Donald Sloan Follows Same Path as Hassan Whiteside
Miami HEAT center Hassan Whiteside is having the year of his life in the NBA, putting up video game numbers after spending his first few years as a professional basketball player suffering through injuries and toiling in the D-League and overseas.
He is, unquestionably, the biggest surprise success story of the year, but there’s another NBA player who has taken an uncannily similar road to achievement on the sport’s biggest stage: Indiana Pacers guard Donald Sloan.
Both came into the league with Sacramento in 2010, and both spent a good chunk of their first season playing for the D-League’s Reno Bighorns. Now, in 2015, both players have started several games for their respective NBA teams.
The biggest difference between the two players is that Whiteside was a borderline first-round pick and bona fide college star, while Sloan went undrafted and had much more to prove earlier in his career.
He remembers those early days every time he plays against the Kings.
“That was the team I initially started with, signed up with right after the draft. I made it a week into training camp and was released,” Sloan recalled. “It made me a little angry. I just wanted to do everything to prove I belonged. I even got to the situation where I went to the Reno Bighorns and played there a full year. [Sacramento] sent Whiteside down that year, so they would come down and watch him play, and I would do my best to go off for 30 that night, just to show them what they could’ve been getting.
“I sent that message, but I don’t think it was just to them. It was to a lot of other teams around the league, and they saw me.”
Eventually, Sloan got his break with the Atlanta Hawks in 2011, but he bounced around a lot between the NBA and the D-League for the next couple of years. He even spent a little time playing for the Barangay Ginebra Kings in the Philippines.
“That was pretty early,” Sloan said. “I went for like a month-and-a-half during the lockout since there wasn’t any Summer League that year. It was just to keep playing, and it was a great experience. I grew a little, and that was my first time leaving the country to go play as a professional and make a substantial amount of money while doing it.
“It was the same thing with China,” added Sloan, who played for the Guangdong Southern Tigers in 2013. “The opportunity was there to go open that door, and who knows? I don’t know when, but I think that if there is another opportunity or chance that I could be back over there.”
That won’t happen for quite some time, however, as Sloan finally seems to have found a home in Indianapolis. For the first time in his career, he has played for the same team for two consecutive years, giving him as much continuity as he’s seen since leaving Texas A&M after his senior year back in 2010.
“It feels good but weird at the same time because I haven’t had that stability since college,” Sloan said. “A couple years ago I was thinking about where I was going to go and what was going to happen to me. I remember it was like, ‘Okay, I have to go to the D-League for two weeks and then I’m going to be in New Orleans for two weeks, and then I’m going to come back.’ This is much more comfortable, to say the least.”
The NBA is a fickle place, however, and Sloan is a free agent this summer. Having started 21 games this season, he’s proven to be worth more than the $948,000 he’ll have made this year. That means he might not necessarily be given the opportunity to stay in Indiana, as much as he’d like to. He may have priced himself out of the stability he’s grown to appreciate so much.
“You just never know,” Sloan said. “I was thinking the other day, Jrue Holiday was an All-Star that year and then he gets traded months later. He was an All-Star! You just never know. With me being undrafted and working my way up, definitely I’m not settling.”
That said, he feels like he’s done enough to warrant serious consideration from the Pacers’ front office to work out another contract this offseason.
“I think I’ve done enough, but I think that there is still more that I can do,” Sloan said. “I want to be able to show them that it wasn’t just early in the season that I’m doing this, that I can do this for a full season. I’m not sure what they are thinking up top, but I definitely think I made a strong case to let them know.”
As an undrafted free agent, he’s especially grateful for the opportunities that have come his way in Indiana this season. He’s also grateful for the start he got five years ago in Sacramento.
“It was, I don’t want to say unexpected, but some might say it wasn’t supposed to happen,” Sloan said. “I wasn’t supposed to be in the NBA, so just for the opportunity and for a team to take a chance and be like, hey, we feel like he is an NBA player, from that point on I just tried to work my way up.”
And work he most certainly has done, but he also has traveled and bounced around quite a bit. Whiteside has clearly found himself a home in Miami; Sloan hopes he can say the same thing about his time in Indiana.
Derrick Rose and the Potential PR Nightmare
In our third year of watching how the Chicago Bulls deal with a Derrick Rose knee injury, the team is taking their third different PR approach in revealing information about his potential return.
On Thursday, before the surgery, Bulls team president John Paxson said that the team is working under the assumption that Rose will play again this year:
Pax: "Nothing's an easy procedure but there's an area that's going to get taken care of. And the hope is that [Rose] will [play this year]."
— Nick Friedell (@NickFriedell) February 27, 2015
Head coach Tom Thibodeau echoed those sentiments:
Thibs on Rose: "He's gone through a lot and that's our concern. We're hopeful that he'll be back soon."
— Nick Friedell (@NickFriedell) February 27, 2015
Obviously this is hopeful language, and it came before Rose’s surgery on Friday, but it’s an interesting departure from how the Bulls have handled talking about Rose’s injuries the past couple of years.
On Friday, after the surgery, Bulls general manager Gar Forman released a statement saying that Rose is expected to play again in four-to-six weeks.
“This morning’s procedure went great,” Forman said. “Derrick is expected to make a full recovery and he is anticipated to return to play in four to six weeks.”
Two seasons ago, when Rose missed the full 82-game slate rehabbing his surgically-repaired ACL, the team didn’t say anything about anything. Rose himself intimated that he may or may not come back depending on how he was feeling, giving Bulls fans a sense that he could very well be back in time for the postseason.
Rose took a lot of heat when he ultimately decided not to play at all that year. Pundits and fans questioned his determination and will to win, and because the team never revealed any information about how the rehab was going or what they hoped to see from Rose, nobody really knew what to do other than hope he’d make it back for the playoffs. He didn’t, and people were angry.
The following year, when Rose first injured his meniscus 10 games into the 2013-14 campaign, the Bulls didn’t want to deal with the PR nightmare of the previous season, particularly considering Rose chose for the full meniscus repair rather than the removal of the damaged tissue. Knowing his return was doubtful at best, everybody in the organization made it known that Rose would not play the rest of that season. The refrain last season was: “He’s out for the year, so don’t ask us about it.”
Even as Rose healed and there were rumblings that he was considering a comeback, the Bulls held firm. He’s not coming back. And when he didn’t, there was no backlash. Lesson learned.
This year, they’re apparently trying yet another tactic. Since Rose is opting for the quicker fix this time, a la Eric Bledsoe and Russell Westbrook, there is every reason to expect him back in four-to-six weeks, as Basketball Insiders’ Steve Kyler predicted earlier in the week.
Publicly announcing they want Rose back for the postseason is a pretty clear challenge by the front office that they’d like to see an immediate return on the massive investment they made in Rose nearly three years ago. Pau Gasol isn’t getting any younger. Joakim Noah isn’t getting any healthier. Jimmy Butler may never play fewer than 40 minutes again, so goodness knows how much gas he’s got left in the tank.
They need Rose right now to have a shot a championship. That window is closing quickly, and may in fact have already slammed shut, but a public declaration that Rose could return this year is something the Bulls have not done the past few seasons. That means they’re not interested in patience. They’re interested in winning immediately, and they need Rose for that.
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