The curious case of Michael Sweetney

Friday, October 16, 2009

The skills that made him a lottery pick are still there. The soft hands, the great touch, and the impressive post footwork. But in just one glance you can see why Michael Sweetney has never fulfilled his promise; at 6'8", Sweetney is listed at 270 pounds but looks to be well north of 300.

It's sad, really. Sweetney is obviously still a talented player. Even playing at such an unhealthy weight, Sweetney has impressed many Celtics fans. On message boards and forums, live chats and even blog posts, Celtics fans have clamored for Sweetney to make the team. Never mind that every other player has a guaranteed contract (according to Chris Sheridan of, Lester Hudson's is guaranteed too), or that Sweetney can barely get up and down the court without instantly needing an oxygen machine; he's flashed enough offensive talent in limited minutes that everyone can see Sweetney's potential.

Unfortunately, Sweetney's number sixteen on a roster of fifteen. The only way the Celtics could keep him is if they decide to cut a player with a guaranteed contract (which would mean paying for the full contract of a cut player), or if they execute a trade in which they give away more players than they receive. Beyond the obvious barriers to signing Sweetney, there's the question of where he would fit into such a deep Celtics' frontcourt. At best, he'd be the fifth big man on the depth chart. One could argue Sweetney is better than Shelden Williams, but not even the mostly (entirely?) insane Skip Bayless could make an argument that Sweetney is better than Big Baby, Rasheed, KG, or Perk. So even if he somehow found his way onto the regular season roster, Sweetney would probably never find his way onto the court.

But for Sweetney to even make it this far without getting cut, he's impressed a lot of people within the Celtics' organization. He was invited to summer league without a guarantee of being invited to training camp. He was then invited to training camp without a guarantee of being on the preseason roster. Now, he's made it through five preseason games and counting. For a guy who took the last two years off, tackling a "family issue" and battling weight problems, its good to see he's still got skills. In fact, as big as Sweetney looks now, he says he has lost 40 pounds trying to get back into playing shape. If he can keep losing weight, and finally get into good shape, Sweetney will undoubtedly make a name for himself in the NBA; he is too talented not to. But it's a big if, for a guy who has never been able to keep weight off, and I don't think the Celtics will keep him around long enough to find out.

Still, Sweetney's game is intriguing. Even 40 or 50 pounds over his ideal playing weight, the man can score the basketball. I'd imagine he'd be able to score even if he was in a wheelchair and blind; that's how skilled this guy is offensively. But if he never gets his weight under control, he'll never be able to stay on the court because his defensive mobility will not be good enough and his stamina won't be what it needs to be.

Regardless of the shape Sweetney's in, he has such rare offensive skills. There are some guys that were born with certain talents: John Stockton was born to pass, Ray Allen was born to shoot, and Will Hunting was born to do math. Thirty years from now, Stockton will still have his great court vision, Allen will still have his perfect stroke, and Will Hunting will still have his unrivaled brain. And thirty years from now, I imagine Mike Sweetney will still be able to score the basketball. Just like Stockton was born to pass and Allen was born to shoot, Sweetney was born with innate scoring ability. You can't teach his soft hands, and you can't teach his touch. I'm not saying he's nearly as good as Stockton or Allen; nobody would ever make that claim. But just like those guys, Sweetney has talent visible to everybody who watches him play.

When I see Sweetney play, I wonder how good he could be if he was in good shape. I wonder how devastating he could be offensively with 40 more pounds cut off his frame and newfound explosiveness complimenting his already-refined post game. I could imagine him becoming an All-Star, a more skilled version of Paul Millsap. Then again, I can imagine him being cut by the Celtics before the regular season and I can imagine him being out of the NBA, maybe for good.

With Sweetney, it all comes down to his weight. If he dedicates himself to getting in shape, there will be a place in the NBA for Sweetney. But if he doesn't lose that weight, Sweetney will always be a basketball vagabond. He'll always fall short of reaching his potential, and he'll always leave people wondering, "What if?"

I still don't think Sweetney will make the Boston Celtics. It just doesn't seem plausible. But if he ever does cut some weight, the Celtics will probably regret getting rid of him.


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