In a parallel universe, Thomas Robinson is a perennial All-Star paired with DeMarcus Cousins on a playoff contender.
But in our sad reality, Robinson is on his third NBA team in less than two years and barely playing on a squad that doesn’t see him in its long-term plans.
Robinson never imagined his career panning out like this. After being drafted fifth overall by the Kings in 2012, the University of Kansas star was expected to develop alongside Cousins into a two-way force of nature.
In college, the 6-foot-9, 240-pound physical specimen outmuscled and out-hustled opponents to produce a third-year average of 17.7 points, 11.9 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 0.9 blocks per game. His dominance in the paint made him a possible top overall pick when he decided to leave Kansas as a junior.
The Kings believed they had a steal with Robinson. But they soon learned that the forward lacked a go-to move in the post, and he struggled to get his shot off when facing up and driving. Robinson’s athletic superiority in college was now only a slight advantage in the pros, so general manager Geoff Petrie hit the panic button.
On Feb. 20, 2013, Robinson, Francisco Garcia and Tyler Honeycutt were traded to the Houston Rockets in exchange for Patrick Patterson, Cole Aldrich and Toney Douglas. Robinson was 51 games into his brief Kings career, posting 4.8 points and 4.7 rebounds in 15.9 minutes per night.
“I came into the office. They explained to me what was going on, why they were trading me,” Robinson told Cowbell Kingdom Friday morning. “They said it was a business choice and that they just felt it was a move they had to make. So I went along with it.”
Robinson’s floor time decreased even more with the Rockets. Despite the frustration, the high-flyer was thankful to have a familiar face by his side.
“Francisco was a big help with me. He told me just to keep working and stay professional, and no matter what team I’m on, continue to do what I do as a player.”
Robinson finished his Rockets career with 19 game appearances. In the following offseason, Houston flipped the forward and two second-round picks to the Portland Trail Blazers in exchange for the rights to two European prospects.
In Portland, the big could start fresh, although minutes remained limited with the depth of the Trail Blazers’ frontcourt. Last season, Robinson played in 70 games and occasionally flashed his enormous potential, often in the form of put-back dunks or chase-down blocks in transition.
Yet the Trail Blazers, like the Kings and Rockets, haven’t been impressed with his development, and on Oct. 27 announced they won’t be activating the fourth-year option on his rookie contract. This means Robinson will enter unrestricted free agency in 2015.
Meanwhile, minutes are still hard to come by. Robinson entered Wednesday’s season opener versus the Oklahoma City Thunder when the Blazers were up 16 with a little more than two minutes to go. In his short appearance, he made a jump shot and missed a longer attempt. He also grabbed a rebound.
Robinson didn’t play versus the Kings last night. In six previous games against Sacramento, the 23-year-old has logged a total of 48 minutes.
“I just wish I could actually play against them (the Kings),” Robinson said. “I know there’s a lot of fans here (in Sacramento) that are really not happy with me or whatever, but I’m going to say it’s my fault, man. I wish I could have gave them what they expected.”
His home now is nearly 600 miles from Sacramento, but Robinson still keeps ties to the organization and the region.
“I’m still pretty close with Cuz (DeMarcus Cousins), I was talking to Isaiah (Thomas) before he left here. Ben McLemore was one of our guys at KU so I’m still in contact with him.”
“(The Kings) were the team I was drafted to, so of course I’ll always have a place in Sacramento, no matter if they traded me or not. No grudges. I love it here, man. Like I said, if it was my choice I’d still be on one team, but that’s not how things worked.”