When Thomas Robinson was traded from the Sacramento Kings to the Houston Rockets in the second half of his rookie season, a lot was made about how rare it is to see a top-five lottery pick get moved so early in his career. Robinson was raw, but on a Kings team looking to load up with as much talent as possible, he didn’t seem so raw that it would be worth giving up on him quite so quickly.
What has been odd in the two seasons since is that Robinson has been shuffled around three more times, once in an offseason deal that sent him to the Portland Trail Blazers, then again this past season in a deadline deal that shipped him to the Denver Nuggets, who immediately waived him. Shortly after, he agreed to join the Brooklyn Nets and was preparing to meet the team only to be unexpectedly claimed off of waivers by the Philadelphia 76ers.
The 76ers are his fifth organization in three seasons, which wouldn’t be all that surprising for, say, a second-rounder trying to latch on somewhere. But for the No. 5 overall pick in the draft just a few short years ago? It truly is odd.
The difference now, however, is that Robinson is finally seeing a small boost in minutes for a team that has plenty of them to spare. That opportunity is the main reason he has no qualms about playing for the Sixers rather than the playoff-bound Blazers that he started the season with.
“To be completely honest, I never wanted to be the person to worry about myself over the team, but for me individually as a player, for my future, this is better for me,” Robinson recently told Basketball Insiders. “To play and finally get game experience and get comfortable in this league, coming here, that was my thought process.”
That is the benefit of playing for a rebuilding team, but in 20 games for Philadelphia he has played better NBA basketball than at any other point in his short professional career. His 18.1 minutes per game is the most he’s ever averaged, and that has resulted in his scoring a respectable 8.4 points and hauling in a rather impressive 7.7 rebounds in that limited amount of floor time. Per 36 minutes, that would put him at 16.8 PPG and 15.4 RPG, which certainly makes the Sixers look rather wise for having grabbed him off of waivers back in February.
However, for Robinson, it’s back to losing, which he says he doesn’t mind considering the lofty big picture the Sixers organization has for itself.
“Understanding the situation, understanding that we are young and rebuilding, it’s going to be a tough stage,” Robinson said. “That’s what the outside world sees right now, but once I got here and saw the inside of things, I see that Coach [Brett] Brown is trying to restructure this organization and is doing it the right way. People have to understand that it is going to take time.”
Robinson thinks that the losing will all be part of a much bigger narrative down the road, not just for the team but for his own career.
“Of course winning will always be important to me, but I have to first develop myself so I can be able to contribute to a winning team one day,” Robinson said.
Robinson is an incredibly mature young man who never has said a single ill thing about the franchises he’s left behind. His character was a big reason he was drafted so high back in 2012, and that hasn’t changed since being passed around the league almost as much as Jim Jackson.
“I just stay the course,” Robinson said in reference to how often he’s moved around so early in his career. “I know what the bigger picture is; it’s about my career and it’s not being affected by me getting traded to a different team or living in a different city.
“I know I came to the NBA to become a good player in this league, and I have to keep course with that, keep working every day, and that’s what I do. Eventually once things slow down team-wise, then everything will be fine.”
In the meantime, Robinson really believes he’s found a home in Philadelphia. He finally feels like he belongs somewhere and that he’s with a team that truly believes in his talent. That’s important considering he’s only months away from becoming an unrestricted free agent and finally having the chance to control which team he is on. That timing is one more reason he’s not as upset about landing in Philadelphia as one would assume.
“Philly is definitely that place as far as me getting the exposure to play,” Robinson said. “I want to keep building off the 20-plus games I’ve been here already to show people that I belong in this league and there are things I have to offer.”
His hope is that he’ll be able to offer those talents to the team he’s currently playing for. A guy can only move around so much before he either lands with a roster or moves himself directly out of the league. Robinson is talented enough to make it, and luckily for him, the Sixers have plenty of time to help foster his growth.
It might not be a lot of free agents’ dream destination, but there isn’t a better fit in the league right now for Thomas Robinson.
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