Essay: When Does The Clock Strike Midnight?
During these last few months, life’s inevitable comings of death and taxes were replaced by ice storms and Carmelo Anthony trade rumors. Yesterday it was Andrew Bynum for the All-Star in a straight up swap (although that’s apparently never happening), and last month it was a Nets package centered around Derrick Favors and some draft picks. The latest and most realistic deal if one is ever to materialize involves New York, Denver, and third wheel Minnesota. The players involved are nowhere near Anthony’s talent level—no matter what the Nuggets do it’s nearly impossible they’ll receive equal value for a player who’s arguably the league’s most difficult to guard—but as I looked at the other pieces involved in the trade, a question arose in my head: When is it too early to give up on a player who’s under 25? Naturally this led to a follow up question: How do general managers know when a young player’s reached his absolute ceiling?
Two players rumored to be involved in the trade (Minnesota’s Corey Brewer and New York’s Anthony Randolph) fit perfectly into this conundrum. Brewer is a 24-year-old small forward who’s shooting 28 percent from beyond the arc and after starting in every game last season has done so just 17 times this year, while Randolph is a 21-year-old who annually seems to pop up on preseason “Players to Watch” and late summer “Disappointing Failure” lists. Both are still raw, very young (especially Randolph), and are now faced with the mental dilemma of having a management group give up on them.
Focusing on Randolph for a second, the tenure of his time in New York can’t have possible gone any worse. Since being traded from Golden State with Kelenna Azubuike, Ronny Turiaf, and a 2012 second round draft pick for David Lee, Randolph has yet to score more than eight points in a game. He’s played in 16 total contests with no starts and pretty much has no chance of joining the team’s regular rotation. But seriously, is Randolph this bad? Can a player with so much physical talent and athletic promise really spend an entire career as a depressed figure buried deep on a peripheral playoff team’s bench? And more importantly, if the Knicks and Warriors are both willing to pass on a 21-year-old who is blessed with a sensational basketball body and has clearly not reached any sort of measured potential, why is he still in the league? Why would anyone want someone who’s averaging under two points a game and shooting 29 percent from the field? Maybe it’s a simple case of one man’s trash as another man’s treasure. Or maybe Randolph has been secretly hurt all year. Or maybe he just hasn’t found the right situation to shine. But if the Knicks happen to move him in a deal which doesn’t involve a Carmelo Anthony acquisition, are they giving up on him too soon? Is Anthony Randolph destined to be a potential-oozing trade chip for the rest of his natural life? So many questions, so little time.
Going back to the subject of recent Golden State draft picks, in this past draft the Warriors selected Ekpe Udoh from Baylor. So far, the best performance of his career came in a late December loss to Houston when in 25 minutes he scored five points, grabbed seven rebounds, blocked three shots, and dished four assists. On one hand, the excuse for Udoh’s poor season is simple: He’s a rookie; raw, inexperienced, and not expected to contribute right away. But then you contrast that with the ever improving and contributing Greg Monroe, who Detroit happened to select immediately after Udoh, and it doesn’t look too good. The Pistons rookie has started 17 games, notched six double-doubles, and has scored in double figures 14 times—Udoh has yet to score more than seven points in a game and now his team is looking to fill an inside void he was drafted to fill.
One pretty good recent example of a player who was left for dead is Michael Beasley. Granted the Heat had grander plans than developing their newly selected No. 2 overall draft pick, but Beasley didn’t exactly burn the building down while playing the role of Dwyane Wade’s sidekick. He struggled heavily, on and off the court, in adjusting to a situation that presumably for the first time in his life didn’t involve him as a team’s number one scoring option. And so despite having all the talent in the world as a 21-year-old starter on a 47 win team, he was shipped to Minnesota for cash and two second round picks, aka a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and some McDonald’s Monopoly pieces. But Beasley wasn’t completely shelved like Udoh or Randolph, he was second behind Wade in usage percentage both years. From the get-go he was more talented than Brewer and Randolph and right now the only thing holding Beasley back from blossoming into a premier scoring talent are a set of sprained ankles.
This article isn’t to say Brewer, Udoh, or Randolph are headed to the Hall of Fame, because right now none of them look anywhere near able to start and contribute for anybody, but the point here is to say these guys aren’t at a D.J. Mbenga level of useless just yet. At some point down the line, if the chips fall advantageously, each one of them could contribute to a winning program; they all have the talent to someday make an edgy GM think twice about dealing an undeveloped prospect for a quick fix solution.