The NBA shootaround is a peculiar ritual. It begins with 12 uniformed gentlemen walking out onto a wooden floor and tossing around a leather ball because, well, that’s what they get paid to do. Everybody warms up, stretches out and gets their shots up from various spots on the court. But the reality is, only half of these guys will be given ample time to earn their paychecks tonight. Two or three will be called on to relieve a superstar or fill a role. Three, maybe four of these guys won’t even be asked to remove their sweats.
To play in the NBA is to pray for circumstance, and the smart ones use the small windows of opportunity to land big contracts. Borne either of a glaring team need (looking at you, Matt Carroll) or reckless management (you too, Jerome James), this misappropriation of funds only befalls a lucky few. Fortunately, there is a place that offers the League’s journeymen sanctuary and playing time: Europe. Whereas last week’s batch might abandon decent NBA minutes for European stardom, the folks below would trade in their spots on the end of the bench for something more meaningful: a return to basketball relevance.
Brian Cook, Houston Rockets: With a distinct hunch, Cook is one of the more awkward specimens in the League. He runs with stiff strides, he’s never really been much of a passer, and he leaves plenty to be desired on defense; but for anyone who questions why he’s lasted seven years with three different teams (Lakers, Magic, and now the Rockets), just take a look at his stroke. Not many 6-9, 250-pounders can heat up quite like Brian, but he can’t be expected to find his rhythm in the two minutes per game he’s getting in Houston.
Ike Diogu, New Orleans Hornets: Coming out of Arizona State, Ike Diogu had it all. He put up 22 and 8 by making nearly 60 percent of his shots, and he’d even developed into a nasty shot blocker by his junior year. Golden State was impressed enough to make him the 9th overall selection in the 2005 Draft and let him run 15 mpg as a rookie. Four years, three teams and two trades later, Diogu still hasn’t matched the playing time he saw in year one with the Warriors, but the skills are still there. If he could squash the injury bug and get in better shape, Ike would do serious damage in the pentagonal European paint against the slightly smaller, slightly slower opposition.
Aaron Gray, Chicago Bulls: When Aaron Gray gets the ball in the post, the other nine guys seemingly play in fast forward. Gray’s moves are painfully methodical; the anti-Dream Shake. Yet time after time, he gets the job done. As would be expected, the 7-0, 270-pound Gray doesn’t always have the easiest time against top flight athletes, but in Europe his patience could garner big time minutes and bigger time success. Former Stanford post man Curtis Borchardt had the same issues in the NBA. Now, he’s one of the best centers in Europe. That could be you, AG.
Othello Hunter, Atlanta Hawks: Let’s keep this one good and short, shall we? Hunter is 6-8 and 225 pounds with no single, distinguishing skill. The Hawks are incredibly shallow in the frontcourt, yet they still haven’t given him a chance to recapture Buckeye glory. What are you waiting for, Othello?
Josh McRoberts, Indiana Pacers: Whereas American analysts wagged their finger at McRoberts for not being selfish enough at Duke, European pundits would have been patting him on the back. If an NBA coach would put as much as confidence in McRoberts as everyone has in Boris Diaw over the years, Josh might be able to sprinkle a stat sheet like he did in his sophomore year as a Blue Devil (13 points, 8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2.5 blocks, 1.2 steals). Even though Larry Bird signed him up for two more years this offseason they’ve only turned him loose in four of seven games thus far. What’s more, they’ve spent their last two first rounds drafting Tyler Hansborough and Roy Hibbert to play ahead of him. No love from Larry Legend. With his crazy athleticism and point forward tendencies, Josh McRoberts could be a star under the right circumstances.
Adam Morrison, Los Angeles Lakers: Time to cut your losses, Adam. Oh, and cut your hair, too.
Steve Novak, Los Angeles Clippers: Steve Novak is to shooting as planes are to flying. Even if the food is awful, you have no leg room, and somebody’s already done all of the Sudoku in the in-flight magazine, at the end of the day you just want the thing to take off and touch down without incident. So while the 6-10 Novak’s rebounding is virtually nonexistent and defense is more of the stand-and-stare variety, you can’t really complain as long as his shots are falling. Novak needed only 17 minutes to get off four deep balls per game last year with the Clippers, and he hit 42 percent of them. Give him a starting gig in Europe and get out the umbrellas.
Chris Quinn, Miami Heat: Man, with a stroke like his (40 percent beyond the arc) and a career assist/turnover ratio higher than three, just think of the noise he could make if he were stronger and had a quicker first step. Turns out strength and speed are relative, and Europe is always looking for new ringleaders.
Sergio Rodriguez, Sacramento Kings: I admit: this is a serious cop out. After playing for Estudiantes from 2003-2006 as well as the Spanish national team, Rodriguez is no stranger to European hoops. I guess you could say this is my plea for “Spanish Chocolate” to wow audiences on his home continent for entire games instead of a no-look here or an alley-oop there in spotty NBA action. After lobbying for—and receiving—a trade away from the Blazers, Rodriguez is playing only seven minutes per game with Sactown despite injuries to guards Kevin Martin and Francisco Rodriguez. It doesn’t make sense for him to ride pine in a faraway land while he could be making plays back home. A restricted free agent at the end of the season, we’ll see where the 23-year-old winds up. Be wise, Sergio.
Kareem Rush, Los Angeles Clippers: Kareem Rush is a thoroughbred scorer. He is also a year away from his 30th birthday and his scoring average has dropped right along with his playing time over the past four seasons. He’s still phenomenal at attacking the rim (when he chooses to) and has quick hands and feet on defense (when he chooses to). He’s one of those three-point shooters who could benefit from a couple of steps in (42 percent at Missouri vs. 35 percent in the pros), and his days as a double-digit scorer don’t have to be over yet. With the right attitude and the right team, he’d be golden in Europe. When he chooses to.
Nick Gibson is the co-creator and producer of Slam and Freaknick’s Euroleague Adventures, which features a blog, podcast, prospect watch and a closer look at Americans playing overseas. Gibson is a broadcast journalism student at Syracuse University and can be contacted at [email protected].