He may have the best Western name in the NBA, but his game is coming short.
You can find Travis Outlaw on the Sacramento Kings sideline these days. The 29-year-old should be in the prime of his career, but things have gone mysteriously downhill for the small forward.
Outlaw was drafted 23rd overall out of Starkville High School in 2003. He spent his first few professional seasons honing an NBA-body and tool box before emerging as a Sixth Man of the Year candidate for the Portland Trail Blazers. The team gave Outlaw a three-year, $12 million extension in 2007, and his future looked bright. But he broke his left foot in 2009 and was traded at the deadline to the Los Angeles Clippers.
In the offseason the New Jersey Nets were seduced by Outlaw’s two-way potential and signed the forward for a lavish five years and $35 million.
Then came the slippage.
Logging a career-high 28 minutes and 45 seconds per game, Outlaw shot a lifetime-low 37.5% from the floor and couldn’t justify the spending of owner Mikhail Prokhorov. In 2011 the Nets amnestied his deal and the Kings bought his rights for $12 million over the four remaining years. Outlaw was expected to compete for time with John Salmons, Francisco Garcia and Tyler Honeycutt at the three (Donte Greene was a stretch-four that year), but the veteran wasn’t able to wedge his way into the rotation.
Outlaw has averaged roughly 12 minutes a contest in 77 appearances made over the past two seasons. It’s strange to see such a gentleman and hard worker (as said by Jerry Reynolds) fail to establish a consistent role on one of the league’s worst teams.
Outlaw did break his right hand before joining the Kings, but his mojo never healed after leaving New Jersey. The cornerman lost the touch on a 3-point stroke which he connected at a near-40% clip in his heyday, and his shot selection hasn’t helped matters. The freakish athleticism is still there, but head coach Keith Smart didn’t have a use for it for more than half the games.
At his best, the 6-foot-9, 205-pound forward can pull up and score from midrange and alter shots with his long arms. However Outlaw seems to have contracted a weak case of “Biedrins syndrome,” where the pressure of NBA ball over time wears down the psyche. Hopefully new coach Mike Malone can pull the player out of his haze, but it’s also possible the pro will never recall the ways that made him a reliable hooper in Portland. The battle for backup three behind Luc Mbah a Moute is old rival Salmons, so there should be an epic preseason competition.
Photo Credit: Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press