Second Life

by February 23, 2013

by Ryne Nelson / @slaman10

Thomas Robinson’s grin is so large that he had to have won something.

Posted up on a chair next to Chandler Parsons’ locker, TRob soaks in his first moments as a member of the Houston Rockets. There’s an eased excitement—an unfamiliar Playoff atmosphere—in the locker room after the team’s hard-fought road win.

After headlining a three-team deal Wednesday night, Robinson packed his bags for Houston to undergo some physicals and hopped on another plane to join the Rockets as they took on the Nets in Brooklyn. He arrived at Barclays Center just before halftime.

“I got to watch the second half,” Robinson says after Houston’s 106-96 win Friday night, “but of course, I’ve been watching [the Rockets] all year due to family who was playing here. It’s an up-and-down pace. I’m a young guy, and I feel like I fit right in with them.”

By family, TRob means Marcus Morris, who remains one of Robinson’s closest friends from their years at Kansas. The departure of Marcus, who Houston sent to the Suns as part of the trade, and Patrick Patterson (to Sacramento), means the Rockets’ power forward job could be exclusively Robinson’s for the rest of the season.

Yes, it’s been a whirlwind 24 hours.

“I never was surprised,” TRob says of his three months with the Kings. “That’s how it works. Sometimes you don’t come in right away and play, and you got to wait your turn. That was just my situation, and I had to deal with it.”

But of course, his was not a normal situation in Sacramento. Especially not for a recently drafted No. 5 pick—chosen ahead of the likes of Damian Lillard and Andre Drummond. Playing musical chairs in Keith Smart’s offense, Robinson had repeatedly expressed frustration with his role, as he played scatterbrained minutes and often, made a number of terrible mistakes while on the court. His disappointing season was reflected in inefficient averages of 4.8 points and 4.7 boards in 15.9 minutes per, and the DC native wasn’t invited to play in the Rookie-Sophomore game at All-Star Weekend.

But adversity is something the 21-year-old has made a career out of. From playing just over 7 minutes per game as a freshman at Kansas; to losing his mother and two grandparents in the span of a month as sophomore; to leading Kansas to the NCAA Championship game as a junior; to being picked fifth overall in the 2012 NBA Draft; to becoming just the fifth top-five pick to be traded during his rookie season—Robinson has learned to embrace all the ups and downs.

And the only direction he’s focused on right now is straight ahead.

“I just know that I’m here now and I have to make the best of the opportunity,” Robinson says. “I don’t know why they [made the trade], that’s not really a concern right now. I’m just focused on playing.”

As Robinson well knows, when a door closes, another one opens. Now, the 6-9 forward is in Houston playing in a system that caters to his strengths and for a coach whose track record for molding big men is pristine.

“For any young guy, you got to find out what you do well,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale says. “For him, I would say offensive rebounding. That’s one thing I’ve seen him do in this League. I’ve seen him run real aggressively. If he can add defense to add to that, then he’s going to find a way on the floor. If you offensive rebound, and you run hard, and you can defend, then you’re going to play out there. So that’s what he’s got to do right now. We’ll worry about the rest of that stuff later.”

GM Daryl Morey thinks he’ll develop and blossom just as James Harden, Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin have this season.

“For us, [the trade] was obviously for Thomas Robinson,” Morey told the Houston Chronicle. “He is a very high-upside guy, plays with high energy, runs the floor, can rebound. He’s athletic. He is a guy that has potential to grow into a top-level player.”

Fellow rookie Terrence Jones understands the difficult transition Robinson has had to face.

“It’s a tough situation as a rookie, coming from college being the guy on your team and trying to get adjusted to the professional system,” says Jones, who matched up against Robinson in the NCAA title game last season. “It takes time, especially if there’s some vets who have been there for a while. It takes time depending on the player.”

Across the locker room, the Bearded One knows his new teammate will fit right in.

“He’s a strong, athletic rebounder. Fierce,” Harden says. “We need what he brings to the table. I’m definitely looking forward to playing with him.”