Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Fun fact: Maryland has had at least one player in the NBA consecutively since 1977. It’s obviously not Kentucky, who had a record 21 players in the NBA last season, but it is impressive nonetheless. They’ve always had someone representing them in the pro’s, being an ambassador to the university. The list may be short, but it’s distinguished and merits proper recognition.
Steve Blake And The Blazers Return:
Steve Blake is 34 years old now, and while his age is waxing, his skills on the court are waning. He’s at that point in his career where any job is a good job, because he’s one injury away from never landing another gig in the NBA. Which is why it’s awesome that Blake got picked up by the team that really brought him to the forefront in the first place: the Portland Trail Blazers!
Yup, Blake leaves his Blakers for his second stint with the Blakezers, this time in a backup role behind budding star Damian Lillard for 2 years and $4.2 million, with a player option in the second year. Honestly, Blake needs this. He was supposed to backup Steve Nash until Steve Nash basically fell apart at the seams, but when he was asked to shoulder a big Laker load, he too succumbed to age and overuse. Blake hasn’t played more than 55 games since 2011-12, and his best days are behind him. But this gives him two years of absolute safety to close out his career in the same place that made it special.
Steve’s got a chance to be a fantastic mentor to Lillard, who doesn’t need a ton of tutoring as it is but could learn a thing or two from a Kobe disciple. He may not get 25 minutes a night or anything, but he’ll certainly contribute if he’s healthy with his three-point shooting and steady handling. Regardless, for a second-round pick by the Wizards in 2003, Blake has turned in an awesome career. He’s outlasted Juan; he’s finally passed Chris Wilcox; he may even stay longer than Alex Len at this point. Hats off to the guy for his longevity.
Greivis Vasquez Resigns With Toronto Raptors:
It only took Greivis Vasquez four years and a trip across the (northern) border to finally find a home for himself. Vasquez has bounced around the NBA a lot for a guy who has been nothing short of steady his entire career. Last year, everyone thought Sacramento was where he would blossom as a player after New Orleans picked up Jrue Holliday and awkwardly ushered Vasquez off. Unfortunately the Kings are as dysfunctional as a Nintendo game before you blow into it, and they promptly traded him to the Raptors in a Maryland for Maryland swap (the other Marylander being Rudy Gay).
Well Vasquez segued that trade into a new $13 million contract with the Raptors after balling outrageous toward the end of the season. He averaged 10.1 points and 5.1 assists during the playoffs, and backed up Kyle Lowry admirably last season. Toronto loves the international man, and Greivis loves the city back just as much. It’s literally a match made in heaven (or until they don’t make the playoffs). Greivis fits the team perfectly because of his ability to play off the ball through screens as well as handle point duties equally effectively.
So few people pegged the unathletic-but-ferocious Venezuelan to have much of an NBA career — much like Blake — but he’s killing it. Vasquez and the Raptors are a team on the rise in the East, and while he may never get his starting role, he’ll certainly try his darndest to wrest it away from Lowry.
Alex Len Struggles With Phoenix Suns:
Poor Alex Len. The guy just can’t catch a break (no pun intended at all). Len will miss the remainder of the summer league for the second consecutive season after getting his finger tangled in an opponents jersey and fracturing his digitus minimus (his pinky finger). Len played in just one game, against the Warriors, where he pulled down 6 rebounds and scored 6 points before bowing out for the Suns.
With the departure of Channing Frye, Len is still due for some solid minutes, but he’s got to stay healthy for that to happen. So far, he missed almost all of last season after requiring surgery on both his ankles and hasn’t seen the court much at all. Worse still, he’s in real danger of being outplayed by a Dookie, Miles Plumlee. While it would be foolish to label Len a bust at this juncture in his career, he’s following in the footsteps of another European center with soft touch (Big Z) in that it may be awhile before he’s healthy enough to actually showcase that skill. Big Z was beleaguered by foot problems until his sixth year in the NBA.
Eventually, the kid will get it as long as he doesn’t get discouraged. Fortunately, the Suns training staff is well known for being miracle workers, so Len couldn’t be in a better spot for wound mending. Get well soon.
Chris Wilcox, Unrestricted Free Agent:
After not being picked up by anyone last year after finally recovering from heart surgery he had in 2012, it looks like Wilcox’ days in the NBA may be just about over. There’s no chatter surrounding him in the free agency pool, and sometimes when a player has a heart condition, NBA teams tend to get very nervous about bringing them along. Especially at 31.
Whatever, though, because Chris Wilcox is awesome regardless. He suffered a stinking enlarged aortic valve in his heart that could have ended his career early, and he still managed to sign on in 2013 for one last contract. That’s impressive, inspiring for anyone suffering from similar problems, and frankly inspirational. Wilcox is great in the community, and is one of those athletes who uses his public profile for good. Example, he’s a huge Lupus advocate and holds his own golf tournament dedicated to eradicating the disease that took his aunt. As a guy whose mother also has Lupus, Wilcox’ work with it is praise worthy.
He may not catch on anywhere now that he’s creeping up in age, but he’s still a fantastic Maryland alum.