If you’re on the younger side or not Canadian, you might not remember Kids in the Hall. The sketch comedy troupe had a show that ran from 1989 to 1995, and the members have gone on to individual careers — you might know Dave Foley from NewsRadio if you watched syndicated television in the afternoons anytime in the last ten years.
One of Kids in the Hall’s more popular characters was the Head Crusher. Created with the same template as Saturday Night Live’s Church Lady — a template also parodied by The State with Louie (the guy who guy who come in and says his catchphrase over and over) — the Head Crusher was a kind of weaselly guy with an indeterminate foreign accent who observed crowds of people from a medium distance and used the perspective granted by that remove to fantasize about crushing their tiny tiny heads with his giant fingers. “I crush your head,” he would say again and again.
Anthony Bennett, who was bought out by the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday after the team could find no trade partners for the 22-year-old former No. 1 draft pick, is currently having his head crushed, from a professional basketball perspective. A surprising top pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2013 after being projected on average to go somewhere in the back half of the top ten, Bennett struggled with health in his rookie season, dealing with everything from a shoulder injury to sleep apnea and asthma. He showed flashes in his second year with the Wolves, but injuries still limited him and going into this season he found himself behind a number of other players on the depth chart.
It is, unmistakably, not a good look for Bennett, professionally speaking. It took six years and three teams before Anthony Randolph was finally waived. Hasheem Thabeet went through three teams in five years. Darko Milicic — for goodness’ sake — was on the rosters of five different teams over a nine year career that saw him make $52 million. Rookie deals are some of the most favorable in the NBA, and so teams are loathe to cut bait on them in most cases. The Wolves, though, paid Bennett $3.6 million now to avoid paying him $5.8 million later, which for comparison’s sake is just $300k more than Josh McRoberts will make next year.
Another team, be it Portland or Philadelphia or another one, is likely to pick Bennett up on a favorable deal, but if he slips through another franchise’s cracks after this season, he will likely go down as one of if not the biggest No. 1 bust in NBA history, edging the bottom-of-the-barrel likes of Michael Olowokandi and Kwame Brown.
All of this, though — the idea of a “bust,” the comparison of salaries, the assessment of his on-court stats — comes from an outside perspective that views players as commodities, more or less. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, of course, and it’s a perfectly necessary perspective when making decisions about an individual player within the context of an entire team’s direction. Is it possible that Bennett pans out on a discount contract somewhere? Absolutely. But the Wolves ultimately didn’t want to gamble on a slim best case scenario, and will likely live with that regret, should it arise.
That narrow, Manichean perspective is a bit like the Head Crusher’s perspective. It compresses everything about a player into a straightforward decision: spare them, or crush their head. But there’s another perspective: the human one.
Listen: the NBA is a titanically difficult place to work. If you grow up as an athlete and decide to make it your profession — or, in a case I’m more familiar with, as a musician — you will spend a huge chunk of your pre-professional life banking on your talent. That includes natural physical gifts, whether that’s size or hand-eye coordination, and you will leverage that talent into practice, quickly returning more on your investment than others. Talent will get you very, very far, and along the way, people will keep telling you how talented you are.
They will keep telling you even as you begin to realize it’s not enough. This is probably where you’d expect me to say it takes hard work, but guess what: that’s not enough either. The fact is, there’s just a devilish amount of stuff that’s beyond hard work, beyond talent, simply beyond your control that makes doing anything in life at a high level difficult. Timing, chance, health, making the wrong decision at a moment when seeing the right one is almost impossible: all this stuff plays a massive part.
This is maybe a too roundabout way of getting to the point that Bennett’s career might be a page on Basketball Reference to us, but to him, it’s a part of his life. That life could lead to redemption on the basketball court, or it could lead somewhere entirely different that he could find rewarding, even if we never hear about it. From his perspective, I hope the people all over Twitter and the comment sections of websites calling him trash or saying he’ll never amount to anything look like the Head Crusher to the people whose heads he’s crushing: just a guy pinching his fingers together close to his face and prattling on about nothing in particular.