Heading to Stanford to check in with my pain management doctor, then on to LA to visit friends. This blog will return Friday, June 5.
18 players who did not get drafted last year played in at least one game during the 2014-15 NBA season. Talk about fulfilling a dream. I’m sure every one of those guys had, at the very least, hoped to have been drafted. Only 60 guys get picked. If you’re not one of them, what’s your next step?
Although I don’t know for certain, I’d guess each one must have had an agent. That is when the agent makes his money, however little it is. Find the client a job overseas (obviously, as lucrative as possible – and there are some high paying jobs across the seas), try to get him signed as a free agent, get him a spot on some team’s summer league squad, try to place him in the D-League. Keep his dream alive.
A lot of it depends on the client. How badly does he want to play? Is he willing to relocate – maybe to somewhere they don’t speak English? What’s his ultimate goal – the NBA, to make as much money as he can, or is he the adventurous type who wants to see as much of the world while he’s young (on somebody else’s dime)?
Googling “Fresno State players in the NBA” the results show that the school has placed, to date, 21 players in the NBA, although a Fresno State release claims as many as 30 (for the record, Tark had 10 of the 21, not including one kid who transferred from FSU and eventually made it to the league). The Bulldogs’ latest entry is Tyler Johnson, a youngster who wasn’t very highly recruited and whose freshman year saw him average just over four points for a 14-17 club. He improved every year and during his senior campaign he averaged nearly 16ppg and scored at least 20 points in a game on 13 different occasions throughout his career.
Johnson was one of those 18 who went undrafted but earned a spot on the Miami Heat’s summer league squad. Signed by the Heat in early August, only to be released in late October, he hooked on with a Development League team in Sioux Falls, SD. His play must have caught the eye of someone in the Heat organization because, in mid-January, he got what every D-League player dream of: a ten-day contract.
10-day contracts can lead to something – or they can simply tease a player. Some guys see action, others never even get to play during the 10 days. Most, then, get released – usually heartbroken. Johnson’s 10-day stats? One game, two minutes, two points (FTs). The release part happened to Tyler Johnson, but not the heartbroken. He returned to his D-League outfit, more determined to make it than ever. He had seen actual NBA basketball up close and knew he could hang. A couple weeks later, he signed another 10-day, and did well enough to merit another. Only the rule from the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement is, “After the second 10-day contract, the team can only retain the player by signing him for the remainder of the season.” Johnson had done enough to merit another contract, this one for the remainder of the 2014-15 season. His salary was prorated for the remainder of the season but, still, he had made the NBA!
Although that’s not the way Tyler looked at it. He had not yet made anything (even though the contract he signed was for two years – for over a million per year. He was determined, more than ever, to earn every last dollar. By NBA standards, a million dollars a year isn’t earth-shaking. Not even a minor tremor. To put it in perspective, though, guess what the valedictorian of Fresno State’s graduating class makes? While my research, or nosiness, doesn’t extend that far, suffice to say #1’s salary is less than Johnson’s. Besides, Tyler had additional plans.
What might have play into his hands was that the Heat, a proud franchise with multiple championships in the recent past, were struggling just to make the playoffs. The buzz that used to fill the arena was not nearly what it had been when The Big Three were going to the NBA Finals on a yearly basis or when D-Wade and Shaq put up a banner. Some guys just “play it out” at that time, while others might be banged up from a long season and at far less than 100%. Why go all-out, man, you’re a millionaire?
No matter for Tyler. Bring it on. This was his dream – right there in the palm of his hands and he was going to, just as he did in every game he’d ever played, “leave it all on the floor.” Hustle plays, coming up with 50-50 balls, anything to show he belonged, he did it. The month of March was good to him as he first scored a career high 26 points, on 10-of-13 shooting, in a win over Phoenix and, five days later, he played 44 minutes, scoring 24 points, with six rebounds and six assists in an OT victory against Sacramento.
What many players don’t realize, especially at the end of the season when a lot of guys have already made vacation plans, is it’s not only your front office you’re trying to impress. You’re auditioning for your opponent as well. With today’s technology and staffs full of video people, every game is an audition for every team in the league. The way players are moved around today, Tyler Johnson’s performance for the Heat upped his stock so that somewhere, somebody will want him on their roster.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra on his evaluation of Johnson’s career to date: “. . . over the course of the years, undrafted players on average, there’s less then five a year that actually make it and have a role . . . (now the question is) can you sustain it.”
All-out hustle is not a new concept. Arguably the greatest baseball player of all-time, Joe DiMaggio, when asked why he always gave maximum effort, replied:
“There might be somebody coming to the game today who’s never seen me play – and I don’t want to disappoint him.”