Like Dorothy from the Wizard Of Oz, some people are just not their best selves without the comfort of home. Considering the familiar value of fans, friends, family, and stability, it’s surprising there are not more players like Lance Stephenson, who are the prototypical homers, classified for only thriving in their native environment while falling short of their best selves anywhere else.
Because in the season of chances, where a record 578 players have stepped on the floor, Lance Stephenson’s story is undoubtedly the best. After leading the league in triple-doubles, being hounded for his in-game antics by Larry Bird, then rejecting a 5-year $44 million contract, he left the Pacers, and his career was never the same. He went from 14 points to 8, bounced through 5 teams in 2 years, and after some international fame, we find him somehow in his third successful stint in Pacer country. That’s a bonafide homer. But Lance explains it more like this:
“As soon as I put that jersey on, I feel like I just get my powers,” Stephenson said after scoring 20 points off the bench in his first quarter as a Pacer in 3 in half years. “When you’re playing in front of people that are happy for you to play and are egging you on, it makes the game easier.”
Here there are the 10 NBA homers placed in their three separate categories:
Category 1: Most likely a homer, but can’t say for certain
Distinctions are important, and these guys are as close to homers as your team’s cheerleaders are simple. But like how we can’t say for sure, due to our sheer lack of daily interactions with beautiful cheerleaders, these guys never allowed us to prove our hunches. Whether for system changes, exaggeratedly unjustifiable injuries, or they haven't even left, these guys are most likely homers.
10. Russell Westbrook
As hard as it is to imagine, Westbrook was not always this bad. I know this Lakers version makes you question if he should have even touched a basketball in the first place and just spent his life mastering the NFL or even track, for that matter. It doesn’t help that he is still lightning fast with no recent injuries to explain this cluster fire. But you have to push those thoughts down and remember his Thunder days.
I’ve bashed Westbrook more than most, and I won’t argue that his Thunder style of play would ever translate to real playoff success. But triple-double hunting aside, he carried those teams as only a few players could. After his MVP year, battling a contending James Harden Rockets side in the playoffs, the Thunder lost in 5. Shocker. But people forget that Westbrook was on the floor for 39 minutes a game, putting up 37-12-11 as the Thunder had a +4.9 point differential. When he was rarely off, the Thunder had a -51 point differential.
That means that when Westbrook was off the floor, the Thunder were outscored 137-79 in 45.5 minutes of total court time. The worst came in Game 5 when Westbrook only sat for six minutes in which the Rockets outscored the Thunder 27-9.
Now Westbrook is the liability on the supporting cast.
9. Isaiah Thomas
When you're 5-9 playing against the best and biggest athletes in the world, your speed doesn’t just matter - it’s everything. That's why when Kemba lost a split second, he was out of the rotation. So I’m not downplaying the effect of a hip injury that derailed his career. I am professing that the more baggage a person comes with, the fewer chances they have to find happiness.
For Isaiah, that baggage was that teams had to sacrifice with his height. Yes, Boston and, more specifically, Brad Stevens, made it work - but that was a one in a million type situation. Isaiah was miraculously lucky that the Celtics were already swamped with solid and tall defenders - the exact recipe needed when playing around a small guard like Isiah Thomas, Allen Iverson, or Marcus Camby. The Celtics took him in, made it work, and that never happened anywhere before or since.
The same could be said for Joakim Noah, a player with baggage (he was a goof) who was traded from the Bulls after an injury (shot knees) and immediately fell off the face of the earth. Were these two less to recover in a new environment because of their size and hard to get personalities? I argue yes.
8. Marcus Smart
Marcus Smart may have never left Boston, but my intuition wants to throw him in with the rest. Would his career tumble to flames like Westbrook and I.T? Nope. But he wouldn’t possess the same value so hear me out.
Everyone you meet comes with the value you and everyone else can immediately quantify. Smart is a great defender but an average playmaker at best. The Celtics already have Jaylen Brown to play shooting guard leading to a peculiar predicament with only one option: trading Smart.
Then there's the value that only you see in the people you are closest with. It has become a cliche that ‘Smart is the heart and soul of the Celtics,' but it doesn’t make it any less true. With the lack of intensity and overall leadership in that locker room, Smart fills a gap that his on-court production doesn’t. Smart is adored by his fans while vilified everywhere else - that matters to him. This might be a stretch, but the longest playing Celtics' role is, by definition, a homer.
Category 2: A true blue homer but was also still really good
No more guessing; all these next guys were homers. Some more than others, and category 2 marks those others. For preference, Westbrook doesn’t make this cut because he was never a top-three player like everyone in this group. His drop is explainable. If any of these guys started playing like Westbrook now, you would think they got cloned or had severe brain damage and were unaware. For Westbrook, it’s just Westbrook.
7. Steve Nash
Like a few others on this list, his stats were similar, but his production wasn’t. After spending two years in Pheonix behind Jason Kidd and Kevin Johnson in what was the worst put-together team of immense talent in history, Dallas was able to sweep up a scrawny and yet to prove himself, Steve Nash. It wasn’t until he was 27-years old that he made the leap to his first All-Star game, but it was only once he left the clutches of Nowitzki and returned to Pheonix with Mike D’Antoni behind the wheel that we would see Nash Mania.
Through two MVPs, Nash ran havoc in the league for the franchise that once harshly underestimated his potential. Was this a by-product of returning home or the fact that he was the perfect leader for the 7 seconds or less offense? Probably both. Maybe Nash didn’t excel in his first stint at home or turn into a liability on other teams. But he didn’t just peak for the team that drafted him in his second stint; he was head and shoulders a greater player. That’s good enough for me to call him a beloved Homer.
6. Allen Iverson
A misunderstood player who thrived in the 76ers system. Or a ball hog who only excelled when he took every shot possible. Iverson’s career was loaded with blurry lines. Although what can’t be debated was how worshipped the man was by the fans. People love to bring up his ‘01 run to the Finals and just assume he could have done that anywhere else because of how lackluster his cast was, to begin with. This is straight crap. Iverson was given everything he needed, which is why when he left the pampering arms of Philadelphia, he never saw another glimpse of playoff success.
The ‘01 76ers were one of the league's best defensive and rebounding teams. That wasn’t because of Iverson. He shot the ball 28 times a game over the course of his first 76ers stint. Who could have done that except Iverson? Again this was during the early 2000s where the league had most of its lowest-scoring seasons. For context, in ‘22, in one of the league's highest-scoring seasons, Jayson Tatum leads the players in field goal attempts with 21. Why would people expect Iverson would have success anywhere else than the home that gave in to all his demands like a spoiling parent? By situational context, Iverson was destined to be a homer. Kind of like James Harden in Houston.
5. Jason Kidd
Like with most of his career, his ‘homer points' are paralleled with that of Steve Nash's. Drafted to Dallas, where he was an All-Star his second season, Kidd could never play friendly with the coaches leading to him being traded to Pheonix. You can bet they regretted that the following season. Kidd went on to cause drama on and off the court while transforming franchises into contenders. He was like a drunk superman.
He peaked elsewhere but achieved his most remarkable career feat back in Dallas. Winning his only NBA championship against LeBron and the Heatles. So his career reads: Starts in Dallas → Leaves Dallas → Returns to Dallas → Achieves greatest career triumph. Okay, maybe Kidd wasn’t a Category 3 homer, but that recipe is good enough to throw him in Category 2.
4. LeBron James
There has never been a player that's sustained a level of greatness for as long as LeBron. Goat opinion aside, that’s a fact. He was great in Cleveland, like how he was great in Miami and L.A to a lesser extent. He may have even peaked physically during that ‘13 run to keep playing devil advocate. All that aside, LeBron is a homer, and here's why.
It’s hard to pinpoint his prime, but when you factor in his passing, IQ, and experience, ‘16 or ‘17 LeBron stands out for me as the peak version. Not just because of the accumulation of skills while still retaining his freakish athleticism, but because of the desire he had to win for his home. There was an extra gear because there was an extra incentive. To bring Cleveland their first championship in 52-years, how could it ever be the same as his Miami ones? Especially after the chaos that ensued with ‘The Decision’ and Villain Bron. LeBron James is the captain of this homer squad.
Category 3: Lance Stephenson-level homer
This is where Lance Stephenson can find his company. The guys that were so obviously dependent on their home teams that they couldn’t function away live here. They will rarely be remembered for anything they did elsewhere of that one team.
3. Ben Gordon
What a flash from the past. Was Ben Gordon just a catch-and-shoot player, or could he have been more? You would think Gordon was on track for superstardom from watching that ‘09 Celtics Bulls series - otherwise known as the greatest first-round series ever. One of the best tough shot makers in the league who was ahead of his time, shooting over 41% from deep for the Bulls, was out of the league by 31.
He left for the Pistons, and the hype immediately halted. Detroit and this may be hard to believe, were completely dysfunctional at the time. After giving him a sizable contract, they didn’t even let him start. Actually, at least then, he would have had some stability. The more accurate explanation is they threw him in and out of the starting lineup so many times that Gordon may have just said, “screw it, this sucks, I've got the money, let's just coast.” That imagined quote has been repeated by every Piston fan I’ve ever encountered when describing the situation. That and that he could never defend as a 6-3 shooting guard.
That might be true. Or maybe the third overall pick just needed a pristine franchise like Chicago to prosper. Either way, he gets bonus points for scoring the NBA’s ten-millionth point in NBA history.
2. Derek Fisher
Did you know Derek Fisher had a career away from the Lakers? The point guard for all of Kobe’s five championships played for five different teams. But it’s his heartwarming story that makes him a homer, and I’m not talking about Matt Barnes.
After leaving L.A. with a chaotic three-peat under his belt, D-Fish went to Golden State and then more memorably to Utah. While playing in the conference finals, his then 11-month-old daughter was fighting cancer in her eye. After a heroic performance, Fisher immediately moved back to L.A., where he had access to the best doctors in the country. Simultaneously, he started playing the best basketball of his career again in Phil Jackon’s triangle.
A calling to play for only one city, five championships, an array of clutch shots, all remembered in a Lakers uniform. That's a homer.
1. Lamar Odom
A lot of Odom’s dependency on the Lakers and more L.A. was from the instability of his own life. With many lost family members over a short period of time, as we all know, Odom employed unique coping methods. Mostly coming in the form of cocaine. Unfortunately, being a two-time NBA champion didn’t make his steep decline any more cushiony. From averaging 14 points in a Laker uniform to 7 in Dallas the very next season with no significant injury to point to was already a giant hallmark for a homer.
But it was the chaos that emerged once Odom had left the stability and consistency of basketball life that branded him a homer. As an unstable individual, Odom depended on his familiar surroundings - even if that was where he first started getting high. Because - and I mean this with respect - he was a helluva player for a regular cocaine user. As toxic as it was, he still performed in his environment. It was only once he was traded and left to his own devices that his life fully crumbled. That's a homer to me.