Now that we've let the jokes fall by the wayside — and kudos to you, Twitter, because there were some fine ones — isn't it time to discuss how remarkable it is that Eddy Curry will be starting for a playoff-worthy NBA team Tuesday night as the league tips off?
A calf injury — a preseason favorite that is painful to quickly jump back from — has sidelined Dallas Mavericks starting center Chris Kaman. The long-belabored knee setback that Dirk Nowitzki endured earlier this month has created a lineup flux that won't allow Mavs coach Rick Carlisle to go with Dirk and recently signed Elton Brand up front, which leaves the recently-recently signed Curry to man the middle for Dallas as it tips off against the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night. "Recently-recently" as in, "Eddy Curry has played just one exhibition game with the Mavericks, totaling 11 points on eight shots with seven rebounds and a surprising three blocks in just 25 minutes of action."
Oddly enough, this will be Curry's second straight NBA start — he actually jumped tip for the Miami Heat's final regular-season game last April — though we're sure the novelty behind this designation will last a little longer than the novelty behind his time keeping the usual Heat starters fresh last spring. Curry is looking to make a lasting impact in Dallas, but he has a long way to go before he is considering anything but a novelty. Because he's always been a novelty. Since the beginning.
Think about it. Though Curry was selected during the prep-heavy 2001 NBA draft, he was the first draftee from that era to be paired with another high school-to-pros prospect in one-time amateur rival Tyson Chandler. Unique, to start; and then you toss in the fact that then-Chicago Bulls GM Jerry Krause long abhorred selecting Chicago-area players like Curry based on some patriarchal nonsense that led the personnel boss to believe that local players would be too distracted to contribute to the local major-league team. This led Krause to draft Jason Caffey ahead of Maywood, Illinois' Michael Finley in 1995 in an attempt to shore up the lacking Chicago frontcourt. Sixteen years into Krause's tenure, he finally allowed for a local guy to suit up.
The novelty continued as the Bulls continued to build around their two young big men, and coach Scott Skiles (Curry's third coach in four seasons, not counting two interim head coaches between all the firings) began to smartly utilize his young center as a scorer-only in the low post; an NBA rarity to this day. The setup behind Curry's 2004-05 run with the Chicago Bulls was the best-case scenario for both player and organization; Curry was only asked to carry the offense during stretches of the first and third quarters before his conditioning issues set in, and he was surrounded with smart and defensive-minded players in the front and back courts that helped mitigate Curry's complete inability to contribute in any other areas. If that sounds like a slight, it isn't — because Curry helped that squad win 36 out of 54 games after a miserable 2-13 start to the season, before a heart ailment shut down Curry's campaign.
An ailment that added to the novelty. As a restricted free agent in 2005, Curry had a few worried suitors, but most teams were scared by a legitimately fearful diagnosis that has proven fatal to several athletes. The Bulls weren't exactly on the cool side of things when they asked Eddy to submit to a DNA test (which he declined) to see if his genetic history left him pre-disposed to terrible things, but they did slightly hedge their awfulness by offering Curry $400,000 a year for 20 years if the test results put the kibosh on his NBA career. Undeterred, New York Knicks GM Isiah Thomas put together a sign and trade deal that not only aided Chicago attempts to clear cap room (used, unfortunately, on Ben Wallace), but also left them with the second and ninth picks in the 2006 and 2007 NBA drafts.
Curry's 2005-06 season was possibly his best, he managed to up his rebounding to near-palatable levels while keeping his wits about him while the martyr-ish Larry Brown and ridiculous-ish Thomas tried to ruin the team in different ways. Eddy's per-game stats shot up the next season in New York as Thomas took over from Brown as coach, but his defense and rebounding fell once again, and things looked and turned out even worse in 2007-08 when Thomas paired Curry with Zach Randolph. By the time Mike D'Antoni took over the next season, Curry was more or less banished, only to make headlines whenever personal assistants or mortgage companies decided to sue him, only to break basketball waves whenever he showed up for camp horribly out of shape.
From there, The Bounce Around. Throw-ins as expiring trade fodder, camp invites, workouts, and minimum salaried contracts. Curry won a ring with the Miami Heat in 2012 despite contributing absolutely nothing to the cause but bad jokes, and even the notoriously life-changing San Antonio Spurs coaching staff declined to keep Eddy around earlier this month after he signed up for their training camp.
The Mavericks, with few other options outside of pairing Brand with Brandan Wright (something we wouldn't mind seeing, for heavy minutes) are moving ahead with Curry as a stopgap. And, over a decade in, the same limitations are worrying Curry's eighth (again, not counting two interims) NBA coach. From Eddie Sefko at the Dallas Morning News:
"He's doing OK,'' [Mavericks coach Rick] Carlisle said. "He's a force in the paint offensively. We'd like to get him more active defensively and rebounding a little bit more. But his attitude has been good, and he's worked hard to get himself in pretty good shape.''
Curry admitted the defensive end of the court will be his biggest chore.
"Every team has a different scheme,'' he said. "And I've never really been considered a great defender anyway, so it's a constant challenge for me. But it's something I'm willing to work on. I'm still learning everybody's name around here. I think every day it'll get better.''
And this is where you say, "why couldn't it have started getting better, every day, back in 2001? Or during all those chances, with several different coaches and setups and contexts, in the years following?"
Apologies for sounding like a pro athlete, but if any of this is going to last for more than a few weeks Curry is going to have to put this behind him. And this isn't to say Eddy needs to give the defensive side of things the same turned-head and overall inaction he gave the Bulls, Knicks and Heat; but we should point out that Curry is still just 29, and he can contribute to a team if the lineup around him is patched together while fully aware of Eddy's can't-help-it limitations. Few coaches are better at creating perfectly paired five-man lineups like Carlisle, and if Curry is treated like a 6-11 Leandro Barbosa, this can work.
Only if Eddy puts in his own work, though. A combination of scoring touch and tenacity in the paint remain a rare quality in this league, and even in limited minutes while gasping for air in New York and Miami Eddy stood out with those down-low moves. Even if this stopgap merely leads to a part in the rotation in a 42-win team, this is a win.
And an end to the novelty, one would hope.