Mamadou N’Diaye missed last season with a serious knee injury. This year, he started the season by going for a tryout in Lebanon with Al-Riyadi Beirut, but failed the physical as his knee had not yet recovered. Then in February, the comeback began when Mamadou signed with Maccabi Haifa in Israel. In 72 minutes of six games, he has totalled 23 points, 20 rebounds and 4 blocks.
Former Clipper big man N’Dong is with Barcelona. Splitting time at the centre position with Fran Vazquez, N’Dong is averaging 6.3 points and 3.5 rebounds in 15 minutes per game in the ACB, alongside 8.9 points and 3.9 rebounds in 16.1 minutes per game in the EuroLeague.
You may never have heard of Boniface N’Dong, and the fact that he spent a whole season on an NBA roster as recently as four years ago may have completely passed you by. This is fair enough, because nothing much really happened. But it happened. N’Dong signed a minimum salary deal with the Clippers in time for training camp 2005, made his NBA debut aged 28, and appeared in 22 games with the team. He even started one. Boniface totalled 50 points, 37 rebounds and 23 fouls for the Clippers, and put up a PER of 11.0, before returning to Europe to continue his strong career there.
Boneyface has NBA talent, particularly on the offensive end and on the roll, which isn’t usually the case with fringe NBA-calibre Senegalese big men. And he has a great name. There’s nothing here not to like.
Bostjan Nachbar has not had a very good season. He moved from Dynamo Moscow to Efes Pilsen in the summer, signing a big fat contract and becoming one of Efes’s key targets in a concerted effort to stack up enough talent to compete with the big boys. But it’s not gone well; Efes underperformed relative to expectations in the EuroLeague, and, while they’re currently leading the Turkish league table, it’s not been without a great deal of infighting. Things haven’t been as bad for Nachbar as they have been for Efes’s other big name recruit, Igor Rakocevic – who apparently does not even speak to the coach, and vice versa – but it’s not been good. It was even announced that Nachbar had been released late last month, prompting me to write this, although things were patched up the following day when all parties had a “change of heart.”
Amidst the turmoil, Nachbar has averaged 6.7 points in Efes’s unsuccessful EuroLeague run, and averages 8.8 points and 3.5 rebounds per game in the Turkish league.
Other than the homegrown players, most players play in Puerto Rico during the summer in conjunction with other playing gigs elsewhere during the year. Yet Lee Nailon, who is currently playing in the BSN with the Ponce Lions, has not played elsewhere since playing in Puerto Rico last year, also for the Lions.
Nailon started the year with the Quebradillas Pirates, but was traded to Ponce after three games. I don’t know what Quebradillas received in return for him, but it had better have been a lot, because Nailon is one of the best players in the nation; he averages 19.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4.0 assists for Ponce, scoring at a Lee Nailon-like rate of 92 points in 160 minutes. Bizarrely, he’s managed to take only three three-pointers and five foul shots in the time it’s taken him to get up 74 two-pointers; then again, this is 19-foot jump shot specialist Lee Nailon we’re talking about here.
Navarro is N’Dong’s team mate at Barcelona. He was at Barcelona from 1997 to 2007, has been at Barcelona from 2008 until the present day, and is under contract to Barcelona for at least three more years. The only time La Bomba wasn’t at Barcelona was when he spent the 2007-08 season with the Memphis Grizzlies in a move which didn’t work out well for either party. Navarro played for a financial loss, was not a whole lot more than a specialist shooter at the NBA level, and returned home to Spain a matter of hours after the end of the Grizzlies’ final game. The protracted contract negotiations behind bringing him over meant it did not start well, a 26-win season meant it did not end well, and the bit in the middle didn’t go too great either. Not least of all when Pau Gasol – Navarro’s friend, national team teammate, and part of the lure of him even going – was traded at midseason. All in all, not a great success.
(The Grizzlies were able to get back the protected pick that they had traded to get Navarro’s rights when they traded Javaris Crittenton to the Wizards at the 2009 trade deadline. In the end, then, they did OK. The trade essentially became half a season of Javaris Crittenton for one season of Juan Carlos Navarro. And I’ll take the latter on that without fear of contradiction.)
Navarro is averaging 15.4 points and 3.3 assists in ACB play this year, as well as 13.9/3.3 in the EuroLeague.
Gary Neal was spending his second season with Benetton Treviso, and was leading Serie A in scoring with a 19.4 points per game average. I say “was” for a reason; Benetton released Neal last week. They did this because two weeks ago, Neal reportedly went out with Armani Jeans Milano guard Alex Acker, and was subsequently too ill to play in Benetton’s next game. Benetton did not take too kindly to a player missing a game for this reason, and they took action. Swift and decisive action. (Neal landed on his feet, signing with Unicaja Malaga in Spain’s ACB a matter of days later. But Acker was waived by Milano later the same week. Was this partly the reason why? Could not say.)
In Neal’s half-baked defence, the game in question was against Martos Napoli. Napoli’s “struggles” this season – if you can call a catastrophic implosion of a sports franchise that – have been well documented on this site before, and if you’re not familiar with them then I implore you to read up on them. Benetton didn’t need Gary Neal to beat Napoli; they didn’t need anybody to beat Napoli. Even without Neal, Benetton won 169 to 29, Napoli’s worst defeat thus far in a season full of history-makingly-awful losses. But that’s hardly the point. Neal was supposedly unprofessional and not able to play, which is not what they were paying him for. The team could have downplayed it so as to not lose arguably their best player. But they didn’t. They took a stand for their virtues. So they cut him.
Michigan State’s very own Drew Neitzel started the year in France, where he averaged 12.6 points and 5.3 assists in 31 minutes per game in the French league for Chalon. He was released after Chalon lost four consecutive games (replaced by former Oklahoma guard Terrell Everett, who now ranks second in the league in assists), and moved to Germany to play for TBB Trier. But Neitzel is struggling in Germany, averaging only 7.2 points and 1.4 assists in 22 minutes per game. He’s also shooting only 10-32 from three-point range. Maybe he should use the other hand. [Neitzel can shoot with both.]
Duke graduate DeMarcus Nelson started his first professional season last year on the Warriors roster, finished it on the Bulls roster, and spend most of the gap in between in the D-League. In that sense, it’s not been entirely unlike the career path of Rob Kurz. (And, hopefully, Anthony Morrow.) Nelson hasn’t been in the NBA this year, however, and has instead been playing for Air Avellino in Serie A. He has averaged 9.7 points and 3.5 rebounds in 24.8 minutes per game, but has shot only 26% from three-point range.
Former Colorado State centre Matt Nelson gets an honourable mention on this list because he’s a one-time Bobcat. How the 7’1 Nelson went from 16/6 in the Mountain West Conference to being on the roster of an NBA team within only a year, when that in-between year featured only a short stay in Russia, is something of a mystery; perhaps it has something to do with where I said 7’1 just now. Either way, since being waived by the Bobcats, Nelson’s career seems to have involved just two stops; the Tulsa 66ers of the D-League (released in 2006 training camp, just after being cut by the Bobcats) and a French team called Toulouges (late 2007).
At the time, Toulouges played in the third tier of French basketball (they now play in the fourth), and when you consider that we don’t even cover the French second division here – and not a whole lot of the first – then you can see how far behind the Bobcats this team was. Worse still, Nelson played only about a month before suffering a season-ending torn patella tendon and not playing again. That was over two years ago now, and Nelson has not played since.
His Myspace page hasn’t been updated much since the Toulouges saga ended, but alludes to Nelson’s return to school to study for his masters. The other entries on that blog talk mainly abut his time in France, and include a bit of everything; game-winning shots, fights, rants, laughs, love, heartbreak, heartwarming stories, stuff about drinking, baseball, breakfasts, urine…, there is, truly, something for everyone there.
Utah State graduate Nelson got a second training camp contract from the Utah Jazz this summer, four years after the first one. After touring Europe with the team, and getting the rare but special opportunity to pass within 100 feet of me, the Jazz released Nelson, and he spent six weeks on the sidelines. A move to Belgium was rumoured, but never came off, and Nelson finally emerged in Greece to play for A1 team Peristeri. However, it’s not been a good season. Nelson has suffered mightily from inconsistent minutes, inconsistent play, and a hell of a lot of fouls. He has averaged 17.9 minutes, 6.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 2.8 fouls per game, scoring efficiently from inside and out, but struggling badly with his fouls. Nelson is no stranger to the A1 league, for he played there last year with Aris and did pretty well. So maybe he’s hurt.
Utah graduate Luke Nevill signed a training camp contract with the Cavaliers this offseason, even though Cleveland knew they weren’t going to carry another big, and even though they knew that three slow 7’2 guys on the roster was probably at least one too many. He then went to the D-League, where, inevitably, he was assigned to the Utah Flash. Nevill had an inconsistent season marred by injuries in the early going, but in the end he finished with solid averages of 24.2 minutes, 11.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game, shooting 54% from the field. However, in 47 games, he never grabbed more than 10 rebounds in any game, which seems unlikely from your 7’2 starter.
Five to ten years ago, Nevill might have gotten a chance in the NBA. He’s an offensively talented 7’2 guy, after all, and you don’t see that often. But the slow plodding post-up player is being phased out for now. Mind you, as evidenced by Spencer Nelson, there’s always the possibility that the Jazz could give a training camp contract to the hometown boy.
Newble fell out of the NBA in the summer of 2008. He spent the 2008-09 season in Israel, averaging 14/6 in a few games for Bnei Hasharon, but finding work this past summer wasn’t as easy. Newble first signed with Greek team Aris, yet the team released him after only a couple of weeks when personal issues kept Newble in America for longer than Aris were willing to wait. Aris had secured Newble a visa, but Newble said he was unable to make a flight the team had arranged for him, and so they signed Mike Kakiouzis instead. They’re more ruthless about things like this in Greece.
After that, he signed in Cyprus with Keravnos, a team he had played for ten years earlier before his NBA career. However, Newble didn’t play there, either; for reasons unknown (due to the almost non-existent nature of Cypriot league basketball coverage), Newble’s stay with the team was very short. He then moved to Spain in January to play for Caceras, a LEB Gold team that Wayne Simien played for last year. But Newble didn’t last long there, either, getting injured in his first game and leaving after only three. (A local Spanish newspaper says that Newble was “cut for lack of personal adjustment.” That’s a bit too voodoo for my liking.) Newble was then reported to have signed for Santurce in Puerto Rico, but he never appeared for the team, and was replaced by Marqis Gainous before the season started. Supposedly, he cancelled the contract to return to America to work out for the Cavaliers.
All told, that’s four teams in eight months, spanning two continents and forty million miles (roughly), at least two of which that he didn’t play for, and possibly only three games played in total. A tough year for Ira Newble.