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.