Flash back to February 2010: Amare Stoudemire is set to team up with LeBron James in Cleveland. Of course, in the end the trade fell through and James was working his way out of his hometown. The Cavaliers had a shot to land another superstar to team up with James, but they balked at the idea for several reasons, Stoudemire’s shaky health chief among them.
One major reason the Cavs were reluctant to pull the trigger on this trade was because they thought they might have a future star on their hands and didn’t want to give him up. Surely, this trade is a prime example of not only the Cavs failure to appease James and convince him to stay, but also of the fall of that rising star: JJ Hickson.
Hickson had shown flashes of brilliance in a limited role with Cleveland team that finished the season 61-21. In his second season in the NBA, Hickson averaged 8.5 ppg and 5.0 rpg on 55.4% shooting from the floor. He was considered a building block for a team that had little else surrounding James. His upside was such that the Cavs ultimately decided he was worth more than a shot at pairing Stoudemire with James.
In Hickson,Clevelandhad a forward with good size, great athleticism, and an incredibly appealing upside.
However, we all know how the story played out for the Cavaliers: James bolted in free agency and the team was left to pick up the pieces on a haphazardly assembled roster.
As a result, Hickson was rewarded with more playing time during the 2010-2011 season and asked to carry a much heavier load for this rebuilding team. Yet, rather than budding into the star the Cavs brass hoped for, Hickson showed his limitations.
In 80 games, 66 of which were starts, Hickson played 28.2 minutes per game but converted on 10% fewer of his field goals than the previous season and averaged 3.7 turnovers per 48 minutes.
His stock lower than it had been since being drafted 19th overall by the Cavs in 2008, Hickson was traded this offseason to the Sacramento Kings for another fading prospect, Omri Casspi. After suffering through 35 miserable games with Hickson, in which he shot 37% from the field and averaged 4.7 points per game, the forward was released outright.
In all of two seasons, Hickson had transformed from a promising prospect to being rejected by one of the league’s five worst franchises.
However, Hickson managed to find a soft landing spot Portland and has managed to turn some heads in the process. Since being picked up by the Blazers off the waiver wire, Hickson has averaged 14.3 ppg, 7.8 rpg, had five double-doubles, and four 20 point games. Best of all, he has strived in two areas that plagued him in the past. With Portland, he is shooting 55.5% from the floor and turning the ball over only 1.2 times a game while playing a career-high 30.1 minutes a game.
Surely, much of Hickson’s success in Portland will deservedly be attributed to the fact that LaMarcus Aldridge has been injured during much of Hickson’s stint in the City of Roses. Certainly, more opportunity has led to more success for Hickson.
However, he had plenty of chances to show his worth during the past three seasons in both Cleveland and Sacramento, but just could not stick. Pride may be kicking in and Hickson is trying to show he belongs. Maybe he is motivated by the fact that this offseason he will be an unrestricted free agent.
Whatever the explanation may be, the fact remains that Hickson is playing quality basketball. In fact, he has done the unthinkable: he has gone from rising star to NBA failure, only to reemerge once again as an intriguing prospect. Hickson is still only 23 years old and although his future may not be in Portland, the Trail Blazers certainly have a reborn player on their hands.