Playing professional basketball in the NBA and collecting the paychecks and fan adulation that comes with it is a privilege, but sometimes it’s easy to forget these guys are only human. They miss easy layups and obvious defensive assignments. They hear the boos. They don’t enjoy being laid off by their employer.
Yes, they have feelings too, and whether they’d admit it or not, the five NBA vagabonds on this list have taken a hit to their respective egos over the years. They’ve amassed long resumes over their long careers, doing just enough to fit in on one team after another for awhile before being cast off into the recycling bin like last night’s grease-soaked pizza box.
But like that pizza box can (probably) be repurposed into something useful again, so too can these NBA veterans. Some of their contributions have been bigger than others’ this season, but at some point all of them have once again shown why they keep hanging around and finding new homes.
Ronald “Flip” Murray, G, Atlanta Hawks
Teams on the rise led by a youthful core such as Hawks’ most always require the services of a wiley, established veteran or two to lean on when times get tough, when opponents are more playoff-tested, when injuries happen. Late last season the Hawks helped address this need with the acquisition of point guard Mike Bibby, and followed it up last summer by inking vagabond vets Maurice Evans and Flip Murray for depth behind Marvin Williams and Joe Johnson.
Evans was given the more substantial commitment (3 years, $7.5 million), but while he’s filled in nicely during Williams’ extended back injury, it’s Murray who’s arguably had the better overall season. Under contract for just one season at $1.5 million, the 29-year-old guard from Shaw is having one of the finest seasons of his career and giving the Hawks consistent scoring and heady play off the bench–always valuable come playoff time. Since January 1, he’s averaged 14 points (48% FG), 2.2 assists, 2.3 boards, 1 steal, and 1.3 triples in just over 26 minutes per.
The Hawks mark the sixth team he’s played for since joining the league in ’02 as a second-round pick by the Milwaukee Bucks, and there’s no doubt he’ll try to capitalize on his solid ’09 campaign this summer as an unrestricted free agent and, perhaps, be packing his bags once again.
Drew Gooden, F, San Antonio Spurs
Six teams in seven years, including three different teams this season alone: that’s Drew Gooden, fourth-overall pick in 2002 draft, in a nutshell. It’s not that the former Kansas Jayhawks star has had a terrible career: the 6-10 forward has career per-game averages of 12 points, 8 boards, and 47% FG. Not too shabby, but essentially just enough to consistently qualify him as semi-attractive trade bait by teams looking to free up room for younger guys they’re more committed to over the long haul.
He’s only signed through the end of this season, but the always veteran-leaning San Antonio Spurs might prove to be a good fit. Or maybe not. The problem is that as Mr. Thell mentioned yesterday, we haven’t yet seen enough of him in Spurs’ black-and-silver to determine whether or not his latest change of address has potential to be an extended one; he’ll likely have a chance to prove his worth in the playoffs, though, and that’s where he will (or won’t) make his impact felt.
For now, just having him on the roster is a bonus for a Spurs team forced to look to guys like Fabricio Oberto, Kurt Thomas, and Matt Bonner behind Tim Duncan. Gooden is a better, more accomplished scorer than all three of those options.
Three more NBA vagabonds making an impact after the break…
Joe Smith, F/C, Cleveland Cavaliers
Earlier this season I listed this former first-overall pick as one of the most depressing players of 2008 and begged Thunder management to “release him, trade him, buy him out, offer him his full $4.8 million salary to just watch the games from the locker room.” Since then my request has thankfully been granted, and the Thunder have gone from a team I then called “floundering” to one that’s piqued the interest of both of us here at Empty the Bench. Both positive developments in the grand scheme of things.
For Smith, it’s meant rejoining the Cleveland Cavaliers for a second time, which now makes nine teams over his 13-year career, not including two separate stints with the Timberwolves and 76ers. It’s also meant a legitimate shot at finally having his will to keep on keeping on rewarded with a championship ring. Hastened by a broken leg suffered by Ben Wallace, Smith has stepped right into the rotation since signing on with ‘Bron’s Bunch, averaging 7 points and 4.2 boards in about 19 minutes per. He’s not spectacular at what he does–never has been, really–but he’s given the Cavs’ frontcourt another experienced vet to turn to behind Wallace, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and Anderson Varejao.
Anthony Carter, PG, Denver Nuggets
The 33-year-old Carter has actually had a stable career compared to his peers on this list, playing for “just” four teams over his 10-year career. Since joining the Nuggets last year, however, he hasn’t been counted on this much since his rookie season with the Miami Heat; in fact, the 23:18 minutes he’s averaged through 67 games backing up Chauncey Billups basically equals the second-most he’s ever played (second to the 28 minutes he averaged last year).
It’s hard to believe his 43% FG shooting this season is the second highest of his career, and head coach George Karl would likely have preferred to have had his backup PG position upgraded over last summer. Still, the Nuggs don’t need Carter to do much more at the moment than give Billups a breather now and again and to help prevent leads from vanishing as the leader of the second unit. To that end, he’s been solid in averaging 5.3 points, 4.7 assists, 2.7 boards, and 1.2 steals per, along with a +65 on the year.
Jamaal Magloire, C, Miami Heat
The “Big Cat” has been a big bust ever since being named to the 2004 NBA All-Star Game, a season in which he averaged 13.7 points, 10.3 boards, and 1.2 blocks for the Hornets. Since then, he’s played for the Bucks, Trail Blazers, Nets, Mavericks, and now the Heat, with none of those stops lasting more than a season. He hit rock bottom last year when in 31 games split between Jersey and Dallas he averaged just 1.7 points and 2.2 boards in about 7:30 minutes per. Still just 30 years old, this all added up to, like Joe Smith, him becoming a distinguished member of our most depressing players of 2008 list.
Well, since returning from a fractured hand that sidelined him until late November, Magloire has actually chipped in here and there as a backup first behind the inexperienced Joel Anthony and now the injury-prone Jermaine O’Neal. Let’s be clear, his statistical contributions have been minimal: 2.4 points, 3.7 boards, 0.5 blocks per in 43 games.
However, the Heat at least know there’s still a modicum of talent lurking around somewhere within the man’s 6-11 frame should
Humpty Dumpty O’Neal suddenly succumb to another case of swollen vagina once the playoffs arrive. As a fill-in starter for the injured O’Neal on Monday, Magloire put up 10 points and 12 boards in 28 minutes of action against the Memphis Grizzlies. It’s only the Grizzlies, but then, it’s only Magloire.