It’s fair to say the game has fallen out from under Kenneth Faried. He’s on the Nets, after all. Broad schematic change, the kind that sweeps through the NBA every half-decade or so, always produces a few casualties, guys who wash out of the league and a handful who stick around but aren’t nearly as well-regarded as they were previously. The Anthony Mason-style enforcer is gone. The midrange volume shooter is nearly extinct. Only a few post-up artists are still kicking around.
Faried would be very much at home in the NBA circa 1994, or—just barely—2011, the year he was drafted. Unfortunately, few 2018 franchises can find use for a player like him. He’s great in transition, but modern teams sprint to the three-point line as often as they do the rim. He used to be a devastating third man in the pick-and-roll game, lurking along the baseline for easy buckets. Coaches like that guy to stand in the corner now. Faried has always possessed steep limitations—what he doesn’t excel at, he doesn’t do at all—but his handful of skills once made him a reasonably effective and viscerally exciting player. He was, in his young prime, when the league suited him better, if not a star, really fun to watch.
Even during that time, when his dunks were an NBA Twitter staple and he was putting up double-doubles every other night, flummoxing opponents on the offensive boards, having a swell summer for Team USA, there was skepticism around the league as to Faried’s value. In 2014, the Nuggets gave him a four-year, $50 million extension, but claimed from beneath the veil of anonymity that they weren’t nuts about him. (Curiously citing that he thinks he’s a better player than he actually is, which puts him in the company of like 90 percent of professional athletes.) For the past few years, he’s been on the trade block, and on Mike Malone’s bench for most of last season. His Nuggets tenure ended in an inglorious salary dump. Denver didn’t want to pay a big luxury tax bill this year and were willing to give up draft capital to avoid doing so. The Nets may or may not have some affection for Faried. They definitely like the lottery-protected first they got for taking his contract.
Faried isn’t blameless in his demise. He’s the same player he was when he entered the league. Still no jumper, in an era when even lumbering slabs of meat are spotting up from three. Still an atrocious defender. He can’t pass either. You don’t hear the word tweener much anymore, not because six-foot-eight dudes aren’t playing power forward—there are more of them than ever, in fact—but because modern fours don’t live in the paint and are generally versatile defenders. Paul Millsap, who relegated Faried to a bit part in Denver, is one of them. Trey Lyles, who pushed Faried all the way out of the rotation, is taller but more comfortable away from the rim. In a way, Faried has been both unlucky and charmed. He enjoyed success early in his career that he wouldn’t have now, and now he’s at the league’s edge: among the last of the unreformed tweeners.
Entering the final year of his $50 million deal, Faried will never see that kind of money again. (Of course nobody needs to see $50 million twice in one lifetime. He’ll be fine.) The possibilities in front of him are narrow. He’s not going to be happy with the 2019 free agency market. China is an option, if he’s truly insulted by the stateside offers he gets and wants to be paid well and put up numbers that make him feel like Far East Charles Barkley. This isn’t to project too far into the future so much as illustrate Faried’s predicament, what a player with fading NBA relevance is staring down.
In the meantime, he has a season to play, with a Nets team that has over the past couple years been astutely renovated with the limited resources available. They’re kind of charmingly junky rather than outright depressing. If you squint, you can see Faried starting at the four or playing a significant bench role for Brooklyn, putting up the best numbers he has in years—mostly empty ones, sure, no-other-options, third-quarter-of-a-blowout stats, but reclaiming his Manimal persona and the glimmer that’s left his eye, flying at the rim like he’s going to take a bit out of it, producing a little bit of joy again. That’s been the real shame of Kenneth Faried’s decline: for all his deficiencies, he’s a charismatic presence, and we haven’t gotten to see much of that muscled frame zipping paintward, those dreads blooming and bouncing as he fights for a rebound.
The return of that signature verve, if it won’t fully resurrect Faried’s career, could go a way toward saving it, and even if it doesn’t accomplish that much, doing stuff on an NBA court again isn’t nothing. Faried surely appreciates that, having been shelved for a while. He’s making nearly $14 million next year, and he’s going to get minutes. Happiness is a relative thing, but it’s also where you find it. Whether this is Kenneth Faried at a crossroads, his third act, his last stand, whatever—at least he’s being given a chance to make it count.
More 2018 Futures: Kevin Love, Manu Ginobili, Marcus Smart, John Wall, Devin Booker, Paul George, Blake Griffin, Trae Young, Kenneth Faried, Joakim Noah, Mike Conley, Ben McLemore, Kawhi Leonard, Aaron Gordon, Danilo Gallinari, Wayne Ellington, Frank Kaminsky, Donovan Mitchell, Chris Paul, Jrue Holiday, Paul Millsap, Kris Dunn, Jimmy Butler, Joel Embiid, Victor Oladipo, Kevin Durant, C.J. McCollum, LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic