Back From The Basketball Dead In 2022
(originally written 1/18/22)
As we enter the third calendar year of a global pandemic that doesn't seem to have an end in sight, it's easy to bemoan the difficulties of trying to lead one's day-to-day life while attempting to fend off COVID-19.
The coronavirus claimed, at last check, over 840,000 lives in the United States alone. Some people who have survived it have suffered what seems to be permanent physical damage. Businesses either forced to close by the pandemic or unable to draw enough customers because of the pandemic have gone belly-up.
Many of their employees have lost their homes as a result.
And employees who DO still have jobs now have to regularly deal with "maskholes", people who for whatever retarded reason refuse to mask up in public—even on planes, some of which have been forced to detour because of resulting conflict. That damn virus has triggered some of the worst non-lethal behavior I've ever seen from humanity. (It's also exposed some of the worst stupidity, but that's another conversation.)
Basically, what I'm trying to tell you is: COVID-19 sucks. An invisible enemy that seems to pick and choose who it affects, and can even mutate into other forms just when you think you're headed back to normalcy. If COVID were a person, I'd personally put a stake through its heart. If they ever trace its origin back to a person or people, I would not be opposed to dragging them to the bayou and setting them on fire.
Until 12/27/2021, Greg Monroe had been out of the NBA since a 5/12/2019 playoff game.
Despite all of what I just told you (which you already knew, but still), not EVERYTHING resulting from the coronavirus has been bad. In fact, at least seven men have directly benefitted from it.???You see, in December 2021, the NBA became inundated with COVID cases—a legitimate outbreak. Hundreds of players and coaches were forced to the sidelines during that month after either testing positive or having close contact with someone who did (which isn't hard to do when your job is playing basketball).
Rosters quickly became depleted, including that of my Warriors, who at one point were down five players due to COVID—some for the second time. A number of teams struggled to field the minimum eight players required to play games. (A few were unable to, leading to postponements.) Desperation kicked in to the point where the NBA asked the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Larry Bird to return to the floor. "We promise you won't lose your Social Security," went the sales push.
Okay, that last part didn't happen. But teams have indeed recruited, and signed, several dudes who had not played any NBA basketball this decade. Dudes who seemed set for the Big 3 period of their basketball careers (and in some cases, were Big 3 alumni). Dudes we never dreamed of seeing on an NBA court again and would not have were it not for the pandemic.
Listed below, in reverse order of my astonishment over learning of their NBA returns, are seven veteran ballers who returned from the NBA dead in December 2021.
Joe Johnson averaged 25.0 PPG for the 2006-07 Hawks, albeit in just 57 games (calf).
Lance Stephenson is one of few to have played for both the original, relocated Charlotte franchise (the New Orleans Pelicans) and the revival franchise (the Charlotte Hornets V2).
Darren Collison averaged a career-high 16.1 PPG with the 2014-15 Kings, although he only played 45 games due to a hip injury.
7. DARREN COLLISON AGE: 34 LAST NBA GAME: 4/21/2019 for Pacers (playoffs)
Collison, the longtime Pacers and Kings guard and the 2018 three-point champion (.468), had announced his retirement somewhat suddenly and unexpectedly in June 2019, but I'm not at all surprised to see him back in the game.
Collison had averaged double-digit points in each of his 10 NBA seasons despite often coming off the bench; as a rookie with the New Orleans Hornets, he set his career high with 35 points and routinely logged over 40 minutes a night. (He is no relation to former Thunder F/C Nick.) Collison also served an eight-game suspension for some off-the-court unpleasantness.
2021-22 REVIVAL: The Lakers signed Collison to a 10-day hardship deal 12/24/2021; he got in three games and scored four points in just over 37 minutes before his contract expired. He remains a free agent.
6. NIK STAUSKAS AGE: 28 LAST NBA GAME: 4/9/2019 for Cavaliers
It's not a huge shock to see Stauskas back in the league; he's only 28 and had still been playing professionally in the EuroLeague (Spain) and the G-League. Best known for his time with the Kings and 76ers in the mid 10's, Stauskas has always been largely a depth piece and had ping-ponged across the country from 2017-19. He's a career 39% shooter.
2021-22 REVIVAL: Stauskas was signed to a 10-day hardship deal by Miami 12/30/2021 and got in two games for the Heat, going 3-for-8 from the floor in 24 combined minutes. He was not re-signed.
5. LANCE STEPHENSON AGE: 31 LAST NBA GAME: 4/4/2019 for Lakers
Stephenson has been gone a while, but not forgotten. The, uh, enigmatic forward mostly for the Indiana Pacers made headlines for his antics as much as his hoops through the years, but Stephenson does have some game—his best season was 2013-14, when he averaged 13.8 PPG on 49% shooting in 78 starts for a 56-win Pacers team that lost in the Eastern Finals (to Miami).
2021-22 REVIVAL: Indiana signed Stephenson to a 10-day hardship deal on 12/30/2021, his third stint with the franchise. He received a second 10-day hardship deal and is now on a standard 10-day deal now that Indiana no longer has players in COVID protocols. In eight games—all off the bench—through 1/17/2022, Stephenson is averaging 10.5 PPG on 43% shooting for the Pacers.
4. C.J. MILES AGE: 34 LAST NBA GAME: 11/26/2019 for Wizards
Miles was a lefty gunner for the Jazz, Cavs, Pacers and Raptors 2005-19 before losing solid NBA footing. In his long career Miles sank 1,250 triples and shot 81% from the line, but was only a full-time starter in 2008-09 for Utah.
2021-22 REVIVAL: Miles was signed to a 10-day hardship contract by Boston 12/20/2022. He played two scoreless minutes, entered and exited the COVID protocols himself, and was not re-signed.
3. GREG MONROE AGE: 31 LAST NBA GAME: 5/12/2019 for 76ers (playoffs)
Big Greg Monroe fell victim to the NBA's small-ball shift, disappearing from the league after several productive years with the Detroit Pistons, a so-so run with the Bucks, and some bouncing around in the late 10's.
The 6'11" Monroe averaged 15.6 PPG from 2011-16, and missed only one game from 2011-14! But he only took the NBA floor 94 times 2017-19, during which time he swapped uniforms six times.
2021-22 REVIVAL: Monroe signed a 10-day hardship deal with Minnesota 12/27/2021, and though he played decently enough, the Wolves didn't re-sign him. The Wizards gave Monroe a 10-day hardship deal 1/7/2022; overall the big man has scored 5.6 PPG in five games—all off the bench—this season.
2. MARIO CHALMERS AGE: 35 LAST NBA GAME: 4/11/2018 for Grizzlies
First of all, I thought Chalmers had been out of the league far longer than three full seasons. He's primarily known as a hot-and-cold point guard for the LeBron-era Heat, for whom he played 525 games from 2008 until a trade to Memphis in November 2015.
Chalmers had averaged a career-high 17 PPG for the 2015-16 Grizzlies, torn his Achilles in March 2016, gone unsigned for 2016-17, then returned to Memphis for 2017-18 before going taking his game overseas.
2021-22 REVIVAL: Miami signed Chalmers out of the G-League to a 10-day hardship deal 12/30/2021. But they never actually used him, and he returned to the G-League once his deal expired. Oh, well, at least he kept Udonis Haslem good company.
1. JOE JOHNSON AGE: 40 LAST NBA GAME: 5/28/2018 (playoffs)
Johnson, one of the most consistent, reliable scorers of his time and the man who once turned Paul Pierce's ankles into oatmeal, had been out of the league for three full seasons and had turned 40 before the depleted Boston Celtics came calling with a 10-day contract.
The only active player who played against Michael Jordan, Johnson has racked up over 20K points primarily for the Suns, Hawks and Nets. He made seven of eight All-Star teams from 2006-14 and once played 82 games four straight years (and five of six).
2021-22 REVIVAL: Boston, Johnson's original team way back in 2001-02, inked Johnson to a 10-day hardship deal on 12/22/2021. He appeared in one game, made one basket, and received quite the ovation from the home crowd—and teammates who were in diapers when he was drafted—in response. Johnson is currently back on the market and presumably open to other NBA offers.