The Art of the Journeyman: Drew Gooden the next Joe Smith... the next Chris Gatling?

Originally posted Mar 5, 2010 12:00 AM PST

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(Before former #1 pick Joe Smith was fellow #1 pick King James mentor and missing piece...)

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(He was supposed to be Kevin Garnett's sidekick to take them to the promised land)

After watching Bay Area born and raised NBA basketball player Drew Gooden get traded two times within the span of 4 days, I wondered if this former lottery pick was destined to be this generation's Chris Gatling.  I came to this conclusion not because they're both tall, power forwards that happened to be 1) bald and 2) light(er) skinned, though, that coincidence is pretty eerie in and of itself.  But I was curious why neither of them was able to stick around with a team long enough given that they were both relatively productive and efficient players who put up decent stats wherever they went.  Although I was never a big fan of Drew Gooden's game (I find him to be somewhat erratic on the court), how is it that someone like him gets bounced around the league so often versus say someone like Adonal Foyle, who's PER has consistently hovered below the average and is several points below someone like Gooden.  But can we judge a player's career by the number of teams they have played on?  Is Drew Gooden's fate sealed to be ...dare I say... a journeyman?  As a former lottery pick, #4 to be exact in the 2002 draft, is being a journeyman akin to be a branded or marked with the scarlet letter?  Or is "the journeyman" an embraceable position to be in?  Is it being a a player in the "twilight" of their career (post-second max or big contract) that ends up being a good supporting player  to a perennial playoff team (Raja Bell) or is it a player that bounces around a few times brought onto a bad team (Golden State Warriors) for "veteran presence" and mentoing purposes?  So my questions is less who is a journeyman as opposed to when is one a journeyman and when is being a journeyman something cool ("veteran presence") as opposed to being something of a laughable figure (Chris Gatling-type).  Where does Drew Gooden fall between these two poles?  What makes a good a "Journeyman" and is that something people would want to identify with?

In his article about "The NBA's Best Journeyman" from August 2009, Hoopsworld's contributor John Flemming provides some interesting definitions of the "journeymen":

How do we define this idea of "many teams"? For the purpose of this piece let's say a significant contribution to at least five different teams. Also, we won't be discussing star athletes (go back to the definition above), so even though Shaquille O'Neal is going to begin playing for his fifth NBA team we can all agree there is no way "journeyman" should ever be an adjective applied to the legendary center. To me there also has to be some element of the player being involved in successful teams, and there has to be a sense that adding him will make your team better - he's not just filling out the roster and happens to take up some minutes. These players tend to always find themselves on playoff teams, but rarely have real long-term security.

By Flemming's definition, the "journeyman" can be an integral part of the team.  His examples include Joe Smith, Tim Thomas, Raja Bell, Drew Gooden, James Posey and Anthony Johnson.  But amongst his choices of who he finds to be the game's best "journeyman" (as of right now), his use of stats doesn't seem to tell the full story of how different these players are or evaluated.  Tim Thomas maybe a greater three point shooting threat off the bench, but his basketball critics often lament that he is ultra talented and also ultra lazy.  Some also say that Tim Thomas played Cinderella just long enough to get that mid-level exception, only to revert back to a pumpkin the following season.  And Tim Thomas and Drew Gooden will never or have yet to be considered the "veteran presence" in the same ways that Joe Smith and Raja Bell have.  

That is, the NBA or the media deems being the "journeyman" of the "veteran presence" variety a much more important role as someone who can bestow knowledge, even if you're not a superstar but just an intangibles guy.  Even if people consider Joe Smith a decent pro, some major media outlets like Sports Illustrated and ESPN.com have considered him to a bust.  So in this case, is a journeyman something to be proud of?  Does being a lottery pick affect how people judge your career as a "journeyman?"  When teams draft players out of college or European professional leagues, will whether or not a player will make a great "journeyman" become part of the evaluation process?

Abrondon Jones of the Bleacher Report diverges from Flemming's definition, suggesting that the greatest journeymen were "players who were willing to play anywhere, anytime, for anyone.  Whatever team was willing to give them a roster spot, that's where they'd lay their hat for the night.  These were the guys that were always invited to the wedding, but never invited to the marriage." 

Based off this definition, this includes a lot of forgettably unforgettable 10-day contract players.  His list includes d-league Hall of Famer Randy Livingston (who provided veteran presence for young d-leaguers), Tony Massenberg (who may hold the record for # of teams he's played for, 13 to be exact), and a few semi-headcases or legends that never quite fulfilled their potential (Jim Jackson, Rod Strickland and Kenny Anderson).  In a way, Jones' interpretation of "journeyman" seems less an idealized role as much as it is a laundry list of characteristics and flaws that make players seem not so desirable.  This isn't to say players like Rod Strickland, Jim Jackson, and Kenny Anderson suck.  But in my memory, we hardly remember these "journeyman" in the same way we may think of Joe Smith. 

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(Drew Gooden has been playing a different tune since joining the Los Angeles Clippers)

After reading both these articles, I'm still not quite sure what to make of the "journeyman."  Is the "journeyman" a symbol of respect in the NBA?  Or the complete opposite?  Is being a "journeyman" in the twilight of your career better than having been a "journeyman" your whole career?  What do YOU think defines a "journeyman"?  And who is your favorite "journeyman" of all-time?  If you were once a "superstar," can you ever be labelled a "journeyman?"  Who can or can not be a "journeyman?"

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