Since losing his starting spot midway through the 2017-18 season, Cal men’s basketball alumnus Ryan Anderson has been thrown into basketball’s version of limbo. After a decadelong run of being one of the NBA’s steadier stretch fours, Anderson’s future in the league is up in the air.
(No longer a) Rocketman
No one ever really knows the impact that a single, seemingly inconsequential incident can have on the grand scheme of their life when it happens. For Anderson, there was no way for him to have possibly known that his career could’ve changed in the middle of the 2017-18 season on Feb. 6, 2018 when a right ankle sprain against the Brooklyn Nets forced him to exit the game early.
The minor ding only sidelined Anderson for the remainder of the Houston Rockets’ game against the Nets and the team’s subsequent game against the Miami Heat. Three days later, he was back in action for the Rockets’ matchup with the Denver Nuggets.
Anderson’s injury, however, was the catalyst for P.J. Tucker’s ascension. Tucker was inserted into the starting lineup and Anderson was relegated to the bench, his minutes taking a heavy hit.
The pre- and post-injury numbers speak for themselves. Before the injury as Houston’s everyday starter, Anderson averaged 10.2 points and 5.4 rebounds in 28.4 minutes per game. After the injury, he didn’t make a single start and only played in 15 of the Rockets’ final 29 games, averaging 7.0 points and 3.9 rebounds.
By the end of the season, Anderson no longer fit Houston’s style of play and it was clear he was not in the team’s long-term plans. On Aug. 31, 2018, the Rockets shipped Anderson, along with second-round pick De’Anthony Melton, to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for Marquese Chriss and Brandon Knight.
To make the deal work, Anderson agreed to reduce his guaranteed salary for the 2019-20 season from $21.3 million to $15.6 million.
Rack ‘em up
From a playing time perspective, the deal was initially beneficial for Anderson. He was named Phoenix’s starting power forward for the 2018-19 season and appeared in each of the Suns’ first 11 games, averaging 21.6 minutes per game.
While Anderson got his playing time, but the production wasn’t there for the veteran. In that batch of contests, Anderson averaged 4.9 points while shooting 32.7 percent from the field and 23.3 percent from three. Not even a full month into the season, Anderson was out of the rotation entirely.
Being relegated to the bench is a tough pill to swallow for any hooper, but Anderson took it in stride, acknowledging his role as the veteran leader on an extremely young, rebuilding team. In particular, Anderson took rookie Mikal Bridges, the player who took most of his playing time, under his wing.
It was a mentor-mentee relationship that especially made sense considering that the two players are cut from the same mold. In some ways, Bridges can be considered Anderson 2.0 with his combination of athleticism and defensive prowess in ability to his shooting.
“The league is sort of shifting toward players like (Bridges), so I’m really excited to see his future and what it holds,” Anderson told the Athletic in November. “If I can be any part of helping him along the way that would be a great thing.”
Unfortunately for Anderson and Bridges, their time together would be cut short when Anderson was dealt yet again, this time going to Miami in exchange for Tyler Johnson and Wayne Ellington on Feb. 6, 2019.
Even in a new situation, it was the same ol’ song and dance for Anderson as it was in Phoenix. As a member of the Heat, Anderson saw the court sparingly, appearing in 10 games and totaling 44 minutes.
What’s the move?
The Heat are expected to waive Anderson by July 10, which would save the club about $6 million. With this move, Anderson would only have to be paid $15.6 million of his $21.3 million contract. If the Heat do not waive Anderson by July 10, the Heat will have to pay Anderson the entire $21.3 million.
Should he and the Heat part ways, Anderson will enter an offseason with an ambiguous future for the first time in his career.
Anderson may very well still have something left in the tank as he enters his age-31 season, not too far removed from a 2017-18 season in which he averaged 9.3 points and shoot 38.6 percent from distance.
On the flip side, the past few years have proved that it will be increasingly difficult for Anderson to find a consistent role as the game continues to speed up and as he continues to age. Anderson’s prowess as a shooter is unquestionable, but more young players have come into the league who can complement their shooting with defense and athleticism. It’s no longer enough to be just a stretch four.
Anderson’s reputation both as a floor-spacer and locker room presence may very well be enough for a team to take a flier on him for the veteran’s minimum, but in a league that continues to evolve, the forward’s final days may very well be on the horizon.