There is has always been a constant battle within an organization to choose between building for the future or winning in the here and now. That battle often leads to questionable decisions that hindsight picks apart like ants on a piece of forgotten bread on the picnic blanket...
An ongoing trend in basketball has been the poor development of young players. Let's correct that statement: The poor development of non-superstar level players. Or to take it a step further simply the lack of development in basketball.
In recent years too many talented players that have the potential to add something to a franchise have been tossed aside like those pieces of bread on that blanket, but there is never a real, rationale, or reasonable reason delivered as to why. Why should an 18 or 22 year old that has shown promise simply be cast aside? Why is Thomas Robinson, a former No. 5 Overall pick in the NBA Draft, on his third NBA team begging for opportunity?
Also, why is Samantha Prahalis, the 2012 No. 6 Overall pick, without a job?
There is never a real answer as the responsibility is stripped from the organization that made a commitment to the player. Players are attacked and buried in the media when they move from team to team making power plays and demands like year after year. They do as they please or as much as they can with contracts being considered, but when they do that they are vilified. Organizations, general managers, and coaches do the same thing and are not.
The responsibility to develop these players is dismissed. The responsibility as a whole is dismissed, flicked into the grass, and along with the ants; completely forgotten.
That lack of development and lack of responsibility happens more and more in basketball. For the Phoenix Mercury, Sammy Prahalis is the latest casualty in the lack of responsibility to the younger generation of basketball players that may or may not have "superstar" potential. She became a fan favorite and showed promise as a rookie with little help around her before becoming one of those ants without a crumb, in the grass, and abandoned.
This is an affirmation of the times as young players are discarded without rationale, reason, or any sense of responsibility.
Last season Prahalis filled in admirably for a group that more resembled an M.A.S.H. ward more than a professional basketball team.
She didn't ask any questions, just started 28 out of 28 games giving the Mercury a steady ball-handler in place of the idle Diana Taurasi and Penny Taylor. With her at the helm of a team that suited up 14 different players the team only won seven games, but without Taurasi and Taylor they were the equivalent of the Miami Heat if they featured LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in suits with Mario Chalmers and Chris Bosh as the nightly one-two-punch.
This season Prahalis started off doing only one thing wrong; playing behind All-World Taurasi who was back to claim her thrown in the WNBA after missing nearly all of last season.
By her own admittance Prahalis struggled early on, but the only reason she was brushed aside this week was because of a lack of patience, development, and team responsibility.
Yes, Taurasi is playing on a level not even seen by Taurasi during her amazing career. She is leading this team offensively playing at an all-time high. She needs the ball in her hands. But does that mean Prahalis does not need a locker in central Phoenix? Head Coach Corey Gaines speaks to the lack of minutes for Prahalis with direct correlation to the play of Taurasi. As a head coach it is Gaines responsibility to find the right role, spot, and time for his young guard to get on the court and develop.
Coaching is all about winning and a coach will do what is required to win no matter the cost. The game is the game and the system is rigged, but it does not mean it is right.
That cost can at times be punishing the infallible.
Across all levels of basketball this has become the case. Development and responsibility have been cast aside by coaches and teams to the point where players are more and more being put in this situation.
Over the past five years 21 lottery picks were traded before making it to the end of their third season in the NBA. That is 4.2 players per lottery that are cast away for different reasons and circumstances, basically 30% of the lottery picks over the last five seasons. Between the years 2003-2007 there were 19 lottery picks that were traded or moved before the end of year three. The exclamation point came in 2010 with eight lottery picks flicked off the blanket in their first or second year in the league. No patience. No responsibility.
If that is the precedent going forward, what does that say about the game? If you are not a star by game 200 you are expendable?
Robinson is the new benchmark after lasting 51 games before the Sacramento Kings sent him off to a new home. Then, just 19 games later, the Houston Rockets delivered him to the Pacific Northwest for his third uniform in less than one year. For the first 51 games Robinson played in dysfunction with the Kings before they turned him into Patrick Patterson and cash.
The Mercury didn't turn Prahalis into anything. Rather, they waived her just 36 games into her career after eight DNP-Coaches Decisions and a rough start to her sophomore year.
As a 23 year old point guard Prahalis has the potential to be a serviceable starter for years to come, or, at worst, a change of pace guard off the bench that can create offense for others and shoot the ball. On a team filled with stars, aging by the minute, having a young talented player off the bench can be invaluable. It can be invaluable if the emphasis of the team is development.
There is no reward, no responsibility, and especially no trueheartedness in this business. This is after all is a thankless business for young players like Robinson, Prahalis, and many more to come.