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Draft night, 2009. I wrote this after the Mavericks selected Byron Mullens with the 24th overall pick:
“And there goes B.J. Mullens. That’s twice tonight a team has probably done the Thunder a huge favor of taking a big man bust, preventing OKC from even having to think about him. So now we’re back on the clock. I’ll put my vote in for DeJuan Blair, Sam. I know you’re following along. And I know you care what I think.”
And then the Thunder picked Rodrigue Beaubois, only to trade him to Dallas for Mullens about 10 seconds later. A reader emailed me right after it with the joke, “Hi Mullens, I’m the Gatorade jug — enjoying the game?” Nailed it, pretty much.
Mullens spent two seasons with the Thunder. Or actually, spent about half a season with the Thunder and the rest of it in Tulsa or on I-44 driving back and forth. He only played a total of 26 games for Oklahoma City tallying just 39 total points. NBA 2K12 even has him rated as the worst player in this year’s game. It’s hard to say a player picked 25th overall is a bust, but Mullens was certainly appearing to be a wasted pick.
Especially when Sam Presti finally decided to give up on his seven foot project and get a second round pick (and a free roster spot) in return for him. The Thunder had dumped Mullens for nothing after seeing him do a whole lot of nothing for two years.
Then a funny thing started happening. Mullens is getting actual real minutes for the Bobcats. And he’s playing pretty good. He had 17 points and 10 rebounds last Friday and then 15 and 10 last night in 23 minutes. He’s close to cracking Charlotte’s starting lineup and is finally showcasing a little of that ability everyone knew he had.
(You think it’s a coincidence he was dealt to Charlotte where Rich Cho is the GM? Cho probably was a big fan of Mullens’ and a big reason OKC took him and still saw the potential in him and was willing to bring him on.)
So guess what happens now? Now I’m getting emails and tweets of people saying that Presti whiffed big time in dealing Mullens for nothing. The life of a GM — you screwed up for taking the guy, you screwed up for keeping him and then you screwed up trading him. Can’t win for losing, or something like that.
So why did the Thunder trade him then? It’s more of a favor to Mullens. I can guarantee you Presti would’ve preferred to keep Mullens at the end of the bench as a security blanket big man. Having extra talent on the roster is always a good thing. It’s good for practice, it’s good for depth and it’s good for trade bait. But that’s all Mullens was going to do on this team. He wasn’t going to play in front of Perk, Ibaka, Mohammed or Collison. And the organization obviously prefers the potential of Cole Aldrich to Mullens. He was never going to play no matter how much improved he was. Which had to be a frustrating thing for Mullens. He wanted to play.
You could hear in the way Mullens talked at media day. He spent the entire time saying how he expected to play, how he put in a ton of hard work over the summer and how if he didn’t crack the rotation he’d be deeply disappointed. That was never happening and that’s not a slight to Lord Byron. It just wasn’t happening because of the logjam in front of him.
Keep in mind, Mullens was taken at the tail end of the first round too. That’s not a place where you pick stars or guaranteed rotation players. That’s where you take projects, diamonds in the rough, or shots in the dark. That’s where you take a guy like Mullens and see if he can progress enough to beat someone out.
I defended Mullens quite a bit, especially after the Thunder picked his option last summer. People couldn’t fathom why the Thunder would cut ties with that waste of space, but it was always obvious to me that Mullens had talent and ability. He just needed to figure out how to apply that an actual game. I watched a Thunder practice during training camp and nobody on the team could stop Mullens in a two-dribble one-on-one drill. I’m serious. The drill was you stayed on the floor if you scored and there wasn’t a player that got more reps than Mullens. Not KD, not Ibaka, not Westbrook — Mullens was dominant.
Now he’s getting a chance to do just that and he’s making the most of it. It’s a shame it couldn’t have happened in Oklahoma City but that’s just the way it goes sometimes. Sometimes it’s just not the right situation for either. Mullens wanted playing time and the Thunder had no where to play him. It’s probably a good thing when you put together a team where a guy that couldn’t even make the active is starting somewhere else.