Look who made the big time! - Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE
With the 2012-13 NBA season ready to tip off Tuesday night, TNIAAM will take a periodic look at how former Syracuse Orange basketball players are faring in the league.
This edition will examine the current status of Syracuse University alumni as NBA teams recently made their final cuts to get their rosters down to the 15 player limit.
We start with the unquestioned alpha dog and would-be captain of this SU alumni squad. ‘Melo spent the summer as part of the gold medal winning U.S. Olympic basketball team, and just wrapped up his first training camp with the New York Knicks. That may be hard to believe, but remember that he came to SU’s (very) south campus by way of a midseason trade with Denver in February 2011, and then missed last year’s camp because of the lockout.
This year much of the Knicks’ preseason chatter has swirled around whether ‘Melo should play small forward or power forward, particularly in the injury absence of fellow All-Star Amar’e Stoudamire. The popular thinking is that ‘Melo has the strength and skill to play on the low block in the NBA, and given the league’s drift toward smaller and quicker lineups he’d only be physically outmatched on a few occasions. However, he has publicly resisted such a move, either in deference to Stoudamire’s seniority or perhaps a disinterest in banging bodies underneath the basket night after night.
Joseph is one of the feel good stories of this year’s preseason, having made Boston’s opening night roster despite being only a second round draft pick without a guaranteed contract. But hard work, solid defense, and a knack for finding the basket won him a roster spot over a handful of more experienced swingmen. Kris will likely spend the season shuffling between the Celtics and their D-League affiliate in Maine, but every time he steps on the court he gets another chance to show that he belongs in the professional ranks.
To put it mildly, Fab didn’t have quite as successful of a preseason as his teammate Kris did. Whereas Joseph averaged a respectable 4.6 points and 1.9 rebounds in nearly 11 minutes per game, Melo managed one single basket and 10 boards in about half the minutes over the same 8 games. Now the Celtics knew going into this season that Melo was going to be a long-term project, and I think they were so ecstatic to steal SU nemesis Jared Sullinger with the 21st overall pick that they felt they could take a flyer on Fab at 22. Now we have seen him rapidly improve before, such as between his freshman and sophomore college seasons, and the Celtics are hoping that he can make similar advances (and then some) over the next couple of years.
Commander Retweet was the 2012 fourth overall pick by the Cavaliers, and the words were barely out of David Stern’s mouth before analysts and bloggers alike were wondering if the Cavs reached to select him that high. But by pairing Waiters with stud Duke point guard Kyrie Irving, the Cavs think they have their backcourt set for the next several years. There were reports that Dion showed up to summer league a little overweight, but he seems to have gotten himself back into shape during training camp. He did have one minor dustup with coach Byron Scott, which led to a preseason benching - Scott citing a “lack of focus” on Waiters’ part. Dion will likely come off the pine this season, but that’s a role he is clearly accustomed to and it may be a benefit to him as he learns the ins and outs of the NBA.
Warrick, remembered by SU fans as perhaps the most ferocious dunker in Orange history, signed a four year, $18 million contract with the Phoenix Suns in July 2010. This past summer he was traded to New Orleans, making the Hornets his fifth NBA team since joining the league in 2005. With 2012 overall number one draft pick and all-everything forward Anthony Davis blocking his path, Warrick doesn’t figure to see a ton of minutes this season. But at a still-youngish 30 with a reasonable contract, he could be appealing to another team looking for additional frontcourt depth and athleticism.
Speaking of recently traded super-athletes, Wes Johnson is starting his first season with the Phoenix Suns after spending the last two with the Minnesota Timberwolves. A former fourth overall pick in 2010, Johnson was coincidentally shipped to the Suns in the same three-team deal that sent Warrick to the Hornets. Johnson has struggled in his first two NBA seasons, showing flashes of the skill and athleticism that made him a star at SU but generally having trouble adapting to playing on the wing in the NBA. However, he has seen a decent amount of preseason minutes on a Steve Nash-less Suns team, who are undertaking a rebuilding project and looking to give their young players a chance to shine.
A second round pick by the Knicks two years ago, Andy was cut by the Mavericks just before the start of last season after being acquired in the Tyson Chandler trade last year. He spent last season playing professionally in Spain, before suffering an Achilles tendon injury which prevented him from playing in this past July’s summer leagues. He latched on with the Oklahoma City Thunder this preseason and even scored 20 points in a game against the Charlotte Bobcats, but the Thunder are stacked in the backcourt and Rautins was cut this past Saturday.
We know Jackson was bypassed in the 2011 draft, and was perhaps hurt by the lockout more than anyone because it prevented him from latching on with a team in summer leagues or training camp. He instead played with a pro club in France last winter. This year Rick was in camp with the Golden State Warriors, but was released last week during the team’s final round of cuts. He suffered a sore right Achilles injury that limited his practice and game action, yet again denying him a chance to prove he belongs in the league.
For a guy who seemed to have all of the talent in the world, Jonny Flynn can’t seem to catch a break. After two stellar years at SU, the point guard was taken sixth overall in the 2009 draft, and with fellow Timberwolves draftee Ricky Rubio remaining in Spain Flynn had every opportunity to make a name for himself. However, forces seemed to work against him at every turn. His ball-dominant style of play clashed with coach Kurt Rambis’ triangle offense, and then a hip injury forced him to have surgery. It doesn’t seem like he has been the same athletically since the injury. Flynn has played for four teams in his brief NBA career, and was most recently cut by the Detroit Pistons after spending the preseason on their training camp roster.
SU’s original “Mookie” played in Cyprus (the country, not the hill) for most of last year, but managed a cup of coffee in the NBA with the New Orleans Hornets at the end of the season. The team signed the former Orange center to a ten day contract to help fill out roster spots left depleted by injuries, and it could be argued they were also looking to accrue ping-pong balls for the Anthony Davis lottery. In July Watkins was traded by the Hornets to the Philadelphia 76ers as salary cap/roster fodder, and cut five days later. At last check he is playing professionally in Bulgaria.
Greene spent last season with the Sacramento Kings, playing in 53 games and averaging 5.4 points and 2.4 rebounds. The forward was a free agent this summer, and had attracted interest from the Brooklyn Nets before breaking his ankle during a workout in August just days before he was to sign a contract. He underwent surgery on the ankle and continues to rehab while looking for a way back into the NBA.