It is not often that a player can step away from the league for two seasons and then find his way back onto an NBA roster, but Brian Cook, a nine-year veteran who played for the L.A. Lakers and four other NBA teams, is currently giving it his best shot at the Orlando Summer League.
Cook, drafted in the first round by the Lakers over a decade ago, is 33 years old, which makes him an oddity among his Summer League peers, many of whom are in their early-to-mid twenties.
It’s not the conventional route for a return, but when extreme family circumstances take a man away from the game for two full seasons, he’ll do whatever he can to find his way back to the hardwood.
“My wife had cancer, so I’ve had to be at home a little bit the last couple of years,” said Cook, who is playing for the Detroit Pistons’ Summer League team. “I’m ready to get some competition back in me, so it’s been good for me to get out here and be with these younger guys, these hungry guys, because I’m hungry too. I’m trying to squeeze out a few more years.”
While there have been plenty of successful 33-year-old NBA players over the years, having been away from the game for two full seasons could be quite the roadblock for Cook in trying to find an open spot on an actual NBA roster. Granted, he wouldn’t be an expensive free agent pickup, but with so many talented young players coming just as cheap with higher ceilings, he’s certainly got his work cut out for him.
That doesn’t mean he’s not trying, though. Using his connection with Stan Van Gundy, his former head coach with the Orlando Magic and now the head coach and president of basketball operations for Detroit, he got himself an invite to Summer League for a chance to prove himself. Van Gundy guaranteed him nothing in providing the opportunity, but Cook is hoping to make the most of it, if only to show his gratitude to Van Gundy.
“He was one of the first guys I called in being a free agent because I’m very comfortable with his offense,” Cook said. “I look back at my career, and he’s one of the few coaches that really cared about me and held me accountable. When you’re young, you don’t realize that. I’ve been at home with my kids and my wife, and I’ve matured during that process. (Van Gundy) gave me a shot to come down here. I’m ready.”
Cook, so far, has looked pretty good in Summer League action, scoring 10 points in 22 minutes in his first game back. He’s not getting huge minutes, as Van Gundy and his coaching staff are likely much more interested in gauging the talents of the younger players, but Cook seems to be embracing his role as a mentor to his squad’s burgeoning talents.
“I knew that was going to be one of my roles coming down here,” Cook said. “They wanted me to be a leader by example—be in the right places, know the right calls and just be a veteran leader while I was here. That helps me, but even though I’ve been in the league nine years, I’m still learning with these young guys.”
He’s scrapping and clawing for an NBA paycheck with these young guys, too, but teams already know what he can do after nearly a decade in the league. Cook averaged 5.5 points over the course of his NBA career and if a team is looking for a big man who can knock down some outside shots and spread the floor, there’s no question Cook fits the bill.
Van Gundy has given him the chance to show that he’s healthy and in shape, running and gunning with kids nearly half his age.
If all goes well for him, he’ll make it back on an NBA roster this season. After everything his family has been through over the course of the last two years, it’s hard to say that he doesn’t deserve it. His wife is cancer-free now, thankfully, so Cook feels obliged to continue his tenure as an NBA player.
“I’m hoping to get something this year; I love playing the game of basketball,” Cook said. “I just want to compete. [Hitting the open shot] is something I’ve always been able to do, but I’ve also been able to work on my body while I’ve been out.
“I’ve still got something left, a couple more seasons in me.”