Sunday, October 31, 2010

Free *insert player name*!

Freedom. The word can mean a lot of things to a lot of people, but like money, stress and happiness it's all relative. For some NBA players, freedom is getting a chance to show their talents, when they are stuck in a bad situation by a team. Now, being from Australia I don't have a geographical attachment to any particular team, so I support teams with players I like, and being a player's fan this sort of misuse of talented individuals frustrates me to no end. So let's take a look at some players who are trapped (on the bench in most cases), and a few success stories who made it out.

  • Marcin Gortat:
    I'll start off with a situation that has received a bit of publicity lately, with our large Polish friend demanding more minutes and an increased role in Orlando. He copped a bit of criticism because he's playing behind Dwight Howard, but Gortat tried to escape to Dallas as a restricted free agent and Orlando kept him here. Which quite frankly, sucks. He's young, versatile, can run the floor and could help a number of teams in need of a C. Ideal fits for Gortat would be Atlanta or Oklahoma City. The Hawks have Horford playing out of position at the 5 and Gortat would solve that problem. As far as OKC is concerned, Green is a great player, but is really a SF, and Gortat is better than any of the Cs currently on their roster. This would also allow Ibaka to slide over to the PF spot. A trade of Green for Gortat would actually help both players.
  • Xavier Henry:
    Playing behind OJ Mayo and Rudy Gay in Memphis for the forseeable future, Henry isn't going to be getting a starting nod anytime soon. He was impressive in pre-season and while it is only his rookie year he is good enough to be a starting 2-guard in the L. A few teams that could use a player like Henry are Charlotte, Washington, Sacramento. He would serve under Stephen Jackson for a few years and get the starting nod afterwards. A core of Augustine, Henry, Wallace and Thomas could make noise in a few years. Henry, Cousins, Casspi, Landry and of course Evans would be a force to be reckoned with if given time to develop. For the Wizards, Henry could serve as the long-term replacement for Gilbert Arenas and given how injury prone Hibachi is would get plenty of playing time in the short term.
  • Rudy Fernandez:
    I couldn't write an article on underused players and not mention Fernandez. His much publicized plea for freedom was denied by Portland, who instead traded Bayless to free up more playing time. While that was a nice gesture, it isn't enough for a player of Rudy's caliber. He could easily start in plenty of teams in the L, but in Portland he's playing behind one of the L's best starting back-courts in Miller and Roy. Like Henry, Fernandez would be the ideal replacement for an ageing Stephen Jackson in Charlotte, or a sharpshooting running mate for Tyreke Evans in Sactown. That said, the place most suited for Fernandez is Chicago. Fernandez would provide a ranged threat, a playmaker to let Rose be more of a scoring threat and could also back him up at the point. They are starting Keith Bogans for god's sake! While the Bulls have a shooter in Korver, he is somewhat one-dimensional, whereas Rudy is a versatile player who is also a great crunch time player. Thus far this season Rudy has been great when motivated, but all the playing time in the world won't be enough for him if it's off the bench.
All this talk of trapped players is depressing, so now might be a good time to look at some success stories. These are the players who persevered and were rewarded.

  • Carl Landry:
    Is there a better feel-good story than Landry's? Stuck playing behind Scola in a crowded Houston frontcourt he gets shipped over to Sacramento and is rewarded with the starting spot and a chance to show off his refined post skills. He strikes me as a similar player to David West; goes under the radar but is consistently productive. The good news is Sactown don't have anyone who can push him for the starting nod for the foreseeable future, so he has plenty of time to get comfortable and serve as a veteran leader on this Kings team for the next three years at least (when he hits the dreaded 30).
  • Darren Collison:
    The four year UCLA point guard was given an opportunity to shine when this generation's point god Chris Paul went down with a near season-ending injury and he impressed so much that Indiana traded their starting power forward to acquire him in a four-way deal. He has been given the reins of the team and along with a much improved Roy Hibbert and one-time All-Star Danny Granger has the Pacers sitting at 3rd in the East with a 2-1 record. Indiana is a dark horse to make the playoffs and Collison is in the perfect situation as the floor general of a young, improving team with a bright future.
  • Martell Webster/Travis Outlaw:
    It's tough being a SF in Portland. The higher-ups are set on Batum as their starting 3 and Coach McMillan uses 3s as spot up shooters and not much else. Both of these players are young, talented and just escaped their bench situations. Outlaw was signed to a multi-year deal and is starting at the small forward for the Nets. Webster was traded to Minnesota and is currently injured, but will play his way into the starting shooting guard spot by season's end as a leader on a very young Timberwolves unit.
So there you have it, a few players who were or are being underused and how they can get out. Here's hoping some of those players in the latter situation get out sooner rather than later.

Any readers (I know there are a few) who've made it this far, if there's a player somewhere in the L you think should be starting or 6th man then drop a comment and tell me about it.

Cheers, Mark.

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