The NBA is entering its stretch run, and most teams are jockeying for a favorable position in the playoffs. With reigning champions Cleveland Cavaliers and early favorites Golden State Warriors seemingly vulnerable in the past couple of weeks, those in the second, third, and even fourth seeds of the Eastern and Western conferences are raring to pounce.
The lesser squads, though, have accepted their fate and are turning their attention to next season. Some teams are beginning to shut down their seasoned veterans to give way to the young studs; others are forced to sideline their wards due to health concerns that require lengthy recovery.
Here are six players whom we won't be seeing any time soon on the court because of unfortunate injuries or franchise direction.
Eric Bledsoe (Phoenix Suns)
Shutting down arguably their best player (together with Tyson Chandler) this season is a clear indication that Phoenix is now all about the youth movement. Rookie Tyler Ulis looks to benefit the most from the opportunity, evident in his 13 points and 13 assists against the Sacramento Kings in a losing effort. While the decision bodes well for the Suns, Bledsoe may have something to say about it:
Timofey Mozgov (Los Angeles Lakers)
After overpaying him last summer, the Lakers' front office has finally come to its senses and benched Mozgov for the remainder of the season, along with another veteran in Luol Deng, to focus on developing their young players. 19-year-old center Ivica Zubac's career game (25 points, 12-15 FG, 11 rebounds vs Denver) only made the move look better.
Or LA just wants to secure its Top-3 protected pick in the loaded 2017 NBA Draft.
Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers)
'The Process' is delayed, at least for now, following reports of Embiid needing treatment for his torn meniscus. Even this year's No. 1 recruit, Ben Simmons, is expected to make his debut next season, with his foot yet to fully heal. Other than that, the Philly faithful has more reasons to look forward to next basketball year, with rookies Dario Saric and Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot finally coming to their own.
Dwyane Wade (Chicago Bulls)
Just when you thought the Bulls situation couldn't get any worse, their hometown hero gets sidelined for the rest of season due to a sprain and fractured elbow. Losing their most playoff-tested player virtually dashes Chicago's hopes of postseason run that didn't look bright to begin with. On the bright side, the likes of Denzel Valentine, Cameron Payne, and Jerian Grant could use the extended burn.