HALIFAX - Battles don’t worry John Lucas III anymore. He’s won and lost too many to get overly concerned about another one.
The son of long-time NBA star John Lucas II, Lucas III has gone from high school standout to NCAA hero to undrafted rookie, to D-League standout.
But that’s just the beginning of his journey. By his count he has made or almost made five NBA teams but has just 111 games with two teams over seven years to show for it. Along the way he has played in Italy with Andrea Bargnani’s old team at Treviso while Bargnani was still there, in Spain with Jose Calderon’s former team Tau Ceramica and did a full year in Shanghai, China.
As Lucas tells it, he had to be humbled first.
“It’s a journey I would never want to change because it made me appreciate the game even more,” he said of a seven-year long quest to earn employment in the NBA that literally took him all over the world.
“I worked my butt off to get back here,” he said. “ I think when I first got in (to the league), I wasn’t humbled. I’m very religious and because I wasn’t humble, I think God was like ‘Ok, let me knock you back down to earth.’ Now people laugh at that, but I truly believe, and my good friend Joakim Noah helped show me this, I truly believe that the game of life will humble you. When you are not humble and all of a sudden you are almighty over everybody, I feel like the man above will knock you back down.”
Consider Lucas suitably knocked down. What seemed like the start of a long and stable NBA career in 2006 when he signed a three-year deal in Houston then fell off the rails when the Rockets, with six point guards on guaranteed contracts, had to make a decision. Lucas III was deemed one of those expendable.
Unsure he was cut out to play in such a ruthless and cold-hearted business, Lucas III took a break from basketball.
“I was making the least money so they let me go and then they let (Rafer Alston) go too,” Lucas said. “That’s when I got real frustrated with the league. It wasn’t the game I was frustrated with. It was the business. To me they weren’t keeping the players who were working hard, who busted their asses.
“At that point I just told my Dad ‘I just want to train,’ “ Lucas recalled. “I got a full year in and then when Jan. 1 came around I phoned my agent and asked him what he could get for me. He sent me to Italy.”
But since the start of 2010, Lucas has found his way back into more-or-less regular NBA employ and barring a sudden change of fortune will follow up a breakout return with Chicago a year ago with at least another full season with Toronto.
Dwane Casey certainly sounds like a man with plans for Lucas.
“He’s a consistent guy each and every day and that’s why I love him,” Casey said. “Whether he starts, comes off the bench, whatever minutes he gets, Luke is going to be a big part of our team.”
Casey was actually the first man to cut Lucas. He was in charge in Minnesota in 2005 and Lucas came in as an unsigned free agent. He had a good camp but became a victim of the numbers game.
To this day Casey calls it the hardest cut he has ever had to make and it’s one he vows he won’t repeat.
“I’ve got to find a way to get him on the floor and get him time because he’s one of our best three-point shooters, a good communicator defensively, he knows what to do, and again he is the fibre of the spirit of our team. That’s important. You have to have a guy like that and I have to reward him with time, some way, some how just because he brings it every day.”
His infectious spirit, the constant smile are all a product of overcoming all the tough times life has thrown at him says Lucas.
“Everyone is always commenting on how much I’m always laughing and joking around,” Lucas said. “It’s because I’m enjoying life. I’m enjoying what I’m doing. I have been through everything. I have been everywhere.”
Casey admits even he has questioned how sustainable Lucas’ constant good mood and solid effort could be.
“You still walk in and you’re saying to yourself, ‘Now when is this guy going to have a bad day?’ and he doesn’t. He keeps everyone going.
“He’s talking to everybody. He has run with the third team pretty much all week and yet he has played as well as anybody on the first or second team.”
No matter where he has gone Lucas has been one of or the most popular players on every team he has played. That doesn’t appear to be changing in Toronto.
And for that reason and a handful of others, Lucas has already convinced the man he needed to convince the most.
“This time I’m not letting him go,” Casey said.
CASEY IS ONE HAPPY CAMPER
As training camp winds down, head coach Dwane Casey’s spirits are on the rise.
“Today was a much better day offensively,” Casey said. “I thought we got our rhythm down a little better with what we wanted to do. We executed much better. (Friday) was a much, much better practice than (Thursday). (Thursday) kind of tainted my feelings a little bit ... but we’re way ahead of the game in that stand point in terms of setting our tone and setting our culture.
“Today helped uplift me a little bit more.”
One area Casey is not concerned about after seeing his team go at each other in training camp is overall toughness.
“There’s no question,” Casey said. “Andrea is finally out hitting people, Aaron Gray - we got a lot of people that are not shying away from contact right now. We do have toughness. My biggest concern is playing at a faster pace and making sure we take care of the ball and guys are not trying to do too much. Just do what you are capable of doing.”
All that’s left of the Halifax portion of Raptors training camp is a team scrimmage on Saturday.
But the Raptors will be right back in their Air Canada Centre practice gym on Sunday continuing the process of getting ready for opening night on Oct. 31 against Indiana.