Basketball, or sports in general, is often viewed as a guideline to life. Sports display acts of discipline, hard work, commitment, passion, etc. Athletes put their bodies on the line every night, their career and a means to support their families, with a risk of it all ending because of an injury.
Since the Nets moved to Brooklyn in the 2012-2013 season, the buzz surrounded the hype of their new stadium, new colors, and on-court production. The day Mikhail Phrokorov took over, it was clear from day one: this organization meant business. They weren’t going to play second fiddle to the Knicks. They weren’t OK with a first-round playoff exit. With the bold moves Billy King has made over these last few years, it’s obvious to see how invested the front office has been and continues to be in getting this franchise a championship.
In most cases, if a player has suffered a tough injury in his career, or has a bad locker room reputation, teams will often overlook them and move on to another player. While oftentimes, their talent is still present, teams get scared of taking a risk. The Nets on the other hand, deserve some credit for what is actually an incredible aspect of not only the game of basketball, but life in general.
We as a society often look past giving people second chances, or in some cases a second chance at making a first impression. In these situations we’ve seen Andray Blatche amnestied for his off-court issues, Shaun Livingston shatter his entire knee in what was thought to be a career-ending injury, and even Jason Collins, the first active athlete to admit he’s gay, who some believed would not play in the NBA this season or beyond.
Now, all three are on a team that’s in the running for an NBA title. Without contributions from Blatche and Livingston, and to a lesser extent from Collins, it’s safe to say Brooklyn wouldn’t be seeing the success they’ve achieved. And that brings us to a point that the Nets have found success this season with making low-risk, high-reward moves that have put them in title contention.
Here's a look at three players who the Nets "took a chance on" and how they've panned out this season.
The Washington Wizards drafted Blatche, a high school senior, back in 2005. He played seven full seasons with them, until finally, after a few contentious moments off the court, Blatche was let go. In his last four seasons with the team, it was no secret that Blatche had talent. Suddenly, this second-round draft pick looked to be a steal. In those four years, he averaged 12.3 points, while averaging 6.4 rebounds per game, in which he started only an average of 37 games per season in the final years. Following his last season in Washington, his reputation was poisoned, due to " locker room issues and off-court problems."
The Education of Andray Blatche
The Education of Andray Blatche
In July, 2012, Wizards' President of Basketball Operations Ernie Grunfeld said in a statement, "Andray did not figure into our future plans, and using the amnesty provision is a mutually beneficial opportunity for us to part ways."
That same summer, Avery Johnson and Billy King made the decision to give Blatche a second shot. They gave him the veteran’s minimum contract, and figured it could be a low-risk, high-reward situation. Boy, were they ever right about that. In his first year with Brooklyn, Blatche was immediately their first man off the bench, averaging 10.1 points in just 19 minutes per game. This season with Brook Lopez out for the season, the Nets needed Blatche to step up, and he sure did. He averages 11.4 points per game, providing Brooklyn with the offensive spark off the bench, night in and night out.
Who knows if any other teams would’ve given him a shot, but one thing’s for sure: He is certainly in the Nets plans, for the present and the future. Wonder if Ernie Grunfeld regrets that?
By the way, of the Nets $102,468,864 salary, Blatche is owed just $1,375,604 of that. And while he's recieving amnesty payments from the Wizards, part of his reasoning to stay with Brooklyn is because of the comfort and the confidence they've shown in him. Blatche needed a second chance to succeed and he found it in Brooklyn.
In his third year with the Los Angeles Clippers, Livingston had started 31 of 54 games played. And on February 26, 2007, against the Charlotte Bobcats, he went up for a fast-break lay-up, and just like that everything he’d worked so hard for his entire life was now in question. Livingston lost his balance on the layup, fell awkwardly, and resulted in a torn ACL, torn PCL, torn lateral meniscus, while badly spraining his MCL, and dislocating his patella and his tibia-femoral joint. How could you recover from an injury like that? Doctor’s didn’t think he would be able to play another game in his life. As a matter of fact, they even said there was a chance of amputation. Luckily, he didn’t have to go through that, proving anything is possible.
It took him months to be able to even walk again. Now, this highly anticipated draft-pick, suddenly becomes a journeyman, struggling to find a real home in the NBA. After the injury, in 2008-09, Livingston signed with the Miami Heat, in which he only played four games before being traded to the Memphis Grizzlies, who then waived him. Following that season, he played in the D-League, where he then came back to the NBA and played for the Oklahoma City Thunder, Washington Wizards, Charlotte Bobcats, Milwaukee Bucks, Washington Wizards, Cleveland Cavaliers, and now, the Brooklyn Nets.
Shaun Livingston's Road to Recovery
Before the Nets, Livingston’s highest amount of games started was 27, with the Milwaukee Bucks in 2011-12. He was nothing but a rental player for every team listed. Of all the teams he played for after his injury, he never finished out a full season. He was either traded or waived by every single one of them.
Here we are now, seven years after the gruesome injury he faced, and several different teams he’s auditioned for, he is now one of the most important players on this Nets teams, starting 46 of 68 games, averaging 8.1 points per game, and posing matchup problems for other teams. Eight points per game, and he’s a matchup problem? Yes, he’s 6-7, playing shooting guard, with a wing-span of 7'0". Jason Kidd loves the advantage he poses down low, forcing double teams while posting up and opening up the perimeter for Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Paul Pierce. Along with his offense, Livingston is a pain to deal with on defense. He lankiness enables him to deflect and steal passes at a consistent rate. Some could argue -- his defense is the reason for this season's turn around. He was brought in the off-season to back up Deron Williams, now he’s in the starting lineup and has changed the entire identity of this Brooklyn Nets ball club, offensively and defensively.
If there was a "comeback player of the year" award, Shaun Livingston would win that..— Jamal Crawford (@JCrossover) March 18, 2014
While some of the credit belongs to Jason Kidd, Billy King, and the entire Nets organization for giving Livingston a chance, the one person who truly made this recovery possible is Shaun Livingston himself. His hard work and dedication had led to a whole new chapter in his NBA career, and rightfully so.
As you know, Jason Collins is the first active athlete to openly come out and admit he’s gay. Collins, who has a lifetime average of 3.7 points per game, isn’t needed so much for his offensive ability, but more for his fundamentally sound game, which a lot of teams could use. After the 2012-2013 season, Collins was unemployed. Whether it was because of his sexuality, or his skill, nobody wanted to take the chance on him. Everyone passed on him besides Jason Kidd, who played with Collins for seven seasons in New Jersey.
Why Signing Jason Collins Was Not About Marketing
Jason Collins was signed on a 10-day contract on the 54th game of the season against the Los Angeles Lakers. The Nets eventually re-signed him for the rest of the season, giving them depth at the center position. He averages under a point per game, but with injuries to Brook Lopez and Kevin Garnett, Jason Collins is serving his small role just fine. Many people thought this was a subject of PR, hoping to land the back page in newspapers. But, if you thoroughly watch the Nets, you’ll see the reasons why Jason Collins belongs in the NBA, and more specifically, the Brooklyn Nets.
Whether it was for PR reasons or not, it’s pretty incredible that the Nets organization took a risk, and did something no other team wanted to do. This story alone is an incredible one that will be talked about for years to come. Brooklyn franchises have proven to be pioneers in the sports world: The Dodgers signing the first black athlete, and now, the Nets signing the first openly gay athlete. After all, it was said by critics that he would be a distraction in the locker room, but since his signing the Nets are 12-5. It's not that he's been responsible for 12 wins in 17 games, it's that he hasn't been the distraction that many said he would be, and he's played the role he's been called on to play -- nothing more, nothing less, which is exactly what you knew you were getting in Collins.
Their paths to reaching success are all different, which makes this situation even more extraordinary. These three guys received a second chance and they excelled with the opportunities given -- you could even add in guys like Marcus Thornton and Jorge Gutierrez, who are just now trying to make the most of the chance they've been given in Brooklyn. It’s truly a fascinating aspect of life, knowing what you’re capable of doing when you get the second chance to redeem yourself.
Sound familiar? Think of the Nets season thus far.