Back in early July, Willie Reed wondered whether he’d ever get an opportunity to play in the NBA. He was obviously confident in his abilities, but it was disconcerting that he was still out of the league.
The 25-year-old big man sat in an Orlando restaurant – at a table far too small for his 6’11 frame – and discussed each of his professional stops throughout his career. Reed went undrafted in 2011 and had brief stints with the Sacramento Kings and Memphis Grizzlies, as well as a training camp invite from the Brooklyn Nets last year. However, he never appeared in an NBA regular season game.
He spent the last three seasons playing in the D-League and he had one stint in the Dominican Republic, where the league organizers repeatedly referred to him as Willis Reed’s son and promoted him as such, no matter how many times Willie told them that wasn’t accurate (although the two are distant relatives).
As he ate his dinner, Reed spoke of just needing that one call, that one opportunity, from an NBA team to show that he can produce on basketball’s biggest stage. Last season in 48 D-League games, he averaged 16.4 points, 12.1 rebounds and 1.9 blocks, while shooting 60.3 percent from the field. He was ranked the top D-League prospect, but he still didn’t get a call-up from an NBA team.
“At times it was frustrating, but it humbled me,” Reed told Basketball Insiders. “I had gotten the opportunity to get called up in the past, but this past season it didn’t happen. It just made me want to work harder. I figured that if that call-up wasn’t coming, there was something more I needed to do or something I needed to work on, so I was in the gym every single day. And I tried to be as consistent as possible; I was determined to be consistent in every single game and keep improving.”
After putting in the work and expanding his game, now it was time for him to take the next step in his career. The way he sees it, he needs to be on an NBA roster this season. No more D-League, no more stints abroad if he can help it. As he said this, he was sitting with his newly pregnant fiancée and holding his 18-month-old son, who is a big reason why he desperately wants to ink that NBA contract as soon as possible. Reed wants to give his children the best life possible and provide for his growing family, which can be extremely difficult when playing in the D-League since salaries range from $13,000 to $25,000. With his son on his lap, and always on his mind, Reed was clearly on a mission entering the 2015 Summer League: NBA contract or bust.
In the Orlando Summer League, Reed was initially going to play for the Indiana Pacers’ squad. However, once Indiana selected center Myles Turner with the 11th overall pick in this year’s draft, Reed’s camp decided to make a change of plans.
Sensing that Turner would significantly cut into Reed’s minutes, his camp decided to move him to the Miami HEAT’s Summer League team. This shuffling is relatively common leading up to the event, as agents want their players in a situation where they can receive significant minutes and actually showcase their skill set.
Moving to Miami’s team ended up being a blessing in disguise for Reed. He got the opportunity to start each of his games with the HEAT and took full advantage of this opportunity. With plenty of minutes and an increased role, Reed ended up emerging as one of Miami’s best players – an impressive feat considering the team also featured lottery pick Justise Winslow and HEAT roster players Tyler Johnson, Shabazz Napier, James Ennis and Zoran Dragic. Hassan Whiteside was also practicing with the team (but not playing in the games), and Reed held his own against last season’s breakout center in workouts.
Reed approached Summer League like a professional. This was a business trip and he treated it as such. While many of the younger players were going out and partying at night, Reed was at his hotel and in bed early. This wasn’t a vacation; this was every man for himself in a brawl for NBA jobs. As a veteran, he understood that.
Over the course of Reed’s week in Orlando, the big man averaged 13.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 26 minutes, while shooting 60 percent from the field. His blocks were down from the previous year in Summer League, when he averaged 2.8 rejections in just 19.9 minutes. But that may have been because Miami wanted to see more of his offensive game since they already knew what he brought to the table as a shot blocker. Instead of swatting shots, he was actually attempting them this year. He took more shots in this Summer League than in any previous year, and even served as Miami’s offensive focal points at times (while still being their defensive leader).
Reed’s best statistical outing was his 17-point, seven-rebound, four-block game against the Los Angeles Clippers, in which he shot 7-10 from the field.
However, the performance that turned heads was against the Brooklyn Nets. This was somewhat of a revenge game for Reed, since the Nets had cut him after training camp last year. This game was clearly important to him and he wanted to send a message. He did just that. Reed finished the game with 17 points (on 8-12 shooting from the field) and nine rebounds in 28 minutes. Cory Jefferson, who was one of the players who made the team over Reed last year, had zero points, two rebounds, three turnovers and three fouls in 12 minutes. Reed admits that he entered that game with something to prove.
“I obviously knew some of the guys who were there [for Brooklyn], the young core, and I was upset that I was the only person who was waived last year,” Reed said. “But I understand that this is a business. I used that [experience being waived] and made myself better. I just tried to get better throughout the D-League season, and I was able to become the No. 1 D-League prospect and become really consistent. … It all worked out; I had a great game against them and a great Summer League.”
After playing so well for Miami, Reed’s stock was suddenly on the rise. The L.A. Clippers approached Reed’s camp during the brief window when they thought DeAndre Jordan was going to the Dallas Mavericks. The Clippers had actually expressed interest in Reed during the 2014-15 season when he was in the D-League, so they had their eye on him for quite some time. They were a possibility for Reed, but then Jordan returning to L.A. obviously changed everything.
But Brooklyn expressed interest in Reed as well. His performance against Jefferson was eye-opening, as was his productivity throughout the rest of the week in Orlando. The Nets ultimately signed Reed on July 9 and waived Jefferson on July 13. Finally, all of Reed’s hard work paid off and he got the chance he’s been desperately seeking for years.
“I was in Orlando and we had the day off, so me and my son were just eating at a restaurant and I got that call,” Reed said with a smile. “They called me and let me know they wanted to sign me. It was so exciting. So exciting. And right away, like five minutes later, I was actually doing my physical. Then, I was sitting on the bench for their next Summer League game. It was extremely exciting.”
Reed signed a one-year, $947,276 partially guaranteed contract with the Nets. The deal became fully guaranteed on October 28 – the day of Brooklyn’s first regular season game – so Reed received every cent of his contract.
Reed’s partial guarantee alone ($500,000) was worth 25 times his 2014-15 D-League salary, and his full salary was 48 times his D-League income. Suddenly, the Reed household is doing significantly better financially.
“My family is very excited,” Reed said. “I told them it was going to happen, because I was never going to give up on this dream. The first time I got called up, I didn’t even dress out – I was in a suit the whole time in Memphis. Then I got called up to Sacramento and I didn’t play. After that, I told my fiancée, ‘The next time you see me in the NBA, I’ll be on the court.’ Now, it just so happens that I got a contract with the Nets before the season even started and I’ll get an opportunity to show that I’m an NBA-caliber player, that I’m a rotation player and that I can help a team.”
It remains to be seen what kind of role Reed will have on Nets this season. The team will bring back veterans Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young in the frontcourt, and this offseason they also added Andrea Bargnani, Thomas Robinson and Chris McCullough in addition to Reed.
Reed has been in communication with the Nets’ officials and coaches. They were impressed with the huge strides he had made over the last year and explained why they signed him.
“They thought I had a very good Summer League performance; they thought I rebounded the basketball well and led on the defensive end because I was very vocal,” Reed said. “When they signed me, they also told me that this was the most consistent they had seen me play for such a long stretch and that’s exactly what they wanted to see.
“I just want to continue to do those things. I also want to continue to work on my explosion, my hand-eye coordination, my rebounding and my offensive game over the summer. I just want to be able to get into training camp and show them that I can be a reliable option throughout an 82-game season.”
From day one, Reed wants to make it clear that he’s going to be the energy guy who does the dirty work and never takes a second off. That’s the first impression he plans to make, and he’s more than willing to embrace that role during the season.
“You know what you’re going to get when you have me on your team; you’re getting a guy who’s always going to play hard every time he steps on the floor and a guy who’s going to defend as best as I can and pursue every rebound,” Reed said. “I think the coaches know that they rely on me to provide those things and always provide energy. That’s what I’m going to bring: athleticism, rebounding and energy.”
While Reed’s journey since 2011 didn’t go the way he had originally planned – from being undrafted to toiling in the D-League for years – he’s grateful for the ride and believes it was absolutely necessary. Rather than being upset that it took this long for him to land on an NBA roster, he has a very mature outlook on the situation. He views every moment along the way of his career as a learning experience that helped him reach this point. Each stepping stone led him to Brooklyn, and he’s not sure what would’ve happened had he missed one.
In early July, he wondered out of frustration if he’d ever get the chance to play in the NBA. Now, a little over one month later, he wonders if he ever would’ve gotten this NBA opportunity had he not experienced said frustration and taken his unique path.
“I’m 10 times better than the player I was when I first came out of school [in 2011],” Reed said with a laugh. “God makes things happen for a reason. I wasn’t ready when I first came out of school, but everything happens for a reason. I had to go through this journey. I had to go through the D-League. And all of that is what prepared me to now be in this position with the Nets and make the most of this opportunity. I’m just thankful for the journey. I got the opportunity to get stronger over those three years in the D-League, improve my offensive game and still keep the athleticism I had when I came out of school.
“Overall, I became a better player because of this journey. And I’m prepared for what’s next.”
UPDATE: This week, Reed signed a two-year, fully guaranteed contract with the Miami HEAT. The deal, which is for the veteran’s minimum, includes a player option for the second year so Reed can become an unrestricted free agent next summer.
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