Have you ever seen that movie “Surviving the Game”, with former rap star-turned television and movie actor, Ice-T? I always liked that movie. Not just because of Ice-T. I liked the performances and characters played by Charles S. Dutton and Rutger Hauer as well. Not to mention that crazy Gary Busey. Dude has always been crazy in his roles. I’m not even sure he was acting. But that was one of the things (or should I say “themes”) that came to mind when I thought about Hawks training camp. That and the reality television series, “Survivor” (something I tired of somewhat quickly, for various reasons), to a much lesser extent.
Training camp will not feature such brutal action as Ice-T’s movie (or so we hope, we don’t need any injuries). Nor will it feature the drama of forged alliances-turned-betrayals, as we saw in “Survivor.” No necklace of immunity (sorry, Mario West), and no “me against the world and these crazy group of guys with guns” (VaVa74 will be relieved, heh heh). But somehow I can imagine the intensity level being similar, in some ways, even though we fans don’t get to watch. Competition will be fierce when scrimmages start, but preparation is the name of this game. Cohesion. Camp invitees, particularly the ones new to the team, need to figure out the right combination of blending in, standing out, and surviving the game. And make no mistake. Training camp IS a game….of sorts. Players have to learn to blend in by learning the existing system, fitting into, and executing plays. They have to stand out, in a manner of speaking, by either showing that they bring a certain element or elements to the game in a way that others can’t. Or that they add something to the team that doesn’t presently exist, or exists in a smaller, lesser capacity. Accomplishing both, building early chemistry with existing team members, and staying healthy are all necessary parts of surviving the game that is training camp.
Training camp is where invitees get to show a little bit more of themselves. Where they get to shop their wares to a team in more of a vaccum than say, minicamp or summer league. And I think it works both ways. We tend to assume that this setting is just for teams, so they can see if a player fits a need or role of some kind. But it’s probably also like that for the player. Yeah, you want a job, but you also need to “get in where you fit in” as the saying goes. As a player, you need to consider what works best for you. Even before an offer is made (IF it’s made), a player has to be thinking certain things, don’t they? Do I actually fit on this team in some capacity? Do I really have a chance at helping this team and adding positively to their chemistry? What roles might I be able to fill, and what needs could I meet? What ARE this team’s needs? Could my acquisition be based on a trade of an existing player on this team, or a trade involving me? That last part is something most players will shrug off in interviews. They’ll say it’s not something they have time to think or worry about. But surely it crosses their minds at some point.
It’s obvious that not everybody who gets invited to camp will be given a roster spot. In fact, not everybody invited to a training camp will get a roster spot in the NBA. Some will go over seas, others may go to the D-League. You never know.
Can you tell where a team is at, in part, by who they invite to camp? Can you tell what a front office is thinking (or the coaching staff ) by who they invite to camp? I think you can at least do so speculatively, but I’m sure it’s not an exact science. Seriously, look at who the Hawks have invited to training camp, and compare it to who they have invited in the past. Last year, the guys invited to camp (not the guys who were signed up for the season) included Thomas Gardner, Othello Hunter, Olumide Oyedeji, Marcus Hubbard, and Mario West. In 2007, it was Steven Smith, Antywane Robinson, and Jamal Tatum, and Mario West. The last time the Hawks had a training camp roster of nearly this size was in 2006, when the invitees included Lionel Chalmers, Cedric Bozeman, Andre Brown, Andreas Glyniadakis, Matt Freije, and Kaniel Dickens. Granted, these guys were all either rookies or players with just one year of NBA experience.
Okay, we know the deal with Mario West. And this is the second time that Frank Robinson has shown up at a Hawks camp, so we kind of know the deal with him, too. But look at some of the others for this year’s training camp roster, and what kind of players they are. Courtney Sims is the D-league player of the year, with a combination of size and skill that may be more underrated than we think. Garrett Siler is a non-drafted also-ran so far, but he’s bigger and possibly a more credible center prospect than we’ve invited to camp in a long time. Juan Dixon. Juan Dixon? (As HB Ando remarked to me the other evening) Where did he come from? Dixon isn’t Flip Murray, but he’s also nothing to sneeze at. We’re talking a low-salary end of the bench combo guard who won’t hurt you when he comes in the game. Hmmmm. Interesting. Aaron Miles is a perennial summer leaguer who has spent more time over seas than he has in anybody’s camp. Othello Hunter is an intriguing young forward who made the team last year, and may have more wrinkles to his game than we know about. And then there is Mike Wilks, who actually began his NBA career by playing for the Hawks several years ago (’02-’03). Wilks is a journeyman point guard who has the unique and dubious honor of having played for eight different teams, yet managing to keep his jersey number (29) the same, the entire time. Strange, huh? And you thought only John Hollinger could come up with obscure stuff….yeah, well so can Wikipedia.
People always talk about finding the “diamond in the rough.” Training camp is rarely where you find this. Very few of us get excited about training camp invitees, and for good reason. These guys are mostly looking for another contract so they can simply earn a living. Some are down on their luck after injury. Others are not far from retirement. But the possibility remains that you can sometimes find lesser valued gems and (more likely) useful metals in this venue. Will the Hawks find one (or more) in this crop of invitees? Hawks fan and well-known ”link master” blogger Ariose says this is never an easy decision to make, but if the Hawks want to make a serious run in the playoffs both this year and in the future, they need to sign big men Garrett Siler and Courtney Sims. He goes on to add, “Hey, in the playoffs we need every foul we can get against teams like Cleveland and Boston. And a guy like Courtney Sims has a versatile game. I was glad we got Collins and Smith, so we wouldn’t have to worry about Al getting into foul trouble too soon, and the frontcourt breaking down as a result. At the same time, I kind of like the idea of giving a guy like Frank Robinson a shot.”
Do the Hawks need another guard more than they do another big man, or is it the other way around? Is Courtney Sims a guy who will make you regret not taking a chance on him? The Hawks roster is more stocked and stable than it has been in over 5 years. So who makes it out of camp? And why?