Reader request: All-time underachievers
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Charley Rosen / Special to
Posted: 42 days ago
Hey, Charley. I'd love to get your opinion about the biggest underachievers in NBA history. — Paolo Cruz — Tempe, AZ

Thanks for your interesting request.

It should be noted, however, that I don't equate an underachieving player with one whose talents were simply inadequate. Also, the following Baker's dozen list of players is presented in no particular order.

Stromile Swift — Has all the tools to be an All-Star, but lacks an understanding of the game. As far as he's concerned, there's no reason to pay attention to what's going on out there unless he has the ball in his hands.

Rasheed Wallace — Except for the 2004 playoffs and the 22 games he played with Detroit that season, Wallace has been a model of inconsistency. Blame his failure to be an All-Star-caliber performer night in and night out on his emotional instability.

Tim Thomas — If he were tougher, both mentally and physically, he wouldn't be a chronic rider on the NBA merry-go-round.

Eddy Curry Will he ever get into game shape? Will he ever learn how to pass? Rebound? Defend? Bounce the ball without turning it over? This guy has All-Star moves when he can catch the ball with his foot in the paint — but, after five years in the league, he still plays like a confused rookie.

Eddy Curry has yet to play up to his potential. (Glenn James / Getty Images)

Derrick Coleman — He could score from near and far. He could also rebound, pass, handle and even play a modicum of defense — whenever the spirit moved him, which it didn't do often enough.

Ralph Sampson — A lack of toughness was his main problem. And at 7-foot-4, he'd rather diddle with the ball in the backcourt than wrestle with the other bigs in the paint. With the proper coaching, the proper motivation and without any interference from the myopic media, Sampson should/could have been a premier defensive specialist.

Frankie J. Sanders — San Antonio's No. 1 draft pick out of Southern University in 1978 had the whole package. He could run, jump and shoot with any of the NBA's elite wings, and he was even capable of playing earnest defense. But Frankie J. (his self-proclaimed middle initial stands for "Jump-shot") was more interested in partying than in buckling down and taking full advantage of his incredible talents. After 69 games with the Spurs, Celtics and Kings, Sanders became a CBA lifer.

Elmore Smith — On the basis of sheer talent, Smith was a Hall-of-Famer. Too bad he really didn't like playing basketball.

Mel Davis — Too stubborn for his own good, Davis was unwilling to work on his weaknesses (defense and running plays). Instead, he relied exclusively on his outstanding hops and streaky jumper to keep him in the league. He provides an early example of the too-young-too-much-too-soon syndrome that continues to diminish the full potential of some NBA hooplings.

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Cal Ramsey — He measured only 6-4 and weighed only 200 pounds, but Ramsey was a ferocious rebounder and defender at the small forward position. Despite that fact, his entire NBA career consisted of 13 games with St. Louis, New York and Syracuse from 1959-61.

Ramsey is too nice to complain about any personal injustices done to him, but the primary reason why his NBA days were so limited was the color of his skin. Simply put, Ramsey was one of the several African-American players in those days (Cleo Hill and Barry White are others) who were led out of the league due to quotas.

Jack Molinas — He played a total of only 29 games for the 1953-54 Fort Wayne Pistons, averaging 7.2 rebounds and 12.1 points per game. Molinas was good enough to have merited a rare honor — being named to participate in the All-Star game as a rookie. Too bad he'd rather gamble on hoops than play hoops.

When the NBA tapped several of his incriminating telephone conversations with a bookie, Molinas was ousted from the league just days before the All-Star game. Molinas went on to become a fixer of numerous college games in cahoots with various mobsters, a producer of porno-films, a jail bird and ultimately a shot-in-the-head victim of mob justice.

Reggie Harding — A powerhouse 7-foot, 260-pound center, Harding had the stuff to be a legendary NBA big man. Actually, he did become a legend: For covering the walls of his hotel room with his own excrement while he was on the road with the Pistons; for wearing only a flimsy mask and trying to hold up a store where he'd shopped for years in his own neighborhood; for averaging a double-double in his first two years with Detroit (1963-65) and also with Indiana in the ABA (1967-68); and for being killed in suspicious circumstances at age 30.

Joe Barry Carroll &3151; Despite some impressive numbers — 24.1 ppg for Golden State in 1982-83, plus three more seasons averaging more than 20, Carroll sleep-walked through most of his career. Hence his nickname, Joe "Barely Cares."

Here are some others who failed to make the cut:

Carlos Arroyo — A point guard who's too reluctant to give up the ball.

Baron Davis' selfish nature on the court keeps holding him back. (Fernando Medina / Getty Images)

Charles Barkley — A poisonous presence in the locker room, who was the source of much team-wide disharmony and who rarely played hard on defense.

Vince Carter — Despite his stupendous talents, he seems to have little understanding of how to play winning basketball.

Stephon MarburySee Vince Carter

Tyson Chandler — Still too young and too sensitive to play at maximum effectiveness.

Baron Davis — Too self-involved to be a winner.

Zach Randolph — Overweight and lazy.

Kareem Rush — Still trying to live off the glory of several outstanding playoff games with the Lakers.

Chris Webber — Like the Cowardly Lion, he'd be a true monster if he only had a heart.

Bonzi Wells — Like the Scarecrow, he'd be an all-time high-flyer if he acted like he had a brain.

Charley Rosen is's NBA analyst and author of 13 books about hoops, the current one being "The pivotal season, How the 1971-72 L.A. Lakers changed the NBA."

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