Ryan Gomes: An Appreciation

Robert Gibb

On February 6th of this year, the Wolves played the Memphis Grizzlies in Minneapolis. In the first half, Ryan Gomes hit eight out of ten shots and scored 20 points, all but two of those points on jumpers. At this point, most players would, understandably, continue shooting until (and probably well beyond) they’d exhausted every last ounce of heat. But Gomes took only four shots in the second half and focused instead on playing physical, persistent defense on Rudy Gay. Asked about his second half reticence, Gomes matter-of-factly responded, “the shots just weren’t presenting themselves like they were in the first half.”

When Kurt Rambis remarked, on Friday, that “smart players don’t have a problem picking up any offense,” he was talking about players like Gomes. Gomes has never been a terribly dynamic player–by NBA standards he’s an average ballhandler and a slightly below-average athlete–but his feel for the game is almost preternatural.  None of his shots in that Memphis game came as a result of physical domination or extreme displays of skill. Instead, as he always does, Gomes allowed the game to flow to him. He found open space on the court; he made sharp, intuitive passes; he allowed the movements of the ball and the other nine players on the court to dictate his decisions. We could wish that his jumper were more consistent or that he were just a bit quicker, but the guy really knows how to play basketball.

On top of that, Gomes is an famously generous, open and friendly guy. He’s one of the only players I’ve met who seems to enjoy shooting the breeze about basketball as much as pasty nerds like me; he was routinely the last player in the locker room after a painful loss, patiently humoring reporters. Being a 5’10” white dude in an NBA locker room can be a little intimidating; discovering that there was a player willing to look you in the eye and have an actual human conversation made things feel a lot less daunting. I appreciate that.

Amazingly, he seemed able to relate to his teammates even better than he did to reporters. Over and over I saw Gomes seek out frustrated or disgruntled players and, with his funny, rapid-fire banter, bring them back into the fold. Anyone wondering why,  during three years of constant, punishing futility, the Wolves never devolved into a churning, fractious mess should look no further than Ryan Gomes.

So you can see why, on draft night, it was more than a little grating to hear David Kahn describe the trade that brought Martel Webster to the Wolves this way: “We had already made a decision internally that it was not in our interest to maintain Ryan beyond June 30…it was a benefit to us–a big benefit–for Portland to accept his contract as part of a deal. So, the trade, in effect, was for the 16th pick only.”

Ah, the less shiny side of commodification. I guess I can’t really blame Kahn for talking this way; glassy econo-speak is a dreadful commonplace in the NBA. And, as I’ve said, I’ve got no problem with the trade itself (Webster is a fine athlete and a radiantly positive guy himself). Strange as it may sound, at 28, Gomes was beginning to get a touch old for these young Puppies. And his soft skills and glue-guy role are probably better suited for a team with a full complement of veteran talent and a shot at the playoffs. But it is a little tough to see such a selfless, aware player, and such a good dude, described as an exchangeable asset, valued solely for his ability to produce savings on a balance sheet. Wesley Johnson, Lazar Hayward, welcome to the NBA.

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10 thoughts on “Ryan Gomes: An Appreciation

  1. I liked Gomes too. He’s a good guy, but he didn’t bring much to the table last year. His defense has been overrated for a few years now and his jump shot was erratic last season. I disagreed in principle with the Webster deal (because I would’ve liked to have seen us keep and develop Babbitt), but not seeing Gomes on the floor next year won’t break my heart.

  2. Well said. This does help explain why he was included in the Webster deal at all (it seems horribly lopsided to me) even if the explanation boils down to cold financial realities.

    I hope Webster lives up to the seemingly excessive hype the Wolves are giving him. Who knew a so-so bench guy would be given such lavish treatment?

  3. We’ll see how Babbit works out but I think you will learn to love Martell. Webster has one of the prettiest strokes in the game. I expect him to push the rook for PT. Webster is better than Cory Brewer for sure.

  4. Gomes is a professional basketball player, and he did his job for the Wolves. Admittedly as a slightly overpaid player with neither age nor upside in his favor on a rebuilding team he didn’t really have a place here, but he was a fine and classy player who deserved better than to have the GM announce basically “good riddance to bad rubbish.” Some contender will pick him up now that he’s been cut by the Blazers, it’s for the best.

    By the way, Kahn is so full of crap when he says that Gomes’ contract was a liability and that he engineered a kind of coup by having the Blazers take it off their hands. As a contract that could be bought out for a fifth of its value prior to the start of free agency, any number of teams looking for cap relief or to cut salary to make a run for free agents would have killed for it. Think about all the fire sales that have been going on by the Nets, Heat, Bulls, Knicks last spring with Houston, etc. Kahn easily could have spun it for draft picks, swaps or for a potentially better player than Webster, he just didn’t know how. And he claims victory. And he announced that his number one FA target is Rudy Gay – the fifth SF of the summer! Kahn is really testing Ben’s proclamation that you can never have enough swingmen . . .

  5. Good stuff. He seemed like a good guy, but I agree with Shogun: his play was too erratic and I didn’t see the willingness to attack the rim that he showed in other seasons (particularly 07-08). Your write-up indicates the reason why he won’t have trouble finding a job but Rashad McCants hasn’t played for a year, so I’m not particularly sad to see him go because he lacks the defense and consistency to play the hybrid 3/4 this team needs.

  6. Well written summary of a seemingly great guy. I’ve enjoyed watching him the last few years and always liked his positive approach. The problem is that he only brought games like the one in Memphis every 7-10 games and his contract was prohibitive. Whether Mr. Kahn can do anything with the cap space is the biggest question. This regime will be judged the same criteria as our other loser regimes: PICK THE RIGHT PLAYERS…

  7. Gomes was my nicest and most enjoyable NBA interview, too. Except I wasn’t really interviewing him: he was hanging out in the Topps office when I was there, signing autographs, and just kind of effortlessly shooting the shit for a couple hours while he signed his name to a bunch of stickers. He was like the most likable and intelligent of co-workers until he stood up and reminded everyone that he was actually Ryan Gomes.

    The Blazers bought him out, so presumably this could all be set aright for the vet’s minimum. But I imagine — if NBA front offices pay as much attention to this as, um, bloggers do — that his future will be with a very good team, playing 10mpg and helping a ton in practice and maybe getting (and earning) a ring. Good luck to him, wherever that is, and good on whatever team that signs him. And a nice little tribute, obviously.

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