season with the Lakers saw him produce only 9.3 wins, which was only 19.7 percent of the Lakers 45 wins in 2012-2013. Kobe Bryant produced 20.3 percent of the Lakers wins in 2012-2013. With only one basketball to share between Kobe, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and himself, Dwight saw his usage drop significantly. In his final season with the Magic, Dwight had a usage percentage of 26.1. This usage percentage dropped down to 22.2 percent during his season with the Lakers. Howard also saw his minutes dip down to 35.8 per game. Most showing of Howard’s regression with the Lakers is the fact that his Player Efficiency Rating (PER) dropped from 24.2 to 19.4 with the Lakers.

Looking past all the statistics, anyone that followed Dwight Howard with the Lakers could see that he was not the same player. He’s been the most dominant center in the league for a long time and he was a shell of that with the Lakers. Howard left Orlando because he thought he would wind up in a great situation in Los Angeles. Well, this storybook definitely did not have a happy ending as both sides have parted ways and Dwight Howard changed uniforms again to join James Harden in Houston with the Rockets. How will another change of uniform play out? One can only speculate until the season actually begins, but Superman might be putting his cape back on in Houston.

We’ve covered four players that changed uniforms in Chris Paul, LeBron James, James Harden and Dwight Howard. Almost every situation is different, which makes this topic so intriguing and fascinating to analyze. With Chris Paul and LeBron James, we saw two players surrounded by weak supporting casts with their previous teams, which prompted a relocation, pne through free agency (LeBron) and one through a trade (Chris Paul). Even though both relocated in a different way, both players had similar results. With a better supporting cast and a new environment, both players achieved more wins and playoff success, while playing less minutes and not putting as much of a toll on their body as they were in previous situations. While LeBron may have had more success compared to CP3 at this point, both superstars benefited greatly and responded positively to the change in uniform.

With James Harden, this was the case of a player that exploded when he was finally given the minutes. Harden was not quite a superstar when he was in Oklahoma City because he was overshadowed by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. After a year in Houston, Harden is a bonafide superstar and maybe the best SG in the game. Harden’s change in uniform completely changed the dynamics of his career, for the better. His move allowed him to prove to the NBA world that he’s much more than the best sixth man in the NBA. He proved to the NBA world that he’s the big bearded leader of a Houston Rockets team that could have his Thunder buddies in cahoots when they meet in the playoffs in the future.

Of course with Dwight Howard, it’s a situation completely different from any others discussed in this piece. His statistics decreased, he didn’t get the ball as much and he was notably miserable in the City of Angels. This led to a complete meltdown in Los Angeles, where a team that had NBA Finals aspirations turned into a team that barely made the playoffs. Dwight Howard’s time in L.A. quickly went from discussions of a statue, to discussions wondering if Howard would be a Laker for more than one season. Howard’s changing of uniforms might be one of the most bizarre and rare cases, especially since he went ahead and changed uniforms again this offseason to team up with someone else on this list, James Harden.

How will stars like KG, Paul Pierce, Jrue Holiday and Dwight Howard play with their new teams this year?

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