Each season, disappointment infiltrates the NBA and attacks players like an angry virus. The frenzied 82-game schedule limits preparation time. The constant roster turnover hinders team chemistry. The lucrative guaranteed contracts challenge motivation.
But while it's perfectly understandable that some aging players take slow rides on southbound trains, it's also true that others simply fail to measure up -- to the expectations of their team, themselves or their contract.
So isn't it about time they be properly recognized? Here are our All-Disappointment teams, made up of players who haven't done what was expected of them for reasons other than getting old or hurt. Players who are paid extravagantly for previous success and/or are employed by teams that have grand expectations merited added consideration.
G: Gilbert Arenas, Wizards. Who else? Arenas' goofball tendencies finally got the best of him, and now he's put his career in jeopardy by bringing four unloaded guns to the Wizards' locker room. He pleaded guilty to felony gun possession Friday and will be sentenced in March. He could face jail time, and the team might try to void his contract. But even if he hadn't touched a gun, his performance would rate as at least a minor disappointment for the listless Wizards. Although before his suspension he had team highs of 22.6 points and 7.2 assists, Arenas also was shooting only 41.1 percent from the field, averaging 3.7 turnovers and getting his share of blame for Washington's porous defense.
G: Vince Carter, Magic. The Magic's offseason decision to trade for Carter and let Hedo Turkoglu seek his free-agent millions elsewhere set off a chain reaction of disappointment that has spread across two continents. Carter has always been the classic great player who doesn't help his team win, and that hasn't changed in Orlando. Although Carter is averaging 17.4 points in 30.9 minutes, he is shooting a career-low 39.2 percent from the field and 30.9 percent from three-point range. But that hasn't stopped him from attempting 131 more shots than any of his teammates. Orlando has won two of three since he was sidelined with a separated shoulder, and there's been talk that Carter could come off the bench when he returns as the Magic seek a better mix.
F: Caron Butler, Wizards. Washington has far bigger problems than Butler, but he still has underachieved. His scoring (16.5) is down more than four points from last season, and his assist, field-goal and three-point percentages have decreased as well. An All-Star selection in 2007 and '08, and a viable candidate last season, he can make vacation plans for this year's break. You can't blame him if he's frustrated amid the (basketball) mess in Washington, but he's capable of more than he's giving. His name is swirling in trade rumors and he might make a timely acquisition for another team. With just one season left on his contract after this one, he's likely to have the opportunity to revive himself elsewhere.
F: Hedo Turkoglu, Raptors. Toronto has indeed improved from last season, but its $52 million man is frustrated, and has met with front-office personnel to discuss his confined role. His shooting percentages are up -- he's even surpassed 40 percent from the three-point line -- but his scoring average has dropped 3.7 points to 13.1. Too often for his tastes, he's told to go stand in the corner and wait for a pass, an approach that doesn't take advantage of his versatility.
C: Mehmet Okur, Jazz. It's bad enough that the offensive-minded big man's scoring has dipped more than four points from last season's 17-point average, his field-goal and three-point percentages have tumbled and his turnovers are up. What's worse is that he signed a two-year, $21 million contract extension last summer that kicks in next season. He's scored 20 or more points just once, a 21-point outing in the second game. The Jazz are reportedly looking to unload contracts, but his won't be easy to deal.
G: Devin Harris, Nets. You can't blame a guy for struggling on this three-win abomination of a team, and insiders say he's been given the priority of getting teammates involved. But the falloff in production for the six-year veteran and 2009 All-Star is blatant. His scoring has slipped from 21.3 to 15.9, and his field-goal (38.1) and three-point (20.3) percentages are career lows. Plus, his defense isn't close to what it was a couple of years ago, when he was being touted as an All-Defensive team candidate.
G: T.J. Ford, Pacers. The eighth pick in the 2003 draft was no worse than respectable with Milwaukee and Toronto. Even last season, his first with the Pacers, he averaged 14.9 points and 5.3 assists. Now he's disappeared and there's no way back for him unless injuries leave coach Jim O'Brien no choice. Through the first 31 games, Ford pulled off the neat trick of averaging just 3.1 assists -- hard to do for a starting point guard in an up-tempo offense. His reckless drives into the lane, defensive malaise and 1-of-28 three-point shooting earned him a place on the bench, and now that rookie A.J. Price is performing well behind new starter Earl Watson, Ford is on blocks. He hasn't played in the past six games, and was on the inactive list for two of them. The Pacers are probably stuck with him for a while, too. He's owed $8.5 million next season, so there aren't likely to be takers for another year.
F: Boris Diaw, Bobcats. He has a strange habit of playing well his first season with a new team and then regressing. He averaged 13.3 points his first season in Phoenix, for example, then 9.7, then 8.8, then 8.3 before he was traded to the Bobcats early last season. He averaged 15.1 in Charlotte the rest of 2008-09, but is down to 10 points this season and hitting just 29.5 from the three-point line. None of this would matter much if the Bobcats weren't suddenly contenders for a playoff spot in the East. They're going to need Diaw to try to make a good first impression again.
F: Charlie Villanueva, Pistons. He is playing better lately, but still not earning the $35 million contract he received over the summer. Villanueva is averaging 14.8 points, down from last season's 16.2 in Milwaukee, and his 43.8 percent shooting is below his career norm. Safe to say team president Joe Dumars was anticipating a bit more. He's also rebounding (5.3) at a career-low level and his defense has been bad enough that coach John Kuester felt it necessary last month to conduct a half-hour summit on the subject. Villanueva has plantar fasciitis in his right heel and he's hardly the only reason the Pistons have fewer victories than all but three teams, but so far he's not looking like a wise purchase.
C: Dwight Howard, Magic. He leads the league in rebounding and blocked shots, so we're quibbling here. But his scoring (16.9) has plummeted nearly four points, his shot attempts (9.1) are at a four-year low, his turnovers (3.5) are up and recurring foul trouble has contributed to a slight dip in minutes. It's not all his fault, as the team chemistry changed with the roster shuffle. Howard is one of the most likable guys in the league, but his good-natured persona doesn't always serve him well. His uneven play was summarized earlier in the week, when he had 30 points and 16 rebounds at Sacramento on Tuesday, then followed with eight points on 1-of-7 shooting the next night in Denver.