It feels like forever since the last time we saw O.J. Mayo step foot on an NBA floor.
March 7, 2016, to be exact, was that day. Playing with the Milwaukee Bucks in his third season with the team, he scored just two points on four attempts in 25 minutes of action.
It wasn’t a fair exit for the former third overall pick in the 2008 draft. Mayo contracted a stomach virus two days later and missed a game against the Miami HEAT — and it only got worse from there.
The morning after at his home, Mayo tripped while he was walking down a flight of stairs and fractured his right ankle, forcing him to miss the remainder of the season and a chance to earn a payday in free agency. He only played in 41 games that year and was riddled with injuries before the worst break occurred.
Months after on the first day of July, the NBA disqualified Mayo for violating the league’s Anti-Drug Program. It was the second time he got in trouble for a drug-related incident. He was suspended for 10 games in 2011 due to taking an over-the-counter steroid. Strike two was much harsher, though.
The league suspended Mayo for two full years with a chance to apply for reinstatement in 2018-19. NBA writer Ken Berger relayed that one executive estimated Mayo lost out on anywhere between $30 million and $40 million that summer.
But that was then, and this is now. We are less than a month away from NBA training camp and preseason basketball. Mayo has been eligible to attempt his comeback to the league since July 1, and odds are he’s looking for an opportunity.
In order to get things into motion, the NBA and the NBA Players Association have to agree upon Mayo’s desire to return.
As reported by Sports Illustrated’s Ben Golliver last year, it will be a conversation based on what led to the ban and his behavior during the suspension, whether there was a treatment program he completed and if he’s a “suitable role model for youth.” Mayo has to also prove that he hasn’t failed any drug tests for a year before he applies for reinstatement.
Those are the technicalities and logistics behind the process, but what should convince teams he’s ready to play?
Obviously, the competition level and speed of the game are things you can’t necessarily prepare for after a two-season hiatus, but he’s been keeping busy. This past April, Mayo signed with Atleticos de San German in Puerto Rican league Baloncesto Superior Nacional.
Mayo started in all but three contests in the 21 games he played. Averaging 29 minutes per night, he averaged over 13 points on 39 percent from the field. He knocked down 34.7 percent of his perimeter tries and recorded over a steal per game.
Speaking with NBA scouts, RealGM’s Keith Smith tweeted out one of their thoughts on Mayo’s time in Puerto Rico.
“Body looks good,” the scout said. “Not heavy. Pretty in shape. Shot’s rusty, but was never great anyway. Ball handling & driving is solid. Defense is ok, but no challenge. Worth a look for someone later this summer.
“Head seems screwed on straight. Wants to get back to the league. He’ll make it back. Then he’s gotta stick by avoiding the stuff that got him in trouble in the first place. He’s a good guy. He should be ok.”
Mayo didn’t finish the season out with Atleticos de San German. He was released in late June. It’s unknown why he was let go, but the Huntington Herald-Dispatch says that it may have had to do with pursuing opportunities with NBA teams during free agency.
Though the numbers are not eye-popping by any means, remember: the partial season he played this year was Mayo’s first time participating in organized basketball in two years. Whether it’s getting his shot down or even just getting up and down the floor, it’s going to take some time to get himself back into a rhythm after missing so much time.
Recently, Mayo linked up with his former teammate Giannis Antetokounmpo. Milwaukee’s All-Star forward shared a post about their workout together and said that he looked good. The two have had a close relationship dating back to their respective starts with the Bucks, an organization Mayo feels he owes and would love to return to.
Even if they don’t feel the same way, Mayo’s game is suited for an evolving, offensively driven NBA. He’s a natural scorer who has shown his ability to get hot and shoot the basketball in many seasons. Every team can use that type of player.
There has been no reported interest as of yet. There has also been no confirmation of Mayo reaching out to the league for reinstatement. If he does end up back in the NBA, he’ll be an unrestricted free agent because Milwaukee renounced his rights. We’ll likely learn more as we draw closer to the season.
It’s going to take a lot to get rid of the negativity surrounding Mayo’s name. It’ll start with taking care of his body and conducting himself like a professional, which he is showing with a drive and determination we haven’t seen in quite some time.
On November 5, Mayo will turn 31 years old. With somebody as skilled as he is, it would be a shame to not see a feel-good comeback story. He still has plenty of time to write another chapter in his book and finish his career the way it is meant to.
Mayo’s road to redemption might be on the horizon.
All it would take is a second chance.
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