Exactly a year ago today, after just one practice with the Utah Jazz, D-League call up Sundiata Gaines drilled a three-pointer at the buzzer to give the Jazz a victory over the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers. It was a wild game, an amazing shot and one of the most memorable moments of the 2009-2010 regular season.
It was one of those NBA moments that threatened to shut Twitter down as fans collectively lost their minds in 140 characters or less.
It was awesome.
Fast-forward to the 2010-2011 NBA season and Gaines is a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves…at least until January 4th when they decide to waive him
While the Raptors limped through a road trip last week, with Jerryd Bayless nursing a sprained ankle and Jose Calderon on the bench resting his aching foot, Gaines popped into my head as the player that would be a good fit for a 10-day while I was daydreaming about the Raptors getting healthy. He’s a pass-first point guard who works hard and can shoot the ball. He’s also one of my favorite D-League stories ever and if it’s my daydream, I’m allowed to control who gets the call up.
When the press release arrived in my email inbox with the news that the Raptors had picked up Gaines, saying I was pleased for him was an understatement.
If you’re not familiar with Gaines, first, before we go any further, watch this clip of him getting a call up during last season’s NBA D-League showcase:
Now, watch the clip of his game winner:
Just a little bit of some feel-good basketball moments for your Friday, right?
Okay, on to what was said at practice yesterday.
When Jay Triano was asked why the team went with Gaines over another player, his response was simple:
“He is a point guard that can set up and run offence rather than [someone] who is going to come in and look for his own. We’ve got guys like DeMar and Andrea that we need to find ways to get the basketball to. If we had signed a scoring point guard — I don’t know that we need points from the position as much as we need someone who orchestrates who gets the basketball.”
When Jose Calderon was asked on the status of his foot, he stressed that it is getting better and is manageable with treatment, but while he said he thinks he will be okay for back-to-backs, Triano wanted insurance. After Jerryd Bayless tweaked his ankle in practice yesterday, the move made even more sense.
Here’s Calderon on how hard it is for a point guard to try to learn the offence when playing on a 10-day contract:
“I think it can be the most difficult position for a 10-day, because you’ve got to learn a lot. There are a lot of plays. You’ve got to know a little bit what the coach wants. It’s tough. Maybe the other players, they can just feed them the plays and run [in] the system. But for the point guard…That’s why I’m here and just trying to help him get ready as soon as possible.”
To counteract this, Triano said the playbook will be kept very short for him and that they’ll focus on their defensive concepts and also try to have Leandro Barbosa on the floor with him so he isn’t alone out there as a primary ball-handler.
Gaines didn’t sound rattled at the challenge of getting ready for a game with his new team with only one night to prepare. When you’ve been through the 10-day contract and D-League call ups, I guess confidence and calmness are two things that get you through.
Here’s Gaines on having to pick up the playbook and learn what he’s doing in a short amount of time:
“Whether you’re on a team for a couple years or you’re just coming in, point guard is always the toughest position. To me, at the end of the day, it’s basketball. I’m going to learn some of the plays and things of that nature. But at the end of the day, it’s basketball.”
One thing that came out of Thursday’s practice was a sense of thankfulness from DeMar DeRozan, for his guaranteed contract and knowing he is locked in with the Raptors and doesn’t have a 10-day window to impress:
“Definitely. Definitely makes me work harder every day because there are some guys that are talented, but only get 10-day contracts. They don’t know when they’re going to have a job. I’m definitely thankful for every day that I get to play in the NBA.”
For Gaines’ sake, I’m glad he’s got at least 10 days of being an NBA player ahead of him. Now, let’s see how the next 10 days –nine of them on the road– work out for the Raptors.