August Marks Start of Annual Exodus for NBA's Marginalized

Rob MahoneyNBA Lead WriterAugust 13, 2012

OAKLAND, CA - FEBRUARY 15:  Craig Smith #83 of the Portland Trail Blazers goes up for a rebound against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena on February 15, 2012 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

If July is defined in NBA terms by the promise of free agency and the intrigue of the trade market, August is marked by the departure of some beloved specialists and role players.

Once depth charts have solidified and cap space has been filled, many NBAers are forced to look elsewhere for basketball work and thus wind up in Spain, Italy, France, Russia, Korea or wherever the most promising job can be found.

Such is the case with Craig Smith—"The Rhino" as he's come to be known in NBA circles—who, according to (via Blazer's Edge), has signed a one-year deal with Hapoel Jerusalem.

It's an understandable move given Smith's lingering place on the NBA's fringe, but a reminder that the inevitable basketball exodus is now officially upon us. The Olympics are finished, training camp looms, and the time for chasing long-shot roster openings is coming to a close. It's that crunch that pushed Smith overseas, along with many of his colleagues.

And, in this particular case, that's a damn shame.

Smith is no NBA savior, but his career in the States has been marked by producing well and playing little. He's flawed and undersized, but there's only so much one can do to demerit a resourceful big who finds ways to manufacture points efficiently—the very thing that Smith has done consistently over the course of his career.

Smith may not be an ideal acquisition given his age and limitations, but he's unquestionably useful on an NBA stage, making it all the more baffling that his playing time has dwindled since coming into the league in 2006.

Such is simply the lot of the NBA role player, who is often revered by association.

Play for a title team, and one's contributions suddenly appear invaluable. Suit up for a big-market squad that lives in the public eye, and all of the little things a complementary player does begin to be noticed. Land with the Randy Wittman Timberwolves, the Blake Griffin-overshadowed Clippers and the tanking Trail Blazers, and you wind up playing pro ball in Israel.

There's nothing wrong with playing for a decent club overseas, but it's unfortunate that Smith hasn't been able to find a better stateside gig when teams sign hopeless prospects and borderline geriatrics annually.

There are a ton of factors that go into a team deciding how to fill its final roster spots, and that fact alone is rather unfortunate. If it came down to a pure estimation of basketball skill, Smith would have a spot in the NBA next season, and his status in that capacity would never be in jeopardy.

But coaches often plug for players they're familiar with, franchises overvalue the import of "championship experience," and general managers look to do right by certain agents.

There are considerations—political and otherwise—at work that put marginal NBAers behind the eight ball. Some of that may be inescapable given the NBA's system and varied interests, but it's nonetheless lamentable when it contributes to players like Smith being cast to the wayside.