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Photo by AtomicShed

If you haven’t already done so, it’s worth your while to check out Chris Palmer’s ESPN The Magazine piece on just why it is that our old pal Rashad McCants, despite his electric skills, can’t find a job in the NBA. The article is fairly illuminating for us fans who watched the slow car crash of his last year in MN unfold. It details McCants’s epic personality clash with Randy Wittman, his tepid relationship with his teammates and the truly amazing fact that no fewer than three of his former coaches have suggested that he seek psychological counseling. (By the way, it’s a magnificent testimony to the Kevin McHale era that the Wolves took McCants with the 14th pick in the draft despite the fact that both of his college coaches found him so temperamental that they sent him to get help.)

Here’s the piece’s most telling moment:

“They say I don’t smile,” McCants says. “Does that make me a bad person?” In his eyes he’s done everything asked of a good teammate. He sees none of the accountability issues everyone else can’t stop talking about. What coaches label as sulking McCants says is just being quiet. “Management doesn’t see how well I get along with my teammates when we’re hanging out together,” he says. “They’re not interested in that.”

No dude, not smiling does not make you a bad person. But making an exasperated spectacle of sighing and rolling your eyes when you don’t get the ball, looking vacantly into the distance during team huddles, and audibly castigating other players for minor sins for which you yourself are also guilty (all of which were on full regular display during his time as a T-Wolf) does make you pretty rotten teammate. Not someone I’d be too thrilled to spend seven months hanging out with.

Now, it’s clear that Randy Wittman was not much fun to play for; I have no trouble believing that he was vindictive in his instruction and allotment of playing time. But let’s remember that Shaddy’s monumental benching occurred while McHale, a habitual benefit-of-the-doubt-giver and an affable player’s coach if there ever was one, was in charge of the team. And let’s also remember that, on purely basketball terms, during that last season McCants was really, really terrible.

He constantly thwarted the offense with indulgent over-dribbling and infuriating shot selection. His defense ran the gamut fromĀ  excessively macho to absentminded and tuned-out (does anyone remember his bleakly hilarious attempt to go mano-a-mano with Lebron in the fourth quarter of a blowout? The knee-wobbling crossover and dunk that resulted was cringe/gasp-worthy).

In his 34 games with the Wolves in ’08-’09, Shaddy hit just 36% of his shots and posted a PER of 9.9 (that’s good for 61st among shooting guards that year). Even more damning, according to the Wolves’ offense scored a whopping 9.1 fewer points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor (and their defense was also about half a point worse).

The stats reflect what was readily apparent: McCants’s pouting, his ball-hogging and his insecure bravado prevented him from coherently participating in the team’s mission. As a consequence, his teammates, though they may have given him love off the floor, came to resent and mistrust him on it. They bristled at his chesty, on-court attitude; they grumbled about his heedless, futile gunning.

So McCants is wrong if he thinks that his coaches just want to see him smile. The fact is that no matter how skilled a player you may be (and make no mistake, Rashad McCants is a tremendously skilled player, with a finely honed offensive game) unless you can invest yourself in the idea of a group, you don’t really understand how to play basketball. McCants’s inability to insinuate himself into the working life of his team wasn’t just an irritating subplot to his on-court struggles, it was the substance of those struggles. Near the end of Palmer’s article, McCants’s pop James gives his son some good advice: “Make the changes you need to survive.” You have to wonder whether Shaddy knows what those changes are.