Timofey Mozgov, Shannon Brown, and the frustrations of solid players who can’t get minutes

Sometimes, with pro athletes, it’s not about the money. It’s not about the playing time needed to secure the money, either, and in a lot of cases it’s not about the ring. Sometimes, dudes just want to play. To feel some self-worth as a contributor to a team in spite of the group’s record or what the next contract looks like.

Denver’s Timofey Mozgov and Phoenix’s Shannon Brown are serviceable enough players that made it past last week’s trading deadline without their current teams sending them elsewhere. Brown hasn’t played in the last four games. Mozgov has logged just over 45 minutes in all of February. And both players would kind of prefer to be forced into taking a shower before and after games.

Mozgov, whose name was linked to several teams before the trade deadline, even had hesitation about being shipped to Miami and a potential championship winner before last week. In an interview with Sport-Express and Rush’n Hoops’ Alexey Bezyazychnyi, Mozgov explains his frustrating month:

Of course I badly want to play. From this perspective, a trade was supposed to happen. It would be good both for me and the club, because my contract expires in summer, which means I will be able to leave Denver without any compensation. I don’t know what was on our management’s mind when they decided not to trade me. But if it happened, it means that there were some major reasons for that. NBA is a serious business, where nothing is being done without a reason. I hope I will get an opportunity to show what I can do this season. Otherwise, why keep me on the team?

- It was reported that Miami and Minnesota have contacted the Nuggets about you. Did it really happen?

- Yes, my agent told me about it. And I would go to Miami or Minneapolis gladly. On one condition only – that they would let me play. That the Heat are the main title contender this season didn’t matter to me at all. I am not going to sit on the bench even for a champion’s ring. To me, playing time is more important right now than any team results.

(For clarification, because of the odd combination between Mozgov’s rookie slash free agent contract that he signed with the New York Knicks as an undrafted free agent in 2010, Timofey can either receive the qualifying offer from the Nuggets this summer for over $3.9 million this summer, he can be bought out by the team for 44 percent of that number, or he can latch on with another team as a restricted free agent and the Nuggets could decline to match the terms – hence his “without any compensation claim.

He isn’t an unrestricted free agent that can leave without looking back, though. It’s not that simple.)

To the cynic, this can be taken as evidence that Mozgov, who will turn 27 during this summer’s free agency period, wants a whole heap of minutes and shots in order to drive up his price for his first non-rookie contract. That might be well and true, but at this point Timofey (who is skilled and should be in the NBA next season) wasn’t going to start piling up numbers in Minnesota or Chicago or even a rebuilding mess like the Suns or Bobcats.

He’s just not that sort of player – more of a space filler and defender, and quite turnover prone on offense.

Mozgov went on to point out that his 2011-12 was somewhat made brighter during last year’s posteason when Nuggets coach George Karl played Timofey for seven playoff contests (including five starts) “even though during the regular season he played me almost as little as he does now.” The big man concedes that “you can expect anything from Karl, as I have already learned multiple times,” in his interview with Bezyazychnyi.

“If I was 35 years old, maybe I would think differently,” Mozgov concluded. “But I am only 26, and I want to play.”

Can’t blame the guy. And certainly would understand if Shannon Brown kicked a few cans in the wake of his fourth straight (entering Wednesday’s contest against the San Antonio Spurs) DNP-CD for the Phoenix Suns. Brown is actually the team’s fifth-leading scorer at 11.2, Craig Grialou of Arizona Sports reminds, but that per-game mark isn’t enough for interim coach Lindsey Hunter to look the other way when it comes to tossing the undersized shooting guard in to action.

From Arizona Sports, who caught up with Brown after declining a post-game shower after a game he didn’t appear in:

"It bothers me every night," he said. "It bothers me from when the first time I didn't play. But I kind of felt it because my minutes was going down a little bit. You get that feeling, especially when you've invested as much as I am into basketball and basketball being my life and me loving it like I do. I got that feeling kind of and slowly but surely it started to happen.

"It hurts. It is what it is though. I understand it's a business and I can't take it too personal."

As Grialou points out, Brown’s per-game scoring has gone up for the fifth consecutive season, but that’s also a function of his increased playing time as he found roles in Los Angeles and now Phoenix. His all-around and per-minute contributions have stayed pretty stagnant over that term, however, in spite of Brown working his way up to his prime. Shannon isn’t a bad player by any stretch, and he rarely turns the ball over despite his at-times electric game. He remains a poor shooter that doesn’t get to the line nearly enough, and doesn’t really contribute much in other areas.

Scoring 11.2 points is nice, but taking 10.3 shots per game to get there is not. And because the Suns can waive Brown just after this June’s draft while only being forced to pay half of his $3.5 million salary, it’s possibly that he’s not in the team’s plans any more. Even if $3.5 million for more of Brown production in 2013-14 wouldn’t be the worst thing for the rebuilding team. Or any team, really.

Mozgov and Brown aren’t DNP-CD level players, but I can understand why both Karl and Hunter see fit to keep them on the pine for an entire game from time to time. Both want to play and both have their attributes, but this is par for the course as NBA teams hunker down into their year-end rotations.