Relative to reaching his dream of playing in the NBA, the last six months had been rough for Vander Blue.
After a fantastic NCAA Tournament appearance, Blue went undrafted in June’s NBA draft, had an up-and-down Summer League performance both with the Houston Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies and patiently waited for an NBA team to call and offer him an invite to training camp.
Wednesday night he received that news, and the situation couldn’t have been better for the former Marquette guard.
As first reported by Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski late last night, Blue came to terms on a one-year, partially guaranteed contract with the Philadelphia 76ers.
Blue was expected to receive an invite — at 21 years old, his talent and upside, combined with his Marquette background, was too much to pass up for at least one team — but he likely weighed his options and eventually found a perfect home.
As for receiving some guaranteed money, the 76ers are approximately $9.2 million under the NBA’s minimum team-payroll of $52.8 million. With so many young players still playing out rookie contracts — Thaddeus Young’s $8.6 million salary in 2013-14 is highest on the team — there was money to go around. While having just $41 million in salary shows a clear lack of talent, the abundance of leftover money worked out in one sense, as the Sixers were able to offer some money toward undrafted free agents, something other teams may not have been inclined (or able) to do.
That was seen last week, when Philadelphia signed free agent guard Darius Morris to a partially guaranteed contract, and did the same with undrafted guard Khalif Wyatt a day later. They also sent a second-round draft pick to the Grizzlies for point guard Tony Wroten in August.
As you may have guessed, the 76ers will enter the season as one of the league’s worst teams, if not the worst. After winning 34 games last year, they traded away point guard Jrue Holiday to enter a rebuilding phase, corralling No. 6 overall pick Nerlens Noel to go with Michael Carter-Williams, who they selected with the No. 11 pick.
It puts them in good position for next year’s stacked lottery, but 2014 may be a real struggle before they get there.
Blue’s chances of making the team are better in Philadelphia than anywhere else, but the Sixers still have 17 players (an unofficial count) entering training camp. Blue has work to do.
Here’s how the depth chart breaks down at both point guard and shooting guard:
Carter-Williams and Wroten will make the team at point guard, and Turner and Morris are locks to make the final roster. Though Morris’ deal is only partially guaranteed, he chose the Sixers over the Lakers for a shot at more playing time, also reported by Wojnarowski.
Richardson is a lock, too, but knee surgery may force him to miss the entire season. Anderson was picked up off waivers in July, though his spot on the team is not set in stone.
So roughly, it’s safe to assume Blue’s main competition of making the final roster is Wyatt and Anderson.
Wyatt played well with the Sixers during the Orlando Summer League, so much so that they asked him to stay the entire week instead of traveling to Las Vegas to play with the Mavericks. An accomplished player in college, Wyatt averaged 20.5 points and 4.0 assists last year for Temple, and exploded for 31 points in each of the Owls’ two NCAA Tournament games, the latter of which came against Indiana. The fact that the team knows Wyatt already, and that he has a Philadelphia connection having played at Temple, puts him in a good situation to make the team.
Then there’s Anderson. A stellar shooting guard at Oklahoma State — he averaged 22.3 points as a junior — the Spurs made him the 20th overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft. But he has struggled in four seasons. In 116 career games, Anderson has averaged just 3.7 points on 39 percent shooting and has appeared in 10 playoff games, for what that’s worth.
The past experience will serve him well, as will his size. The Sixers likely will be forced to use Turner, a natural small forward, at shooting guard due to Richardson’s absence, meaning Anderson may see time at small forward to help fill a void. Still, Philly.com’s Bob Cooney wrote in August that Anderson likely will be headed to the D-League.
Where Blue may have the biggest advantage is his versatility — shocker for a Buzz Williams grad, right? Both the Grizzlies and Rockets used Blue almost exclusively at shooting guard during the Summer League, though he did prove to be a serviceable point guard when needed. Wyatt has collegiate experience at the point, but Blue’s defensive skills to guard both positions — and guard them well — will certainly help.
Then there’s the one go-to any Marquette player has. It’s become a stereotype of sorts, but it’s true: the physicality, durability and work ethic Buzz Williams has pushed out the last four seasons makes Blue a legitimate option for the Sixers.
The NBA scout we spoke to way back in May put it best, and it may be the best thing going for Blue.
“The next few Marquette talents have a lot to be grateful for as Wes (Matthews), (Jimmy) Butler and Jae (Crowder) have all established a brand name in the type of person and player MU produces.”
Either way, things are looking up for Blue. He’s one step closer to accomplishing his dream.