JaKarr Sampson, the 76ers, the Desire to Lose and the Desire to Show 'Em
Perhaps someone forgot to give his players the memo that they were supposed to lose last night's game to the Heat, a meaningless game in terms of the standing, to increase the odds that they could get more first-round picks or ping pong balls or what have you to give them a better chance to get two of the first six picks or three of the first eleven or two of the first ten or what have you, all in accordance with GM Sam Hinkie's strategy to stockpile picks, get better players and field a juggernaut that will create a dynasty the way the Spurs have. Got all that?
The Knicks took care of business last night, losing big. The Timberwolves eclipsed their efforts by going on a season-ending skid that guaranteed them the worst record. The 76ers and Heat played last night in a game that both needed to lose; the Heat played four players for 48 minutes and only two others. The 76ers played "Brett Brown" hard, and they lost by four. But only because a Heat player hit a three with about 19 seconds left.
Before then, the 76ers took a 1-point lead because back-up guard JaKarr Sampson stole the ball (he picked the Heat's point guard) and went in for a layup. He could have sat back. He could have done nothing. He could have let the Heat ride it out because, well, the season is over and the game didn't mean anything. That would have been understandable and even excusable, should such "play off the ball" defense require an excuse in the eighty-second game of the season. Instead, Sampson, a young player who might have left college too early, made the aggressive play and put his team in the lead.
Because while the 76ers are jockeying for draft picks, there is no guarantee that more than a handful of players from this year's roster will be on the squad next year. Presumably, there will be some talent upgrades; no one on an 18-64 team not named Nerlens Noel should be relaxed. Which means that everyone else was playing for the scouts, for the film, for people who will play and re-play DVD's of all NBA games looking for the player who is in the wrong situation who might thrive in another. The NBA has many stories like this, and for some successful players theirs is a tale of resilience and never stop believing in themselves, that given a better opportunity they will show a front office that they should play in someone's rotation or perhaps have the chance to start. Some young players will wilt, because for most of their playing lives they were the man, and now they are battling to be the twelfth man, and, well, some just cannot handle that type of struggle. Others relish it.
So there he was, JaKarr Sampson, a relatively anonymous NBA player from a college with a faded basketball tradition, picking the other team's point guard for what could have been a decisive layup. That shows that JaKarr Sampson doesn't care about high math, Monte Carlo situations, Fibonacci numbers and all the things that his GM does to stockpile draft picks and evaluate players. He wasn't living in the past -- when his recruitment to St. John's drew attention -- and he wasn't overlooking his present. He was maximizing it in order to set himself well for the future.
Because someone is looking. Someone is always looking. And the better you look when someone is looking gives you a better chance to find a better situation in case your current one doesn't last. So while it would have benefitted the 76ers to lose, JaKarr Sampson was on the court to compete and to win. And he showed it in the waning moments last night. It took a well-timed three to beat the 76ers, but that's the way any game should be played.
For JaKarr Sampson's sake, hopefully some NBA scout saw that last-minute action and says to himself, "there might be something here. This kid might have what it takes to help us."
Because someone is watching.