Five days ago, Tim Frazier sat on the Celtics’ bench during pregame warm-ups, wearing a hoodie and jeans, a member of the Maine Red Claws who made the two-hour drive from Portland to check out the big club. Nothing more than a quick visit to TD Garden.
Frazier was the Celtics’ last cut in training camp and the team liked him so much it offered him a chance to play for its NBADL affiliate. He accepted and flourished.
On Sunday, the NBA was just a dream for Frazier, as it is for thousands of players toiling for minor league teams in the United States and overseas. The journey can be long and, in many cases, unrewarding.
The D-League celebrates each time one of its players gets a call-up. On Wednesday, Frazier got that call from the Philadelphia 76ers, and by Wednesday night he was at the Ritz Carlton waiting to meet his new coach and teammates.
Since Frazier was not property of the Celtics, he was eligible to be signed by any team, and the 76ers called on Frazier when they needed a point guard.
Of course, coach Brett Brown wouldn’t start Frazier in this first NBA game. That would be unfair. So Brown inserted Frazier with 6:32 left in the first quarter.
Frazier played 13:30 of the first half and all but 2:52 of the second half. In all, Frazier played nearly 35 minutes and scored 5 points with 11 assists, 5 rebounds, and 2 steals in the 76ers’ 107-96 loss to the Celtics.
Brown has taken the 76ers’ myriad roster changes in stride, but even he had to acknowledge the taxing responsibility he placed upon Frazier less than 48 hours after he signed his 10-day contract. With Michael Carter-Williams injured, Brown had few options at point guard. He chose to use Frazier and pray he would survive.
“How many minutes did I give him?” Brown asked. “Think about that, really think about that. It’s a great story. Like that you lose your starting point guard and your backup point guard [Larry Drew II]. You shake a kid’s hand and you give him the ball and it was clear at the start JaKarr [Sampson] was no point guard. He’s trying. So you had to milk Tim.
“And you really don’t have anything to go to. You can’t run plays. You’ve got no winks or blinks within our structure and it ends up, ‘Let’s just guard and run.’ For Tim to come from Maine, drive up 95, change his uniform, and go get 34 minutes in an NBA game, that’s a hell of a story. To that kid’s credit, he delivered. He did well.”
Frazier, 24, went undrafted after a sparkling career at Penn State. He was first-team All-Big Ten as a junior but tore his left Achilles’ four games into his senior season and redshirted. His fifth year at Penn State was solid, but he was relegated to going to the free agent route. He played for the 76ers’ summer league entry before signing with the Celtics in training camp.
Frazier was off the NBA radar, but he never relented in his passion to reach the highest level.
“It didn’t hit me until you step out on the court,” he said. “Basically I had 30 minutes to pack my bags. I called my family on the way and let them know and then you prepare yourself. I never once thought [Sunday] that [I would be in the NBA by Friday]. I tried not to focus on the call-up when I was in Maine. I know a lot of guys who do that and get lost. When I had a chance if I could catch a game down here, I would come down. I’ve been down here many times.”
The harsh reality for Frazier is he may not last beyond his 10-day contract. The 76ers want to keep an open roster spot for more flexibility during the trade deadline. That’s why they didn’t re-sign Drew.
Frazier is auditioning for other NBA teams just as much as he is for the 76ers. He was obviously nervous. The 78.3 percent free throw shooter at Maine missed four of five attempts Friday. The 45 percent shooter missed seven of nine field goal tries.
But Friday was a victory for Frazier and all of those undrafted free agents who ride buses, play in half-empty auditoriums and civic centers, and live on a modest salary and $40 per diem for a chance at their NBA dream.
When Frazier sat on the Celtics’ bench in his hoodie Sunday, chatting with former training camp teammates, he couldn’t have imagined five days later he would be on the big stage. Brown was right to acknowledge the improbability of Frazier’s story. It should serve as motivation for those considered unqualified or unfit for the NBA.
Outside opinions should never be stronger than your own. That was the story line from this game.Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.