Nate Robinson may be playing for his job every single game until January 10th for the Chicago Bulls, but it’s nothing new for the scrappy 28 year old point guard. Until the 10th of January, the Bulls can waive Robinson at no cost to them, a stipulation that was a part of the $1.1 million non-guaranteed contract he signed during the offseason. If Robinson were to leave the Bulls and be picked up elsewhere, it would make it his sixth career team and fifth in four seasons. Once the whipping boy for the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics, Robinson seems to have finally matured and deserves to retain his place on the Bulls’ roster to finally find some solidarity in his career.
In 28 games for the Chicago Bulls, Robinson has thus far matched his form last season with the Golden State Warriors, where he played 51 games. Robinson is contributing 11.2 points, 3.5 assists and 2 rebounds per contest on 43% shooting from the field. His figures are more than enough to warrant a contract, but that isn’t the issue at hand. His on-court performance wasn’t the issue either when he was without a free agent offer in 2009, despite a career best year that saw Robinson put up 17.2 points, 4.1 assist and 3.9 rebounds per contest. The issue has always, and will always be, the maturity of the native of Seattle.
Robinson has been a magnet of controversy and criticism from the start of his career, intensified by the bright lights of his first home at the New York Knicks. Acquiring from the Suns on a draft day trade, Robinson came to the Knicks in 2006 following a disappointing 33-49 season beforehand. As a first round pick, expectations were high for the former Husky who managed to perform well in 72 games during his rookie year. But trouble off the court had already begun to find him, with Robinson reportedly clashing with teammate Malik Rose and Denver’s J.R. Smith on separate occasions; the latter earning him a 10 game suspension. Later in December 2009, Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni clashed with Nate Robinson over his decision not to play Robinson. The saga wore on through December, culminating when Robinson’s agent Aaron Goodwin publicly requested his client be moved. In February, Robinson was dealt to the contending Boston Celtics.
The move away from the Knicks saw the beginning of the new Nate Robinson. His statistics went down across with board along with his minutes, but his reputation began the slow but sure process of repairing itself after five tough years with the Knicks. His mettle was tested however, as he was benched in April 2010, merely four months after his last DNP-CD. The Celtics faithful held their collective breath in fear their new acquisition would lash out as he did in New York and disrupt the team’s preparation for the playoffs. However, Robinson surprised the basketball world with his surprisingly humble stance on the matter.
“Whenever my number is called, I’ll be ready to play. I know he has his guys that have been here for a while. I just have to wait, and whenever my number is called, however many minutes I play, just be ready to produce and help this team get over that extra hump.” Robinson told CSN New England at the time.
The work on repairing his character has translated to new contract offers and a chance to play premium minutes again. Starting with the Warriors and then with the Bulls, Robinson has gone from a man who cost himself dollars and minutes with his me-first attitude to an asset who’s now known as a scoring combo guard with hustle that will keep him in the league long after his 43 inch vertical leap has diminished.
Don’t take the new found selflessness to mean Nate Robinson isn’t still about having fun though. He ran into strife in October for throwing an off-the-backboard alley oop pass to Jimmy Lucas for a breakaway dunk in the second quarter of the Bulls’ 100-94 victory over the Bucks. Coach Tom Thibodeau wasn’t thrilled, but managed to find a positive within it.
“Yeah, we talked about it,’’ Thibodeau said. “Obviously I didn’t like the play. I like the unselfishness, though, and I told him that. I liked the fact that he saw Jimmy coming down, and he wanted to drop it off to him and let him score. Other than that play, I thought he did a lot of good things for us. I just want him to channel that the right way. I want him to make winning basketball plays, and I want that to be first and foremost, and I think it’s important to respect the game.”
The Chicago Bulls are carrying a guard heavy rotation at the moment with Kirk Hinrich, Marquis Teague, Marco Belinelli and Richard Hamilton all joining Robinson in the backcourt rotation. With it seeming more and more likely that we’ll see Derrick Rose back on the hardwood this season, it seems like someone has to leave the Windy City to free up some minutes in the rotation. Cutting anyone from that talented backcourt will be tough, but the Bulls will be making a big mistake if the man that goes is the rejuvenated Nate Robinson.