"You only get one shot at this, and I know I messed up pretty bad."
Facing the media on Monday, Brandon Rush delivered a sincere apology about his actions that led to his five game suspension and growing up and realizing the opportunity he’s in. However, there’s more to growing up than realizing it, it’s about finding sincerity in your realization even though sincerity will never be able to overcome action. We can’t know yet whether Rush is making a New Years’ Resolution or that he’s truly on the path to maturity, so there’s little we can do but take his word and simply hope for the best.
Or do we? After two disappointing seasons coming into the league, do we have it in us to expect anything of Brandon for his third season to be anything but another Brandon Rush-type season? If we can bring ourselves to expect more, what do we expect? What can we expect? It paints a difficult picture, hoping for the best, bracing for the worst.
Since coming into the league, Brandon has more or less been handed his minutes with the Pacers. Injuries and flashes of what he can be had kept him alive far longer than most players get in this league when playing as he did most of the time. Even when he was a step away from finding extended bench time, an injury would thrust him back into the rotation. With plenty of options at the 2 spot for the 2010-11 season, Rush’s role seems a lot less stable, not helped by the five game suspension, and the doghouse he could easily be in.
Aware of this himself, what did Rush’s cry of maturity open up? Is it an attempt to explore his all around game on the court, or simply avoid further brushes with negative press? Passive play has created plenty of negative press for Brandon, but more than the play itself, the constant claims to improvement help the expectations seem like a bigger drop than they probably are. So about those expectations…where is an appropriate level of assuming Brandon means what he says and ultimately knowing he may not live up to his words?
Expecting Rush to become a consistent player overnight isn’t fair to ourselves, no, rather, we should look back at the positives he exhibited last year, his defense and his three point shooting, and use those to paint our picture of Brandon Rush’s 2010-11 season. It seems to make sense to look at Brandon’s role with the team and think he could be a valuable specialist. While it could just be cutting our losses with Brandon and hoping that setting the bar low gives us something to look forward to with him this season, it seems like maybe putting him into an appropriate role for what he’s given us the past two seasons allows us room to get more from him instead of less.
That's not to say Rush is in the clear to improving his game. He needs to find the kind of drive Roy Hibbert and Paul George have had this summer. He needs to figure out how to finish a layup, he needs to stay focused from tip-off to the final buzzer, he needs to be smart off the court, he needs to listen to his coaches and his teammates, he needs to grow up. There comes a point in life when we have to realize that growing up is not losing out on youth and that youth is not an excuse to make mistakes. Rush passed that signpost when he signed his rookie contract. Now is the time to become an adult and explore your options at becoming a better player; to understand your value and worth to your team. While you still have value and a team.
At the end of the day, it's about hoping the words spoken by Rush can lead to action and results. There's no guarantee it will, but Brandon isn't going anywhere for the time being. As fans, we should be aware of our expectations. But best case scenario, if his actions are as sincere as his words, Brandon could be in line for redemption as a Pacer, even if his tenure as one doesn't last much longer. Worst case scenario, he enters his last season, and we pay him to be a serviceable specialist. Either way, it's not about cutting him because of his actions.
I’m still trying to feel my way around this "Protect the Promise" promotion, and even though I’m not entirely sure how one protects the promise yet, I know Rush needs to be doing it. I know I didn't become a Starter Fan by not protecting the promise (sorry I can't be downtown every night, geez!). That much is clear. Hopefully it’s clear to Brandon.