Frustration was evident among the Filipinos who woke up earlier than usual on a Sunday morning.
Kai Sotto was a DNP – coach’s decision (CD) in the Orlando Magic’s summer league opener against the Detroit Pistons. It was later on revealed that Sotto was informed by the Magic coaching staff of his DNP-CD, but even a few moments of game time would have been great nonetheless.
Filipino-Americans Kihei Clark and Kamaka Hepa also suffered the same fate as they were also DNP-CDs with the Utah Jazz and the New Orleans Pelicans, respectively. Clark, though, has yet to play in any of the Jazz’s summer league games in Sacramento and Las Vegas, which is a surprise considering how he has put together a solid resume during his time with the Virginia Cavaliers.
In fact, Ron Harper Jr. was the only player of Filipino descent that played thus far in this year’s edition of the Las Vegas summer league, finishing with 10 points, six rebounds, four assists, a steal, and a block in the Toronto Raptors’ 83-74 loss to the Chicago Bulls. It should be noted, however, that Harper Jr. already spent a season with the Raptors and its NBA G-League affiliate Raptors 905 via a two-way contract and is perhaps at a different stage of his career already.
What’s the source of all the exasperation? Perhaps it’s the hype.
We can’t blame the coaches for choosing who they play; after all, the needs of the team trump the needs of these players, who are fighting for spots on rosters that would greatly value them. It’s also the media’s job to cover the NBA and basketball in general, although how creative they get is subject to debate. Social media has also been abuzz and vitriolic thanks to the wide spectrum of expectations and emotions brought about by national pride.
In reality, the likes of Sotto, Clark, and Hepa have slim chances of cracking an NBA roster. Two-way contracts may be more likely, but only two are offered per team, with some franchises already having locked up some players through that option. Even if they don’t find their way into an NBA team, they should make their stints as memorable as possible as their performances can still earn them spots in other top-flight leagues across the globe. There have been numerous tales of summer league players earning contracts with other leagues and returning to the NBA as much better players. In Sotto’s case, of course, he can simply return to the B.League’s Hiroshima Dragonflies and continue to work on his craft.
Of course, we’re all reacting and analyzing things just after teams have played at least one game, except for Clark and Utah. Teams still have a few games left on their tab, with those advancing to the knockout stages having even more so things can change in a matter of time. Some of the marquee rookies could be shut down after their respective teams have seen enough and would prefer to preserve their health. The likes of Sotto, Clark, Hepa, and even Harper Jr. could have more opportunities ahead of them and I’ll even go as far as saying that the opportunities extend to beyond the court.
How they handle their benching and their attitude when the cameras are off will prove to be valuable as well. NBA franchises are looking for coachable players, ones they can invest time and resources towards and not see it go to waste. That doesn’t mean playing 30 minutes a game and scoring 25 points a night from the jump; seeing strides made in terms of skills and roles within the team are some indications. There will always be talk about potential as a staying factor, but what’s potential if it’s not realized?
Kai Sotto’s benching and that of Kihei Clark and Kamaka Hepa may have been unfortunate, but there are still plenty of chances for them to get opportunities just like Ron Harper Jr. As fans, we may have to manage our expectations, as a more realistic perspective may help us all appreciate the respective journeys of these Filipinos.