This offseason, a number of notable veterans have expressed interest in returning to the NBA. Ray Allen, Stephen Jackson, Richard Hamilton and Carlos Boozer are among the players who are reportedly thinking of making a comeback for the 2016-17 season. It makes sense that these players would want to return to the league, especially now that the NBA salary cap has reached an unprecedented high. Also, many of these individuals never lost the itch to play and want to compete at the highest level once again.
In addition to the aforementioned players, you can add Ronald “Flip” Murray to the list of veterans looking to get back into the league. Murray, who is 36 years old, told Basketball Insiders that he’s determined to make an NBA roster one last time.
Murray, a 6’4 combo guard, made a name for himself in the NBA with his ability to score the ball from all over the floor and provide instant offense as a sixth man. Over the course of his eight-year NBA career, he averaged 9.9 points and 2.3 assists while playing just 22.7 minutes per game. His per-100-possession stats for his career are impressive – 23.2 points, 5.3 assists and 4.8 rebounds – since his minutes were relatively limited.
Throughout his time in the NBA, Murray had stints with the Milwaukee Bucks, Seattle SuperSonics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers, Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets and Chicago Bulls. And that doesn’t even count the times he was signed by a team and cut before playing in a game, such as when the Memphis Grizzlies inked him to a deal on Oct. 1, 2012 and waived him later that month without playing him a single minute.
Murray hasn’t played in an NBA game since the 2009-10 season, when he suited up for the Chicago Bulls and averaged 10.1 points over 29 contests. However, Murray has remained in shape because he played overseas and in the D-League. Between these stints, he also participated in a number of professional competitions, including The Basketball Tournament (which has a $2 million prize, is broadcast on ESPN and includes many overseas stars and D-League standouts).
“I work out every day,” Murray told Basketball Insiders. “I’m in Philly right now working out with a group of guys, a lot of college guys and guys who play overseas. Some guys who actually play for Philly work out at the same center down here. Some workouts are at La Salle and some workouts are at Temple University, but we’re working out every day. Usually, we go lift from like 8-9 a.m. and then we do workouts from like 9:30-10:30 a.m. and then play a little bit of pick-up afterwards. Dionte Christmas, who played in the league and played overseas as well, is one of the guys. The Morris Twins [Marcus and Markieff], Dion Waiters, Hakim Warrick, Mark Tyndale – who played at Temple as well as overseas and in the D-League – are some of the guys there.”
One reason Murray hasn’t played in the NBA for quite some time is because he fractured his hip during the NBA lockout, sidelining him for nearly half of a year.
“It was a bad situation because at the end of the day, that’s when we went into the lockout year and during the time of the lockout, we were doing a lot of charity games where we would be playing against different cities,” Murray said. “I actually ended up suffering a major injury, fracturing my hip. When I fractured my hip, I was out for about four to five months and it took me a while to get back to 100 percent after that.”
In an effort to get his confidence back and ensure he was completely healthy, Murray decided to play in the D-League with the Austin Toros. He essentially treated it as a rehab stint. It went even better than he could’ve imagined, as he helped the Toros win the 2012 D-League championship in his lone season there. He averaged an impressive 21.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.5 steals in 38.8 minutes while shooting 43.3 percent from the field as the team’s go-to option offensively. Perhaps most impressive is that he says he was only at 80 percent at that time since he was playing himself into shape.
“I didn’t mind playing in the D-League,” Murray said. “A lot of people thought I was done playing basketball because I suffered that hip injury and nobody really saw me play for a while. Because of that, I wanted to just go out there and show people that I could still play and that I still love the game. It was a good experience for me; I had a chance to connect with some younger guys that were trying to make an NBA roster at the time. It was more of a leadership role for me playing down there with the young guys, but I also still had a nice experience playing there because there’s a lot of talent. And a lot of those talented guys I was playing against made it up to the NBA.
“When I came back from the injury, I went to the Austin Toros of the D-League and we won a championship in the D-League. At that time, I still wasn’t feeling 100 percent. I was probably around a good 80 percent. Following that, I just went overseas and played abroad for a couple years.”
As he mentioned, Murray would play with teams in Turkey, Ukraine and Lebanon, and he really enjoyed his time in these countries. He continues to receive interest from international teams to this day, but he doesn’t want to leave his family behind to go overseas again.
“It was a great experience,” Murray said of playing abroad. “I got a chance to travel the world and see different countries and cultures. Turkey was beautiful. Ukraine was okay – where I was at, it was a little rough in the city, but I was able to travel and see other parts of Ukraine too. And Lebanon was just beautiful. Beautiful. The competition level over there is good as well. Turkey had good competition and the game is very physical over there. I mean, those guys play hard. Every second of every game, they never take a play off over there. Those guys play extremely hard. Like I said, there is a lot of talent over there and I’m glad I got the chance to experience that and play overseas.
“But I just didn’t want to go back overseas because of the situation with my wife and my family. I didn’t want to leave them here and go back, you know? So that’s why I didn’t take the option of going back overseas. But I have been playing a lot and working out daily. I played in The Basketball Tournament, which includes professionals and college alumni teams. I also played in the Danny Rumph Classic in Philadelphia, and other competitive tournaments and leagues too.”
In his last professional action, Murray played for Al Mouttahed Tripoli in Lebanon’s Division A. He averaged 24 points, 4.2 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 1.6 steals while shooting 34 percent from three-point range (on 9.4 attempts per game).
Teams looking to add an experienced veteran may give Murray a look, as he has played in 487 regular-season games and 45 playoff games in the NBA. He’s a savvy vet, and he insists he’s willing to embrace any role a team asks of him including helping young players develop (something he enjoys).
“I would definitely bring a lot of veteran leadership because I know the game of basketball,” Murray said. “The way the game is now, I feel like I could fit perfectly in. I could be someone who comes off the bench and produces for the team. I’d also like to mentor the young guys and pass on some of the experiences and lessons I learned from playing against some of the guys I matched up against during my time. If I come in right now, I could bring a lot of veteran leadership and still be able to produce on the court.
“The way the game is set up now, I think my game fits perfectly for the NBA. The way the game is going now with a lot of pick-and-roll and a lot of iso and [creating your own shot], that opens up the floor for the spread fours who can shoot the three. With a lot of isos, it opens the floor up a lot so you are able to make plays for yourself as well as others. I believe I could come in and fit perfectly.”
Murray knows that a job won’t be handed to him given his age and his time away from professional basketball. Because of this, he’s absolutely open to working out for NBA teams or attending free-agent minicamps to show what he has left in the tank.
“I have no problem doing that,” Murray said of working out for an NBA team to show what he can do at this stage of his career. “I’m working out every day anyway, so I have no problem going to work out for an NBA team and show what I can do.
“Given an opportunity, given a chance, I would love to go out there to show that I can still play this game at that level. I can still go in and produce, even at the age of 36. I’m still very athletic and still very quick, and I still want to play this game.”
It may be tough given his age and the basketball mileage on his body, but Murray has never let slim odds stop him. After all, he turned a Division II collegiate career into eight years in the NBA that netted him nearly $10 million. You can’t knock Flip’s hustle or work ethic.
It’s this determination and underdog story that has impressed so many of Murray’s peers. Many players – former and current – have nothing but positive things to say about Flip and they know how much damage he can do when he gets hot with the ball.
“I’ve always been a huge Flip Murray fan,” said Chauncey Billups, who played with Murray on the Pistons in 2007 when they advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals. “He’s always been a Jamal-Crawford-type guy. He can come off your bench and score with the best of them. As long as he’s in great shape, I’m confident he can really help a team win.”
Speaking of Crawford, he has a lot of respect for Murray since they are both sixth men known for scoring at will. Murray never won the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year trophy, but he did finish seventh in voting for the award in 2009. That was one year before Crawford won the award for the first time; now, Crawford has been honored as Sixth Man of the Year an NBA-record three times, including this past season.
“Flip was always nice, always had game,” Crawford said. “He didn’t play much in Milwaukee or in Seattle at first. Then, Ray Allen went down for a while and Flip averaged like 20 points a game and they were winning in that stretch! I always enjoyed watching him and I had a lot of respect for his game.”
“He’s one of the most prolific scorers I saw on a daily basis,” said Brent Barry, who played two seasons with Murray on the Sonics. “He could get anywhere he wanted and used his body very well. I’m happy to hear that he is still chasing his dream and continuing his career. I will never forget ‘Flip Your Lid’ filling in for Ray to start the 2003 season.”
What Crawford and Barry are referring to is when Allen had to miss an early stretch of the 2003-04 season, which thrust Murray into Seattle’s starting lineup. At this point, Murray was in just his second NBA season and nobody expected him to do a whole lot. After all, he had appeared in just 14 NBA games as a rookie, averaging just 1.9 points in 4.4 minutes. The Sonics were hoping that Murray could be a serviceable stopgap until Allen returned.
Murray had other plans.
He dominated and led Seattle to five wins in their first six games. Murray averaged 23.9 points, 4.4 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals through the first 11 games of the season. In his 18 starts that year, he averaged 19.2 points, 4.5 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 1.3 steals in 35.6 minutes. When asked to perform on the biggest stage in basketball and fill in for a future Hall of Famer, Murray shined and turned heads around the NBA. That’s why over a decade later, Barry says he’ll never forget that stretch of impressive basketball and why Seattle native Crawford sounds like an excited fan when he talks about it.
Some have compared Murray’s remarkable stretch to Jeremy Lin’s “Linsanity” run in New York, but it honestly may have been even crazier. While Lin went undrafted, he played at Harvard and was somewhat of a known commodity after having success with the Dallas Mavericks’ Summer League team, playing particularly well against rookie John Wall and earning a spot on the Golden State Warriors’ regular-season roster. Murray not only went undrafted, he attended Shaw University (a Division II school) prior to joining the Sonics. Before bursting onto the scene in 2003, his previous career-high was six points. He had scored 27 points total in his NBA career before stepping in for Allen in the starting five. So the fact that he scored 20 or more points in 10 of the first 11 games that season – and topped 27 points on five different occasions that year – was incredible.
Once Murray showed what he could do when given minutes and touches, the Sonics used him more and other teams eventually showed interest as well. That’s what allowed him to suit up for so many different teams and sign numerous contracts – both in the NBA and, later, abroad.
Now, he’s hoping for one last NBA contract and a final chance to prove himself once again.
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