It's easy to tell the difference between the likes of your average rec leaguer and LeBron James — there's an obvious gulf in talent, athleticism and preparation that separates the NBA's true stars from everybody else. But on the league's margins, differentiation becomes more difficult. When players haven't done enough yet to definitively earn a place in the NBA, how do you decide which guy to bring in to fill an emergency roster vacancy?
Well, if you're about to board a transatlantic flight bound for England, you might have some very specific criteria. As such, the New Jersey Nets' need became Sundiata Gaines' opportunity. From Colin Stephenson at the Star-Ledger:
When the Nets realized they needed to sign a guard to bring with them to London because of injuries to point guards Deron Williams and Jordan Farmar, Gaines happened to be home in New York, which was convenient, and he also had a valid passport, which was essential.
"I just came home — I was in Minnesota — and New Jersey happened to call me, and asked me if I had a passport and if I could go to London, and I said, 'I have my passport,'" Gaines explained.
Gaines got the call late Sunday night, Feb. 27, he said. The Nets had a home game against Phoenix the next night, and were leaving right after the game. Time was of the essence. Orien Greene, who had been with the team for an earlier stint, wasn't near enough to get to New Jersey in time, so the Nets called Gaines, who three weeks earlier had been released by Toronto.
Right place, right time, right paperwork. That's all it took to make Gaines a Net.
On one hand, that's a tough break for Orien Greene. (Also, "A Tough Break for Orien Greene" sounds like it could be the name of a short-lived but critically acclaimed BBC comedy series that eventually finds a cult audience across the pond, sort of like "Spaced.") On the other hand, D-League eagle-eye Scott Schroeder reported last week at Ridiculous Upside that Greene had received a $45,000 buyout from the Utah Flash to head to Asia and join a playoff chase as a member of the Chinese Basketball Association's Beijing Ducks, who will likely pay the former Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Year pretty handsomely for a few weeks of service. So don't shed too many tears for him.
Still, it's a remarkable bit of good luck for Gaines, a second-year pro who's had trouble finding a home in the league after a few cups of coffee, including a pair this season with the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Toronto Raptors. And he's really made the most of it.
As Stephenson notes, Gaines' performance since joining New Jersey — he's averaging 6.1 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists (more than doubling his 1.3 turnovers) in 15.7 nightly minutes over nine games as a backup point guard for the Nets — has been enough to secure him "not only ... a second 10-day contract, but a contract for the rest of the season and through next season, the first time he's been guaranteed for an entire year." When they let you get a foot in the door, it's up to you to get inside the room and make sure you stay there. Kudos to Gaines for taking advantage of his lucky break.
You know what they say, though: Luck favors the prepared. So if I were you (and by "you," I mean "a basketball player who had played a few dozen professional games spread over several 10-day contracts and hit a memorable game-winner as a rookie call-up), I'd make sure my documentation was in order, start making travel arrangements and put myself in a position to win. In this economy, it's the only prudent thing to do, outside of finding a job where you can start sentences with statements like, "In this economy."