Yup, for the first time in his career, at least as far as he can remember, Drew Gooden is healthy and inactive according to Charles F. Gardner. And Gooden is handling the news like an absolute pro:
“This is the first time I’ve had to go through this.This is new to me, my first time ever being inactive. So we’ll see what happens.”
“If this is the best thing for the team, I’ll do it,” Gooden said after shootaround. “I just look at it as I stepped up and helped the team out in that way. That was me playing. If I have to step up now or step down and help the team in this way, I’ll do that, too. So be it.”
Gooden was referring to the vast majority of last season, when he was forced to play out of position at center. He posted respectable numbers (13.7 points and 6.5 rebounds per game), but defensively, he offered little. Not that he didn’t battle, but it’s difficult to win a rock fight with water balloons. Gooden isn’t much of a shot-blocker and he doesn’t counter that with terrific defensive positioning or awareness. He fought bigger players in the post all season, but was often simply over-matched. I remember watching Dwight Howard simply physically dominate Gooden, not so much because of how easy it was for Howard, but because of how hard Gooden was trying to hit back with his body when Howard would inevitably get position on him in the post.
So Gooden probably played too much and in the wrong spot last season. Milwaukee went out of their way to make sure that didn’t have to happen again. They traded for Samuel Dalembert, signed Joel Przybilla, retained Ersan Ilyasova and drafted John Henson.
They’ve also seen development from Ekpe Udoh and Larry Sanders. Literally every one of those players is a better defender than Gooden, even if they lack his offensive skills and Milwaukee’s front court focus has been all on defense, specifically blocking shots and bailing out their guards and wings. Gooden isn’t very good at that and other guys have been pretty good at it, so it’s left Gooden on the outs.
That doesn’t mean he’s doomed to sulk on the end of the bench all season. We’ve seen cyclical Scott Skiles rotations before. We’ve seen tons of injuries over the past three years. Anything can happen. When something does happen, it’s on Gooden to be ready for his opportunity. Gooden has the option of taking that approach and keeping himself prepared or going off the deep end, not accepting reality, being completely insane and unrealistic about himself as a basketball player and ending up on the outs. Not that I’m referencing anyone specifically (HI STEPHEN JACKSON I HOPE YOU’RE WELL).
Gooden seems to be taking the right approach. And how easily could this all turn around for him? Well, Kurt Thomas barely played for Milwaukee in the first half of the 2009-10 season. He sat back, kept being a leader in the locker room, rolled with the punches when he was rumored to have been traded and was incredibly professional and positive every day. Soon enough, he was starting in the playoffs after an Andrew Bogut injury.
It just takes a few breaks to change a season. And if a change comes, Milwaukee could do much worse than having Gooden on the end of the bench to turn to.