Travis Leslie and Trey Thompkins have long been linked as basketball players. Two of the top high school players in the state of Georgia from the class of 2008, Leslie and Thompkins committed to their home state school and were Georgia teammates for three seasons, leading the Bulldogs to an NCAA tournament bid and a first round victory as juniors.
When the fast friends entered the NBA draft together, they surely assumed that their days as teammates were behind them. But improbably they were both drafted by the Los Angeles Clippers in the second round of the 2011 draft. They both made the team and continued their run as teammates through their rookie NBA season, though neither got significant playing time.
When the Clippers spent the off-season signing veterans like Grant Hill, Matt Barnes, Ronny Turiaf and Ryan Hollins, the roster suddenly got a lot more crowded, and Leslie was a last minute casualty of the numbers crunch, being waived by the Clippers shortly before the start of the season. Thompkins, whose second season with the Clippers was guaranteed, survived the cut and made the team.
Leslie signed with the Santa Cruz Warriors of the D-League to continue to pursue his NBA dream. Thompkins, though he was still on an NBA roster, spent the season wearing a suit trying to recover from a very persistent bone bruise on his knee.
This week, the former teammates' fortunes reversed.
Last Friday, in a move that we somehow failed to note until now, Leslie signed a 10 day contract with the Utah Jazz -- making him the third Clippers guard from last season to sign with Utah this season. Six days later, the Clippers waived Thompkins to free up a roster spot for a player who could actually participate in practices (that player turned out to be DaJuan Summers).
So while most of the season it was Thompkins on an NBA roster with Leslie toiling in D-League anonymity, suddenly it's Leslie drawing an NBA salary (pro-rated for 10 days) and Thompkins looking for his next basketball job.
Leslie has been Santa Cruz's best player this season, and is among the favorites for D-League MVP according to Ridiculous Upside. He's always had the size and athleticism to be an NBA wing -- if he can carve a niche for himself in the Assoc it will likely be as a wing stopper. But Leslie also scored pretty efficiently in Santa Cruz, shooting .515 from the field and .365 from deep.
Leslie has yet to play in a game with the Jazz who will need to sign him to a second 10 day contract early next week if they want to take a longer look. You can rest assured that both Leslie and Thompkins (if healthy) will each be on an NBA roster in summer league this July in Las Vegas and in training camp with an NBA team next October. Will either of them ever stick in the NBA? We'll have to wait and see.