INBOX: Rediscovering O.J. Mayo (The late August edition)
Whatever happened to O.J. Mayo? The suspended guard might be working out at a gym near you.
Andy G: Remember O.J. Mayo? The 2008 Timberwolves draft pick famously flipped for Kevin Love was the talk of NBA Twitter this morning. Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated’s The Crossover caught up with Mayo, who is serving a (minimum) two-year suspension from the NBA. In Case You Missed It, Mayo was EXPELLED from the league over a year ago for failing drug tests. According to Mayo, in the Golliver piece, he used marijuana and “abused” prescription meds, but never used harder drugs like cocaine. Whatever it was, Mayo did stuff that the league won’t tolerate and now he’s fighting to take back control of his career and his life. The gist of the piece is that he’s made important changes to his diet and lifestyle and has every intention of being on an NBA roster after serving the second year of his sentence.
There are a few different angles for discussion, here. The first is a short trip down memory lane. Remember how much we (and seemingly every Timberwolves fan) argued over that draft-night trade? It felt so consequential at the time, what with it being the first high draft pick in the Post-Kevin Garnett Rebuild with a long list of intriguing prospects available after Derrick Rose went first and Michael Beasley (!) went second. Along with Mayo and Love were Russ Westbrook, Eric Gordon, Danilo Gallinari, and (wait for it…) FREAK ATHLETE JOE ALEXANDER!
I won’t hide from the fact that I wanted O.J. and not K-Love, and I wasn’t really equivocal on the point either. I thought the Wolves gave away a potential star guard for a role player who played Al Jefferson’s position.
What are your memories of that draft and that time period more generally?
Patrick J: I wanted the Wolves to use the #3 pick on Mayo and keep him. And I couldn’t have been more wrong in ranking Mayo above both Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook, whom the Thunder took at #4. (Eds. Note: Passing on Mayo for this could give anyone pause.)
It turns out that what I liked about Mayo turned out to be correlated with the things that ultimately ruined his NBA career. I liked that he was a tough, precocious scorer who was a high school phenom with the drive to be great. And I liked that he was competitor who looked ready to play in the NBA right away, despite coming from a tough background. I mean, check out this video of O.J. and former Timberwolf & NYC high school legend Lance Stephenson going head-to-head.
(2005) 14 year old Lance Stephenson going at it with the # 1 player in the country, O.J. Mayo! Classic. pic.twitter.com/tYQBHx3e6B
— Timeless Sports (@timelesssports_) August 21, 2017
But I got carried away watching Mayo mixtapes. It clouded my judgment.
Mayo’s swag and rebelliousness ultimately led to bad habits that hurt his game. One thing I like about Golliver’s article is how he contrasts Mayo’s comeback with his rise as an NBA prospect. (Eds. Note: Golliver’s article is a follow of this Bleacher Report feature on Mayo’s unknown whereabouts.) Parallels exist, but so do major differences.
Like, the dude is coming back from a personal quest which included this.
Yet perhaps most importantly, Golliver’s article indicates is Mayo still has that dawg in him in terms of the way he works and competes. And now, he appears refocused on basketball. Mayo wants to be challenged and coached and to re-establish himself as a legitimate NBA player.
If Mayo is allowed to come back to the NBA, he might be better than people think. As important as his conditioning (or lack thereof) will be for determining his effectiveness, his mentality will be just as important. Mayo needs to be fully committed to and focused on basketball to be worth an NBA deal.
The SI article suggests that he is internalizing the fact that he can’t turn his killer ethos on-and-off and expect to be a productive NBA player. When he turned it off because of injury or to party and drink, he got fat, out of condition, and was an ineffective shell of his previous self.
His best year was his rookie year, which was followed by inconsistency, turmoil, and off-the-court problems.
I believe Mayo can still be effective in the NBA. How effective? He probably won’t be able to put up numbers comparable to his first two seasons, but he might still be a very competent NBA guard who will work and who can get buckets.
Andy G: I always thought it was sort of funny how, after the 2008 Draft, the Wolves continued to struggle mightily while the Grizzlies quickly became one of the best teams in the NBA. The Wolves struggles had (almost) nothing to do with Love’s shortcomings and the Memphis Grit & Grind legacy had (almost) nothing to do with O.J. Mayo. So I don’t mean to imply that the Wolves did anything but crush that trade. Love became an All-Star while Mayo became a role player before getting his self kicked out of basketball. (Also, recall that McHale extracted MIKE MILLER! in the deal, whose rights eventually helped bring Ricky Rubio to ‘Sota.) I just think it’s funny how these things work sometimes. However great that trade was for the Wolves, they remained terrible for Love’s first 5 seasons and peaked in his 6th with a 40-42 record. Memphis, after trading Love away for Mayo, won 24, 40, 46, 41*, 56, and 50 wins in the same 6 seasons. (*41 wins and 25 losses in the lockout-shortened season.)
Another noteworthy part of the Golliver story is that new Timberwolf Jimmy Butler is mentioned twice in there. Mayo has apparently been playing pickup ball with Butler (and Taj Gibson, who was Mayo’s college teammate at USC) and has a standing offer to continue working out with Butler and his trainers/offseason coaches, Chris Johnson and Travelle Gaines. These sessions would take place in Minnesota.
Mayo is suspended for another entire season, so this is not only speculative but also a year premature… but what are your thoughts on Mayo joining the Wolves in 2018? I mean, he’d probably come cheap and the Wolves will be looking for bargains to fill out the roster when they’re paying huge sums to Butler, Wiggins, Teague, and — starting in 2019 — Towns. If he has friends here in Jimmy and Taj, maybe he’d choose ‘Sota for a short-term vet minimum deal. For basketball fit, I was just writing about how the Butler & Wiggins Wolves might not rely on traditional point guard play as much as some other teams. If that’s the case, a true “combo” guard like Mayo who can play off the ball but defend opposing points might be a good fit.
Patrick J: Tom Thibodeau will probably be keeping an eye on Mayo by default, as O.J. will be working out in Minnesota with the same trainers as Jimmy Butler. And since Thibs and Butler are all but joined at the hip, I expect Thibs to see and hear a lot about Mayo as long as he’s in Jimmy’s orbit.
I agree that Mayo would probably come here for a cheap short-term deal. His options are likely to be limited and his workouts here in ‘Sota will keep him on Thibs’ radar.
It is hard to know what the Wolves’ roster will look like in 2018, but right now, Mayo’s ability to play both guard positions (he was good defender and could run an offense more competently than Kris Dunn) and to shoot threes would address two key areas of need for the team.
Let me be clear: OJ Mayo will never be the kind of star we thought he could be when the Wolves drafted him in 2008 and flipped him for Love. But he could be a very solid role player and have interesting chemistry with Thibs, Butler, and Towns.
Meanwhile, does anyone remember what happened to O.J.’s brother, TODD MAYO? This is him.
The Mayo family is nothing if not interesting.
That’s all for this episode. Till next time.