Rashad McCants and the Blame Game

(Part 2 of a series on failed lottery picks)

Eight years have come and gone since Rashad McCants put on a NBA jersey. The fourteenth pick of the 2005 draft, McCants played in 249 NBA games. He averaged 10 points, shot 43% and 36% from three. He was no different as a player than Dion Waiters, albeit a little bit taller and more of an attitude. McCants left the league in 2009 with a reputation of moody, sulking and uncoachable. But to hear him tell it, he was forced out intentionally.

In the McCants 2005 draft, Chris Paul was the headliner though not the first pick. Deron Williams was a coveted talent too. Other notable players who are still employed by the NBA are Marvin Williams, Gerald Green, Jarrett Jack, David Lee, Brandon Bass, C.J. Miles, Ersan Ilysova, Monta Ellis, Lou Williams, Amir Johnson, Marcin Gortat, Raymond Felton.

But McCants hasn’t cashed a NBA check since the Obama first presidency.

His four year tour was pretty average for players who aren’t very special. McCants couldn’t guard anyone over his career, a defensive rating of 111 and his career average of 10 points a game isn’t earth shattering but in the 2007-08 season he averaged 14.9 points and played 26.9 minutes. It was his best season in the NBA. So how is it that the next year would be his last?

The NBA is filled with players who are mediocre shooters, defenders and ball movers. As a clique, there are some who have attitudes and who are difficult to coach. There are players who think they are better than they are and ones with piss poor work ethics. There are some who hang on at the end of the bench, only in garbage time do they get in games. There are selfish players, slow players, one trick pony players, over the hill players. Just by the numbers, they are all better than Rashad McCants who is 32 years old and had a bust of a career. But his 14.9 points per game season makes you wonder: what really was Rashad McCants crime? Why was there no place for him?

If you ask McCants who loves to theorize, he has two reasons and naturally, none of them have to do with him. Reason number one: A Hall of Famer (translation Kevin McHale) is blackballing him. Reason number two: Khloe Kardashian.
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Rashad McCants was a scorer. He led the TarHeels in points his freshman year. He led them in scoring his sophomore year.

Headstrong and lacking verbal discipline, McCants once compared his particularly cushy life at North Carolina to prison, saying he was “doing his time”. It was laughable or insulting depending on your view of college athletes biding their time until the draft. McCants was either immature or clueless. His version of things was that teams wanted him to be less of who he was for the sake of the team.

McCants was on the cover of SI while at Carolina; that’s how highly he was thought of. No one expected a fall. And everyone expected a fall.

At UNC, McCants was once benched for not cheering on his teammates. He made the throat slash in games. He could be distant and remote and the word “headcase” was constantly attached to him. As was immaturity.

Draft Express said this about McCants:

“An extremely skilled offensive player. Scores from all over the court and just has a great knack for putting the ball in the basket. Has great form on his jump shot and should have no problem making the NBA transition to the NBA three point line. Has an excellent post-up game but it’s hard to see this translating to the NBA considering that he’ll always be giving up a couple of inches. He’s a fiery competitor. He wears his heart on his sleeve, for better or worse.”

It was for worse. But the Timberwolves weren’t aware of that when they drafted him at 14, the last lottery pick of 2005. Or maybe they thought they could fix him. Or maybe they didn’t realize the extent to which McCants, when things were not going his way, could seethe and brood and mentally check out.

Draft Express exposed a major weakness in McCants game. He wasn’t particularly athletic. He didn’t have a shooting guard worthy elite first step and he wasn’t a good ball handler. Furthermore they evaluated him as a player with poor shot selection.

“His attitude is very questionable and this is something the NBA teams will undoubtedly be focusing on with their psychological tests. Has very poor body language and appears to get frustrated easily when things aren’t going his way.” (Draft Express)

When the Timberwolves drafted him at 14, McCants took it as disrespect and evidence of his college coaches bailing on him. Naturally, the uncoachable label fit; he was a textbook case of a player who lacks minimal self-awareness, an inability to see he is part of the problem. Arrogant. Overestimating his ability. Wanting it his way. That was Rashad McCants.

“I was not happy with my draft position but grateful to be drafted but I knew along with everyone in the class of 2005 who was the best at the shooting guard position.”

(The best shooting guard in the 2005 draft was Danny Granger. 10 year career. 16.8 points. 431 games started. Offensive Rating: 109. Defensive Rating: 106. All-Rookie team, 2nd team. Most Improved Player. All-Star.)

In Minnesota, McCants was derailed by injuries and microfracture surgeray after a pretty mild rookie season of 8 points which disappointed everyone who saw McCants score at will in college. But then came his great third year when he looked like he had a long pro career in front of him.

He was traded to Sacramento in his fourth year.

“He didn’t make the next step in terms of the production. We felt this was an opportunity for him to make a fresh start.” (Jim Stack, Wolves GM)

Known as a malcontent, McCants and coach Kevin McHale didn’t get along, which happens when the coach cuts your minutes. McCants responded by brooding and sad facing it on the bench which didn’t help the Timberwolves brass want to keep him.

On the tryout circuit, Rick Carlisle wanted doctors to evalute his mental instabilities. McCants may have found that humorous- he said he did- but it should have put the fear of God in him. His rep was suddenly as someone who needed psychological help. The whispers were quiet but persistent: there is something wrong with Rashad McCants.

The players chosen instead of McCants as free agents were  Matt Carroll, Rodney Carney, Joey Graham, Stephen Graham, Sam Young. Hardly household names. Without a NBA team, McCants went overseas. His NBA career was basically over. A 15 point per game scorer in the best year of his career could find a job nowhere.
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There is a Rashad McCants way. It is to be a firestarter, an accelerant, a grenade tosser. He is an emotional arsonist.

Rashad blames his relationship with Khloe Kardashian as the beginning of his downfall. McCants believes that Kardashian, interpreted as a faux celebrity famous for overexposure, was a trigger to NBA executives that McCants lacked the seriousness to dig in and pay attention to his career. McCant’s adds up the numbers. He would have made $70 million dollars in his career if only ______________ , you fill in the blank. The Kardashian relationship lasted six months and shortly thereafter McCants was traded to Sacramento. Kardashian also dated James Harden with no career effects so really what is McCants talking about?

“I wasn’t accusing her, nor did I blame her. It could’ve been anyone in the public light. I just got a lot of attention put on me at the time which put me in a situation where my professionalism was questioned.”

Whatever attention was “put on him” was because he won a title at North Carolina and everyone expected so much more. When they received less, his lifestyle, work ethic, moods and general behavior were questioned.

McCants other reason for his NBA fate is “I’ve been blackballed.” McCants is naturally arrogant and self-absorbed with an overworked ego. He once said he was better than 70% of the NBA. But separate the man from all his extroverted baggage, examine his accusation and it isn’t difficult to believe there is truth. Whispers matter. Word trickled down about McCants inability to handle stressful situations ala Ron Artest. He pouted and withdrew and, according to many, was uncoachable, which is another word for unreachable. NBA problem. That sort of description comes from front offices and coaches. Was there a Rashad McCants whispering campaign? Did Kevin McHale sabotage him? Or did the league just watch a Timberwolves game and see for themselves Rashad McCants wasn’t worth it. At the end of the day, McCants is responsible  for his own image.

In 2011, McCants, who was in the D-league, said, “The Developmental League is a plea from the league saying ‘we want you to show humility to get back in'”. If humility was the litmus test, McCants and almost every shooting guard would fail. The most arrogant position are the pure scorers. Kobe Bryant lacked humility but he had talent. Michael Jordan lacked humility but he was extraordinary. Clyde Drexler had humility. So did Ray Allen. And Dwyane Wade. The league judges on value and worth. Talent and productivity are the game changers. If McCants aversion to team concepts and goals kept him out the league, it was because it was determined he wasn’t worth the headache.

Wisdom hasn’t escaped McCants though all these years later. “The speed of a lie can never outlast the endurance of the truth.” What lie does he mean? His career being blamed on a talentless Kardarshian? His conspiracy theory?

McCants is currently playing for Ice Cube’s Big3 league. It’s not the NBA. Not the playoffs. But basketball, nonetheless.

(next: Adam Morrison)