Many NBA dreams are crushed every year in late October as clubs make their last cuts in training camp and finalize their opening-day rosters. How do players who come oh so close to making a team deal with the disappointment of being waived with the regular season around the corner?
We talked to three players who went through that situation to find out.
* Mario West has played 162 regular-season games in the NBA with the Hawks and Nets. He was waived in training camp by Atlanta in 2009 and Boston in 2010.
* Josh Bostic went to camp with the Detroit Pistons last year. He has played professionally in the D-League, Japan, France, Russia and Belgium.
* Marcus Slaughter, a Euroleague champion in 2015, has been one of the top American big men overseas for several years now. He attended training camp with the Miami Heat in 2007 and was cut three days before the team’s season opener.
West: “When you’re in camp, you don’t want to put too much pressure on yourself because if you do that you’re not going to play to the best of your abilities. You have to control what you can control, which is effort and attitude. My mindset was, ‘No matter what, I’m going to leave without regrets’. When they make the cuts, I want to be able to say that I gave my all. When you go with that mindset, good things happen. You might not make the team, but you might put things in their mind that may keep you on their radar.”
Slaughter: “I had played summer league and spent the offseason working with the Heat. I got an apartment there. They advised me to look for a place. Everything looked promising for me, but you go 100 percent anyway when you’re in a situation like that. I felt comfortable with everything and thought I would most likely make the team the way I was playing and the way they were talking to me.”
Bostic: “You can sense the guys that are guaranteed are more relaxed vs. guys who aren’t guaranteed. They are more intense because they want to prove they are willing to play hard and work.”
West: “You can’t focus on the other guys that you compete with. You have to make sure that you’re doing your job.”
Slaughter: “There was competition with the other guys trying to make the team, but it never went off the court where we didn’t like each other. You eat together and then you compete on the basketball court. It was pretty easy and relaxed.”
Bostic: “You kind of stick together with the other guys that don’t have guaranteed contracts, like we’re all underdogs. You would think that the fact that we’re all vying for the same job would separate you from them, but we were close. Off the court, you go get some wings with them or watch a game together.”
Slaughter: “The veterans were cordial to everybody. There was never any feeling of being an outsider with them. You were a real part of the team. You’re actually there to help them get better too.”
West: “If you can get the veterans and the players who already have guaranteed contracts to take notice of your play and vouch for you, that increases your chances of making the roster. You have to win over the guys that have already been there. The veteran guy can go to the coach or the general manager or the ownership and say, ‘Hey, that guy could be a good pickup’. That’s good for you.”
Bostic: “When I was getting into camp with the Pistons, I was wondering how the relationship was going to be with the veterans who have been on the team for a while. But I was blessed to be on a team where all the guys were cool. The veterans were very accommodating and very helpful. From what I’ve heard, that’s not always the case. I’ve heard from players who join teams where guys don’t care for you, where they look at you as just a random guy they don’t care to help or establish a relationship with. My situation was different. I’m still friends with Jodie Meeks, Caron Butler, Cartier Martin and Brandon Jennings. They were real cool. They didn’t get their egos in the way of friendships being established.”
West: “You don’t want anybody to get cut and you feel for them when teammates get cut, but at the same time it means you’re still there and you have to focus on what’s ahead for you. It means you have a better chance of making the team. Some of the guys you may have formed a friendship with and may get kind of close, but at the same time you’re trying to fulfill your dream.”
Bostic: “For me, being a religious person, there was a huge sense of peace and calmness in a situation like this when you’re trying to make a team.”
West: “You never know when you’re going to be cut. Can be the first couple of days or the final week. You’re anxious and you’re excited. It’s like Christmas is around the corner. You’re just waiting for those results.”
THE BAD NEWS
Bostic: “When they call your name and you walk into that room, you know what’s up and your teammates know what’s up. A lot of veterans were very encouraging and very supportive.”
West: “When I was cut by the Hawks and then the Celtics, both times I was called into an office. When I was cut by the Hawks, I was devastated. It really tore me up emotionally. I wanted so bad to make the home team and play in the NBA. But the thing is, you either give up and have a pity party or keep working. You can use that as motivation.”
Slaughter: “It’s a difficult process because you’re like, ‘What do I do now?’ You feel like the world has ended for you because you put so much effort into one thing and it’s a very disappointing feeling. When I got the phone call from Pat Riley, my heart stopped and I felt like someone had died. I went down on my knees and started crying. I was hurt. Especially when you feel like you deserved it.”
Bostic: “It happened after a game for me. Stan Van Gundy told me he didn’t have room for me, that it was a numbers game, but also that there was a reason I was in training camp and preseason with them. At the same time, he told me he had no idea who I was before camp and that I had earned his respect.”
West: “When the Celtics cut me, they told me the things they wanted me to work on and the things that they liked. And so did the Hawks and I’m grateful it’s like that. From what I’ve heard, other teams are not like that. They just tell you you’ve been cut and that’s it.”
Slaughter: “You work so hard for something and then you get a phone call where you’re told they don’t need your services and, well, it hurts. Especially when you’re young, you don’t know how to take it. The No. 1 feeling is disappointment, then failure and then just embarrassment. You don’t want to be seen, you don’t want to be outside. I remember when I got the phone call at 4 or 5 in the evening. It was a very brief conversation with Pat Riley. Two minutes. I bought a flight out the next morning because I didn’t want to stay there no more. I just wanted to leave and go back to family and comfort.”
Bostic: “If you take it the right way, getting cut can be a positive. It’s a motivation to work harder. I was back in the gym right after that.”
West: “Coach Woodson, I just appreciate him so much. He fought for me to make the Hawks team and he was very honest. At the end of the day, you want coaches who give you a chance and are honest. He told me to keep working and one month later I’m called up by the Hawks.”
Slaughter: “You understand it’s a business and you don’t trust the system anymore. In my situation, they were investing more money in the development of another player… even though that player didn’t play better. It wasn’t about talent anymore and it kind of opens your eyes. The politics in basketball… I just didn’t like it.”