Ex-Celtic Melo tries to revive career in Brazil

Ex-Celtic Melo tries to revive career in Brazil
August 27, 2014, 1:30 pm
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The Memphis Grizzlies waive Fab Melo just two weeks after acquiring him in a trade with the Celtics.

(USA Today Sports Images)

BOSTON — After what had been an underwhelming season spent with the Celtics, Fab Melo is out to script a new chapter on his basketball life with what he hopes will be a much happier ending.

Drafted by the Celtics in the first round in 2012, Melo has signed with a pro team in his native Brazil with a clear goal in mind: to revive his basketball career.

"Here I'm just looking forward to playing again," Melo, 24, told Brazilian daily Folha de S. Paulo. "When you have the pleasure of competing again, things start to flow. That is what I'm looking for here. It's going to be a new beginning."

Melo left Syracuse after two seasons, the last of which ended with him being named the Big East Defensive Player of the Year shortly before it was determined he was academically ineligible for the 2012 NCAA Tournament.

Still, Melo was considered one of college basketball's most promising big men, especially at the defensive end of the floor.

However, the success Melo enjoyed at Syracuse never translated to the NBA as he struggled adapting to individual man-to-man defensive concepts after playing in Syracuse's highly effective zone defense.

And offensively, Melo's game was at best a work in progress even before he arrived in Boston.

When it was clear he wasn't ready to help the Celtics, Boston tried to get him some court time with their Development League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws.

The Celtics were hoping just as the D-League provided a confidence boost to young players like Avery Bradley, maybe it could do the same for Melo.

Nope.

He averaged 9.8 points, six rebounds and a D-League best 3.1 blocked shots per game, which landed him a spot on its All-Defensive team.

Still, there was so much to his game that still needed work.

And Boston had bigger issues to concern itself with; specifically the luxury tax, which they were able to avoid in part by dealing Melo in August of 2013 along with cash, to Memphis for another former Orange in Donte Green, whose contract was non-guaranteed.

Plus the need for Melo had lessened considerably with Jared Sullinger's emergence, the drafting of Kelly Olynyk and the free agent signing of fellow Brazilian Vitor Faverani.

All involved anticipated Green would be waived, but Memphis' decision to waive Melo, a 7-footer in his early 20s, had a two-fold effect.

First it gave the Celtics just the necessary salary cap relief they needed. As for Melo, it raised concerns among most NBA teams to bring him aboard even on a non-guaranteed deal.

The Dallas Mavericks took a look at him, and decided he wasn't a good fit. He did manage to sign with their D-League affiliate, the Texas Legends.

Melo continued to deliver inconsistent play for the Legends, but his struggles seemed at their peak when Melo was sent to the locker room during a game after cursing at head coach and former NBA player Eduardo Najera.

Not surprisingly, Melo isn't giving too much thought to his problems of the past; but instead focuses more on his future, which he still believes is promising if he's given enough court time to develop.

As a Syracuse grad, I would love to co-sign on Melo's plan.

But there's just one problem.

He's not that good.

And the reason he didn't play more in Boston, was because he didn't perform well enough to give the Celtics any reason to play him more.

When you look at the young guys playing for Boston now, all of them had to play behind somebody before getting their chance to prove their worth in limited doses of action.

Avery Bradley wasted no time showcasing the ability to pressure the ball in limited minutes and causing havoc defensively. His play was soon rewarded with more minutes and eventually a job in the starting lineup.

Look at Sullinger, taken one spot ahead of Melo in the 2012 draft. He too has seen his minutes fluctuate. But more often than not, Sullinger makes the most of the minutes he's given to the point where his play - not his potential - gets him on the floor for extended stretches.

In the limited time that Melo played (six games with the Celtics), he never showed a specific skill that you could see was beneficial at the moment that didn't come with a greater downside.

Yes, he blocked shots.

But the missed rotations defensively, he too often was not in the right spot to rebound, he had an inability to recognize what the defense was doing when he had the ball... there's a long, laundry list of shortcomings to his game that more than negated a swatted shot here and there.

However, as one coach told me when I asked him about Melo, "he's 7-feet tall every morning. As long as he's got that going for him, he's got a chance to play in this league."

Indeed, his size and youth will keep him on the radar of most NBA teams in the future.

Still, that alone won't get him back to the NBA.

He has to play, and play well.

Otherwise, he'll be just another NBA first-round bust that'll soon be forgotten.