Ime Udoka’s rookie season as head coach of the Boston Celtics hasn’t been a smooth one. A couple of weeks ago, one of his role players felt the need to publicly call out the team’s stars following a bad 128-114 loss to the Chicago Bulls. Now Udoka finds himself the focal point of a Twitter rant composed by big man Enes Kanter.
Kanter has been extremely outspoken in his stance against China and thinks his lack of playing time may be connected to his activism. So far this season, Kanter’s average minutes per game are at a career-low 7.8 per game. That is minuscule for a player who has averaged 11.5 ppg, 7.9 rpg, and 21.9 mpg for his career.
Said Udoka: “The thing I tell the players is, we have a lot of guys that aren’t playing but could be playing and want to play. I talk to those guys about staying prepared, being professional, and ready to play. I’ve been in the same situation as a player, but our playing-time reasoning is strictly based on basketball.”
The Turkish-born baller’s voice for activism doesn’t end with China. Kanter is banned from his native country for speaking out against its government’s human rights violations. “Unfortunately, if you look at my country, Turkey, right now, there is no freedom of speech, religion or expression, there is no democracy, and the Turkish government uses their power to abuse many things.” Kanter explained. “I saw the power of maybe even one tweet or maybe one interview, I was like… from now on I need to use my platform to bring more awareness of what’s going on.”
It is strange to see Kanter’s minutes reduced so drastically on a team that appears to need all the help it can get early this season. He played in all 72 games for the Portland Trail Blazers last year and averaged a double-double with 11.2 points and 11 rebounds per game. Kanter doesn’t seem like a player who should be seeing so little time on the court based on the season he just had in Portland.
Maybe Kanter isn’t fitting Udoka’s system, and this is the result. Udoka says Kanter’s limited minutes only have to do with what’s happening on the court. We may never know the real answer to this question, but you can’t blame Enes for wondering what the hell happened to his minutes. Kanter certainly isn’t a star, but he’s never been a scrub either, and has contributed significantly to the success of his teams throughout his time in the NBA.
This could all be a simple misunderstanding that gets clarified with a conversation between coach and player. Or there could be more to it. Everyone knows about the relationship between the NBA and China. Just over two years ago, former Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey tweeted his support of Hong Kong, which received plenty of backlash from China. In the same instance, those who stood with Morey were quick to criticize Lebron James for not speaking up to support human rights in Hong Kong. Kanter has also blasted James on social media for placing “money over morals.” And now we have Kanter, a player, who is publicly criticizing the Chinese government on social media — and the country has taken Celtics games off its airwaves as a result. The NBA cannot be happy about this behind closed doors. So, I don’t think we should be surprised if there is at least a hint of truth to Kanter’s claims about the reason behind his extra bench time.