COMMENTARY | Over a seven-year journey, Chris Copeland's perseverance took him from the D-League, to Europe, to becoming a 28-year-old NBA rookie, to finally cashing in a multiple-year NBA contract.
Maybe that's why New York Knicks head coach Mike Woodson was so initially reluctant to play Copeland in last season's NBA playoffs.
Of course, the notion that Woodson was unwilling to trust Copeland with significant postseason minutes because he was afraid of revealing the forward's talent to other teams - thereby putting the Knicks at risk of losing Copeland off their roster - is said in jest.
Copeland Making the Most of His Playoff Chances Got the Pacers' Attention
Yet that's exactly why in an ironic twist of fate, Copeland has found a new home with New York's Eastern Conference rival, the Indiana Pacers.
Yes, the same Pacers who had to (in part) overcome Copeland's strong play against them to avoid going back to Madison Square Garden for a Game 7 during the Eastern Semifinals, in May.
Although the Knicks wanted Copleand to return after the sharp-shooting New Jersey native averaged 8.7 points on 47.9 field goal shooting, including 42.1 percent from 3-point range, in just over 15 minutes per game last year, they couldn't afford to keep him after making the signing of another seasoned NBA rookie - 36-year-old Pablo Prigioni - a higher priority.
Indiana, with more salary cap room, was able to outbid the team it ousted from the playoffs and give Copeland a two-year deal worth $6.1 million.
The impetus of that offer had a lot to do with the way Copeland came off the bench to help keep New York alive (at least for a while) in the Knicks-Pacers Eastern Semifinals series.
With Woodson's offense struggling, Copeland received more playing time and responded with 13 points, including 10 points in his first 10 minutes in Game 5 (as I wrote here), to help New York avoid elimination with a 10-point win.
"Cope was big for us tonight," Woodson admitted at the time.
One game later, in Indiana, NBA scoring champion Carmelo Anthony was carrying the Knicks on his back but needed some help. It arrived in the form of guard Iman Shumpert and Copeland making some big 3-pointers.
Those shots put New York in position to win Game 6, even though the Pacers ultimately won that contest (and the series) down the stretch.
But Indiana had seen enough between Copleand's exploits in Games 5 and 6, and in his 11-for-20 shooting (55 percent) from behind the arc throughout the series, to steal him away from the Knicks.
With the Stroke of a Pen, the Smooth-Stroked Shooter Hurts His Former Team Twice
Even though Copeland wanted to remain a Knick as much as New York wanted him to, at 29 years old, with just one year of NBA experience, career-wise, Copeland had to take the money from the Pacers.
That choice puts the Knicks in a tough spot, even though they're hopeful that their recent trade for seven-footer Andrea Bargnani will mitigate the loss of efficient shooting and scoring that Copeland might have otherwise provided.
New York, which made an NBA-record 891 3-pointers last season, is predicated offensively on long-range shooting, even if the Knicks would also like to improve their same defensive issues that Copeland sometimes contributed to, in a way that limited his playing time.
Although Copeland's 862 minutes were only the ninth most for New York, his 59 3-pointers were the sixth on the team.
Not only do the Knicks lose that productivity, there's more than a good chance that they'll have to deal with stopping that in the future, should New York and Indiana continue their playoff battles.
Seeing Copeland end up with a Western Conference team or non-contending Eastern club wouldn't have hurt quite as much.
However, watching a contending conference foe add a much-needed shooter who can at times, score in bunches off the bench, to make the Pacers even tougher than they already were for the Knicks to beat, will make Copeland's loss even harder for the fans he earned in New York to witness his departure - especially when those fans know it was their own team that found and developed Copeland, and gave him his first real shot in the NBA.
They'll feel that even more when hearing the words of Copeland's agent, John Spencer, who said, "Seriously, Chris was close to going back to New York for whatever amount," before adding," Having Paul George and Danny Granger, Chris can stretch the floor and create space and make them a more dangerous team. [The Pacers] think [Chris is] a missing piece to going out and winning a championship.''
If that happens, the Knicks might wish that Copeland hadn't played quite as well as he did in those limited playoff minutes Woodson gave him.
Jonathan Wagner is a regular Knicks contributor for Yahoo! Sports, a Knicks writer for New York Sports Day, and a co-host discussing the Knicks and other sports topics on the New York Sports Geeks internet radio show. Follow Jonathan on Twitter @JonathanJWagner.
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