LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – In the span of 48 hours, a pair of former Gonzaga Bulldogs came through Orlando, one riding the wave of a career performance, the other riding mostly the bench.
Circumstances can change in a hurry in the NBA. A couple years ago, Jeremy Pargo toiled overseas in Israel while Austin Daye was making 16 starts and seeing significant playing time with the Detroit Pistons. A week ago, Pargo and Daye were essentially in the same position – stuck on the sideline, watching their teammates.
At the Amway Center on Wednesday night, Daye played the last 4 minutes in a blowout loss to the Orlando Magic. It was his second-longest stint of the season. Two nights later, Daye registered his 10th DNP (did not play) in the Pistons’ first 13 games.
Pargo, inserted into the starting lineup following point guard Kyrie Irving’s broken finger, scored a career-high 28 points, leading Cleveland to a home win over Philadelphia on the same night Detroit was crushed by Orlando. Prior to that, Pargo had appeared in just three games and played 23 minutes.
The ex-Zags have experienced the full spectrum of emotions as they try to carve out long-term NBA careers. They stay in touch via text messages and see each other when their teams collide.
“Austin knows,” said Pargo, when asked if he’s offered advice to Daye. “He’s been here longer than I have. He’s been through the ups and downs as well. He knows what he has to do and when he gets opportunities he wants to take full advantage.”
That’s precisely what Pargo did against the 76ers, burying 11 of 19 shots, including 4 of 8 3-pointers. He added five rebounds and four assists.
“I saw it all coming,” Cavaliers coach Byron Scott quipped.
“Pargo played the game of his life,” Philadelphia forward Thaddeus Young said. “It was like playing a guy in a video game, like NBA 2K.”
“It was a fun game and the biggest thing about it is we won,” said Pargo, courtside for GU’s win over Clemson on Thursday at the Old Spice Classic. “I’m sure tons of people didn’t know what I could do. I just wanted to play basketball, be myself and let the rest take care of itself.”
Pargo, who had 15 points in Cleveland’s loss to Orlando on Friday, figures to get plenty of opportunities with Irving sidelined for one month. Pargo played about 10 minutes per game last season with Memphis backing up point guard Mike Conley. Cleveland acquired Pargo, reportedly $400,000 and a second-round draft pick in 2014 in exchange for D.J. Kennedy.
“You just have to try to stay mentally ready,” Pargo said of dealing with infrequent playing time. “The mental aspect is a huge part of it. If you can control that, you should be able to come out and play your game and enjoy it.”
Cleveland is stocked with young talent, including Irving, Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters. Those three accompanied Pargo to watch Gonzaga’s game. Pargo wants to do his part to help Cleveland climb the Central Division standings.
“That’s the goal, you have to look at it that way,” he said. “Do what I can to help the team win.”
Daye wants to do the same, but his minutes have been sporadic on a team with a logjam at the small- and power-forward positions. He did drill a 3-pointer when summoned from the bench Wednesday.
“It’s difficult,” he said inside a quiet locker room. “I went from playing a lot in my second year, playing major minutes, to at times not even seeing the floor. As a competitor you want to be out there. It’s hard to deal with some things. It’s mentally draining, but you have to try to stay positive.”
Detroit was listless against Orlando, going nearly 10 minutes without scoring in the third quarter. Coach Lawrence Frank burned a timeout early in the drought. When that didn’t change the momentum he sent five subs to the scorer’s table, but Daye remained on the bench.
Daye left Gonzaga after his sophomore season and was drafted by Detroit in the first round, 15th overall, in 2009. He was in the rotation most of his first three years, but posted career-low shooting percentages last season (32 on field goals, 21 on 3-pointers). The 6-foot-11, 215-pound Daye played well on Detroit’s summer-league team, but his minutes have dwindled in the regular season.
“I talk to (father and former NBA player Darren Daye) and some other people,” Daye said, “but I just really need to be myself and realize I’m a good player and I can play this game at a high level.”
Daye has no regrets with his decision to leave Gonzaga.
“I came off a knee injury going into my sophomore year and I played well,” he said. “I don’t know what would have happened if I stayed, but when your name is hot in the draft you have to leave. There are lots of guys that stay too long and their game doesn’t season the right way and they end up not getting drafted or picked where they should have been picked. I felt I left at the right time, being in the lottery isn’t too bad.”
At this point it seems unlikely Detroit will exercise a team option to bring Daye back for a fifth season. There’s been trade speculation.
“I leave that for my agent to handle,” Daye said. “Whether I’m here or somewhere else I’m going to be productive. I feel my time will come.”