You would have thought it would have been a no brainer for the Chicago Bulls to have brought back Nate Robinson on a multi-year deal after his heroics in the 2013 NBA Playoffs. During Game 6 of the first round of the playoffs against the Nets he turned in his own "flu game," throwing up on the bench during time outs, so physically exhausted he was unable to lift his head as his coach drew up plays. Two games earlier he scored 12 straight points in the fourth quarter of Game 4 to erase a 14 point New Jersey lead to force what would be one of three overtimes. Robinson would score 34 points in total on 61% shooting from the floor and 43% from three that game.
Then who could forget about his chase down block he did on LeBron James in the second round?
Robinson had to be the one to carry the Bulls through the postseason. Averaging over 16 points a game, almost four and a half assists, almost three rebounds and going 44-34-76 from the floor, three and the line. Except from three and the line these are all well above his career averages. He lead the Bulls to a Game 1 victory of the Heat in the second round with a 27-9-3 performance on 50-38-80 shooting and then saw a lot more LeBron James for his troubles and was never able to replicate those number again for the rest of the series.
Chicago rewarded him by signing Mike Dunleavy Jr. to a contract and then drafting Tony Snell. With Derrick Rose coming back and the emergence of Jimmy Butler as being one of the young, rising stars in the NBA the minutes are all but spoken for next year at the guard spots and it appears that the Bulls are ready to move on.
Has the stigma from early in his career continued to linger? His ability to stop the free flow of the ball, his terrible shot selection, his immaturity?
His former teammate, Marco Belinelli, had a lot of the same concerns through his career. He was never offered a contract with the Bulls, but quickly found a home with the San Antonio Spurs with a two year, six million dollar deal.
Then you look back at Robinson's numbers through this regular season and the playoffs. All his stats were up from his career averages, including assists despite being asked to score a lot more. While scoring more his shooting percentage and true shooting percentage are up multiple points and again, his assists are up.
This shows that the ball is no longer stopping at Robinson it is continuing to move and if it does stop in his hands it is more likely to go in the basket than it was in years past. We're seeing the evolution of the player on the court.
What about off the court?
On Thursday when the Bulls were playing the Heat in the Vegas Summer League, the cameras caught someone in the stands cheering on the Bulls after they scored a basket. This person was doing kind of enthusiastically, but not over the top.
That person was Nate Robinson. The person that the Bulls had not offered a contract to.
An immature person wouldn't be caught dead near a team that snubbed them, let alone spend his own money to travel to a city that he does not live in to cheer for all but maybe a handful of players that won't even wear the NBA version of the jersey next year.
Yet, there he was, cheering on former teammates Marquis Teague and Malcolm Thomas.
After the game NBATV would catch-up with Robinson for a quick interview on the process of his current free agency while he was autographing a baby.
"It's frustrating because you put in your hard work. I worked my butt off year in and year out, ever since I was a little boy, to get to this point now, not to be signed. But at the same time, I'm not going to let that discourage me of being who I am, just working hard. I want people to understand and know Nate Robinson is that player who's going to play his heart out, no matter what, good or bad. Everybody has flaws. At the same time, that's one thing I do: I really cherish this game and I'm really thankful for it, the blessings that God has blessed me with and right now, I'm just waiting. God will put me on that team that will deserve me and that's how I'm looking at it,"
"I'm open to whatever team that wants me. That could be every team in the league or nobody. It is what it is. Right now, we're talking to a few teams and there's a lot of teams that showed interest, and right now, we're just trying to figure out what's the best fit and who really wants me to be a part of their team, and build something special. I just really want to be a part of something real," Robinson would continue on his frustration at only getting one year deals.
"I'm really just tired of the one-year deals. It happens and I told myself, 'If that's something I've got to do through my career, that God puts in my way of overcoming obstacles of one-year deal, one-year deal here and there,' if that's my destiny, that's what it is and I'll accept it. I won't make excuses. I won't say, 'Oh, it's my agent, it's me, it's my attitude,' because I know it's not my attitude. I know it's not me being a bad teammate because I'm a great teammate. All the knocks that these teams are saying, GMs have questions of and I really, truly feel that they're judging me, which they are, but only God can do that. For me, I just go out and play with my heart. I don't know any other way. I don't know how to be anybody but Nate Robinson. I'm going to continue to be me, so it is what it is. It's funny because I never want to start. I never want to start because that's not my forte. My thing is, I know what I do. I come off the bench and I give energy. That's what I want to do for whatever team that wants me," he continued. "I want a team to want me to be there. Not because somebody's injured. Not because somebody's down or, 'We don't have this, we don't have that, so let's go get Nate Robinson.' No, I don't want that. I want something that's real. Like I said, I want a commitment and that's something that I'm going to do. I'm committed to do my job and that's to show up every day, be professional, never late, work hard and perform at a high level, and I think I've done that throughout my whole career."
Robinson truly has every right to be frustrated. We watched him grow this year on an injury ravaged Bulls team that beat a Nets team it shouldn't have beaten and competed with a Heat team that it should have lost to by 40 every night. They out punched their weight class.
It was Nate Robinson, their de facto leader, their backup point guard, turned hero, turned savior who took them and willed them further into the season then they had any business going.
Here he remains unsigned and Marco Belinelli has a chance to win a championship with the Spurs next season and his game did not grow nearly as much as Robinson's on or off the court.
This is no longer the Robinson that you can lump in with the problem causers in the NBA, the highlight reel of Dunk Contest winners and nothing mores.
Nate Robinson might have finally discovered the secret and deserves that multi year contract now. He could be the piece that a contender is currently missing on their bench that means a second round exit in May and having a parade in June.