NBA Players Looking To Rebound
The three-time All-Star has returned to Houston in hopes of reviving his career, which took a downturn after the Knicks acquired him from Orlando in February 2006. Francis struggled with knee problems last season and showed only flashes of the form that made him an all-around force in his first stint in Houston from 1999 to 2004. This time around, Francis, 30, will be asked to play a supporting role to Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming for the Rockets, who have aspirations of a deep playoff run.
Kirilenko was a non-factor in the Jazz offense (much to his chagrin) and saw his playing time decline sharply during a disappointing season that sparked speculation about a possible trade. Given his uneasy relationship with coach Jerry Sloan and owner Larry Miller's lukewarm endorsement for keeping the versatile but high-priced forward, those trade rumors seem bound to resurface.
Diaw, the 2006 Most Improved Player, set the tone for his year when he showed up to training camp out of shape. His production dipped, and the Suns relied on him less to create offensively: Two years ago, he started all 20 playoff games and averaged 39.8 minutes; last season, he came off the bench for all 10 playoff games (he was suspended for one game) and averaged 23.5 minutes.
Signed to a four-year, $25 million deal last offseason to be the Hawks' starting point guard, Claxton averaged 5.3 points on 32.7 percent shooting in 42 games. He missed 36 games with knee pain, an injury he learned after the season was actually a cartilage tear that required surgery. Claxton, recovering from the June procedure, will face a lot of competition for minutes at the point from veterans Tyronn Lue and Anthony Johnson and first-round pick Acie Law.
A breakout season in 2005-06 netted Kaman a five-year, $52 extension, but the 7-footer regressed last season as the Clippers went from playoff upstarts to a 40-win lottery team. With Elton Brand sidelined indefinitely after Achilles tendon surgery, the Clippers will need more production from Kaman, whose field goal percentage dropped from 52.3 to 45.1 last season.
Wells clashed with former Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy last season and wound up playing in only 28 regular-season games before being banished for the playoffs. The good news for Wells is that he's now reunited with coach Rick Adelman, under whom the 31-year-old swingman flourished in 2005-06. And Wells shouldn't lack for motivation because he'll be entering the final year of his contract.
Mike Bibby and Brad Miller
It's no coincidence that Bibby and Miller had subpar years during the Kings' worst season since 1998. While Bibby set career lows in shooting percentage (40.4) and assists (4.7), Miller struggled with a foot injury and wasn't the efficient offensive contributor Sacramento had come to rely on the previous three seasons. The Kings have a lot invested in turnarounds for both players: Bibby is owed $28 million over the next two seasons and Miller is on the books for $34.1 million over the next three.
Like fellow Heat role players James Posey and Jason Williams, Walker performed worse last season than he did during Miami's championship run two years ago. Most glaring, of course, was his shooting: He hit 27.5 percent from three-point range (not for lack of trying, as 305 of his 668 field goal attempts were from beyond the arc) and 43.8 percent from the free throw line.
The 6-foot-2 guard set career highs in scoring (20.3 points) and shooting (46.9 percent) during a contract year with Toronto in 2005-06, but those numbers slipped to 10.1 points and 42.2 percent shooting with Minnesota last season. James, 32, was traded in the offseason to Houston, which also has added Steve Francis and rookie Aaron Brooks to the backcourt.