Every story has an end, but in life and in professional sports every ending forms a new beginning. After all, the basketball chapters have closed for Jared Sullinger and Trey Burke in Boston and Utah, but new chapters have surfaced in their new NBA homes. In the realm of professional sports, fresh starts occur frequently. Amidst new beginnings, many athletes have revitalized their careers after facing setbacks in the early chapters in their careers. The former high school teammates know a thing or two about that as they have faced quite the quandary while being in the NBA. Despite the minor setbacks, they never allowed professional adversity to dictate the positive course for their basketball voyage.
The two Columbus natives both fell out of favor with the teams who acquired them on draft day. After three years of playing in Salt Lake City, Burke was traded to the nation’s capital for a 2nd-round pick in 2021. And after four years, the Celtics renounced rights to Sully, giving him the opportunity to be an unrestricted free agent and signing a one-year contract with the Raptors.
After watching them play basketball since they were youths and elevating their hometown as a basketball hotbed, it was clear that this past NBA season wasn’t as enjoyable as years past. While the jovial personality from the big fella was lacking at times, his once-sidekick spent time on the bench wondering how in the hell did he get there knowing he was more talented than his counterparts at his position.
Although Burke and Sullinger may not share blood, they share a basketball bond that intertwines them as basketball brothers. The two share a unique back story that is hardly seen in professional sports.
For most, if not all of their basketball careers, Sullinger and Burke have been able to write their basketball passage. They won AAU tournaments and a state championship as youngsters. They also lead their college basketball programs Ohio State and Michigan respectively to the Final Four all while being All-Americans.
For Sullinger, the stardom came early as he was one of the best high school players in the country as soon as he stepped foot into Northland High School. Stardom came later to his minuscule partner-in-crime as Burke became one of the most dominant point guards in college basketball in recent memory where he won the National College Player of the Year in 2013.
After celebrated college careers, the two have had rollercoaster rides as NBA players. Not to get their basketball careers confused with a ride at Cedar Point or Six Flags, but there has been highs, lows, and ill-timed turns. Throughout the fray, they remained professional and never complained publicly about their roles on their previous teams. That presentation of character instilled in them is no surprise as they come from two solid families.
When given the opportunity, their on-court production has been on display. Yet, somewhat ironically the lack of opportunity at their previous destinations is what became the issue. Once upon a time Sully and Burke were building blocks in Boston and Utah, but as time evolved, the relationship soured for both parties. With new opportunities on the horizon in Toronto and Washington, they may have found some clarity, at least in the short term.
After progressing as his role as the team’s best rebounder and inside threat, the C’s felt as if they didn’t need him after signing Al Horford to a lucrative deal. In all honesty, both moves made sense. Burke was in a crowded backcourt in Utah while Sullinger in the same crowded room in Boston except it was at the power forward position.
In Jared’s case, he played a career high 81 games this past season showing that he was durable despite squabbles about his injury history and conditioning. He averaged 10.3 points and 8.3 rebounds in only 23.6 minutes per game. Diving a little deeper into his per 36 minute stats, Sully averaged 15.7 points and 12.7 rebounds, which is somewhat comparable to Boston’s new $100 million dollar man, Horford, who boasts 17.1 points and 8.2 rebounds per 36 minutes. It’s no secret that the big guy that hails from Ohio State can play. His shrewdness around the rim his underrated, and his burliness he brings is something that many teams lack. For Sully, he just needs a coach that can believe in his skill set.
Head coach Dwane Casey and the Toronto Raptors are one of the few teams who play with two bigs. In an era of where small ball is clamored for, Casey has a liking for big guys. For a coach who has an old school approach, he will begin to love Jared’s ability to rebound, score inside, and his basketball IQ. While he may not be able to jump over a phone book (if they still make those), Sullinger has shown flashes of dominating against players taller and more athletic than him.
While Jared will be runnin’ through the “6” with his woes, Trey will have a great opportunity in playing the backup point guard role in Washington under Scott Brooks, who has a great record in developing young point guards.
After falling out of rotation in Utah, losing minutes to the erratic Shelvin Mack and Raul Neto, he looks to rejuvenate himself after being yo-yoed in and out of the lineup under Quin Snyder. Despite the inconsistent role for most of the season, Burke still averaged 10.6 points in limited duty while averaging a career low 21.1 minutes. Washington will be getting a point guard that can score and be a playmaker when needed.
With John Wall being the All-Star on the roster, Burke will still play a key role for the Wizards, and his minutes will likely match last season’s output. Averaging 21 minutes behind an All-Star point guard is expected, but not behind two guys that may not get picked up first at the local YMCA. In Burke’s favor, Brooks boasts a history of playing two point guards as he did with Reggie Jackson and Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City. Although, Brooks’ track record with point guards stands out, his development of players at the position will benefit Burke the most.
Backup point guards are essential to team success in the NBA. When looking at the top-tier teams, most of them have starting quality reserve point guards. The Wizards rolled the dice on Burke, and their hope is not to crap out.
This upcoming season will be huge for both of them as the NBA embarks on its be$t free agency ever. With the salary cap expected to inflate yet again for the summer of 2017, solid showings will allow them make money that is lottery-like as well as finding a niche where they can continue to evolve as players.
They aren’t reuniting on the same team for this upcoming NBA season, yet they can both breathe a sigh a relief with fresh starts in new places. Change is an inevitable part of life – certainly inevitable in the NBA – yet, for these basketball brothers, they will look to regenerate their careers thanks to both men getting a fresh start.
Columbus, Ohio born. Ron is a first-ballot healthy hairline hall of famer. He spent the summer of ‘08 eating calamari pasta because of OJ Da Juiceman. He also loves to write about sports while listening to Sada Baby. Follow him on Twitter @Ron_Hamp