A Real Cinderella Story
Unless you are an insomniac who has an unhealthy obsession to watch losing basketball teams on the West Coast, you probably missed one of the feel good stories of the year.
But a true sports Cinderella Story took place in Los Angeles a few weeks ago and a former collegiate basketball star from Westchester was at the center of the tale.
Scott Machado, who had been one of the best players in the history of New Rochelle's Iona College from 2008-12, was called up from the NBA "G League" to join the Los Angeles Lakers on March 21. The move was an effort to ignite the Lakers' sluggish offense, which has struggled throughout the 2018-19 campaign despite signing the sport's most dominant player, LeBron James, prior to the season.
After his collegiate playing career ended, Machado hoped to fulfill every basketball player's dream and play in the NBA, but he went unselected in the 2012 NBA Draft. Knowing he needed to work hard to convince a team to take a chance on him, Machado signed to play on the development team for the Houston Rockets. He eventually was called up to the NBA franchise on a 10-day contract and appeared in six games. When the contract expired, Machado was waived and became a free agent on January 7, 2013.
Resisting the temptation to play for a team in Europe, Machado was signed to the development team of the Golden State Warriors on April 7. Called up to the NBA team at the end of the month to add bench depth during the playoffs, he made five appearances before the Warriors were eliminated in the second round against the San Antonio Spurs. The Warriors waived him on July 24, 2013 and he has been trying to get back to the NBA ever since.
Sadly, the business of basketball requires cold, harsh assessments of talent to be made based on very small samples. The Rockets gave Machado 21:15 spread over six games (the longest being 7:06 and resulting a single two-point field goal, 1 assist and 1 steal) before deciding he was not what they wanted. The Warriors gave him just 7:48 over five games before deciding he didn't fit in their future plans.
A determined Machado knew they were wrong and continuing to play for a variety of teams in Europe and Brazil. His unselfish play -- Machado almost always leads his team in assists and ranks high in points per game -- has helped to unify many teams and for that reason the Lakers signed him to play for the G League South Bay Lakers in 2017.
“I came back stateside so that teams could see me at a closer eye," Machado said. "The goal is to get back to the NBA. I feel like I should be in the NBA."
Photo Credit: Warren Rosenberg
This season Machado -- who is featured in the March/April issue of MetroSports magazine -- was especially effective. Logging 33 points and 11 assists against Sioux Falls on November 28, the 6-foot-1, 28-year-old point guard showed consistent improvement after he returned from playing for the Brazilian national team and the calendar turned to 2019.
In the next-to-last week of the G league regular season, March 11-17, Machado put on a remarkable display. He started with a dominating 40-point, 16-assist performance in a win over the Wisconsin Herd and followed with 13 points and 13 assists in a win over the Grand Rapids Drive and 22 points and 13 assists in a win over the Austin Spurs.
Machado averaged 25 points, 14 assists, 5.6 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game during the three-game stretch and was named the G League Player of the Week. The day after he recorded his 15th double-double (double figure in both points and assists) of the year in a win over the Santa Cruz Warriors on March 18, Machado was asked by his coach to share some news with his teammates before practice.
"Fellas, I got rewarded with a 10-day (NBA contract with the Los Angeles Lakers)," Machado said with his trademark, ear-to-ear smile as his teammates cheered, jumped up and spontaneously rushed to hug their leader.
“It’s great, man. It’s a great feeling,” Machado told the media after his six-year quest came true. “I'm kind of trying to see if I can stick to a team, or just show what I’m capable of doing. I'll try to bring my best to the team and help out -- just to be myself, listen to the guys and just be confident out there. It’s good to be around the guys that have been in the league for a long time. It’s a blessing in anybody’s eyes."
For the LA Lakers, the 2018-19 season was another year to forget. Despite signing James, the face of the league, before the season, the team failed to land another star player and played poorly as James and others suffered a variety of injuries. Watching a winning record become an impossibility as the regular season began to wind down, the Lakers hoped to find some talent that could help them next season. Machado would have a chance to demonstrate his skills and see if he could impress team leadership.
LA Lakers Coach Luke Walton kept restrained hopes for Machado.
"He had a very good practice," Walton said after seeing Machado work out with the NBA squad for the first time. "He's a very good passer, he understands the game. Depending upon how things are going, he'll get a chance to play. We just expect that if he does get out there he'll help the team and do the things that he does well."
Machado saw his first game action on March 24 against the Sacramento Kings, playing 1:38 but not registering a single offensive statistic. Two days later against the Washington Wizards, he played the final 1:06 and scored a two-point field goal and added a free throw. It seemed unlikely that Machado would get a chance to really show what he could do.
But on March 27 in Salt Lake City the Lakers were getting dominated and Walton decided to give Machado a chance. The native of Queens, NY was inserted as the point guard in the second half and played the way he had been playing for South Bay.
Over 15:21, Machado demonstrated cool and confidant leadership, scoring seven points (3-for-4 from the field including his first ever three-point basket) and adding three assists and a steal as the Lakers were outscored by just a single point in the final stanza. In contrast, starting point guard Rajon Rondo played 25:54 and sank just a single three-point bucket (from 11 attempts on the floor) while adding five defensive rebounds and six assists.
Since it is reasonable for starters to play roughly 30 minutes, if we were to speculate about how Machado would play in a starting role, it would be fair to double Machado's stats for double the playing time. Any player -- or coach -- would be satisfied with 14 points, six assists and two steals.
“I thought Machado was great," Walton said as he looked for positives after the 115-100 loss to the Jazz. " I thought there were some nice moments to be taken away. With the amount of young guys we’re playing right now, we've got to continue to evaluate and get them better.”
Apparently Machado's performance inspired Rondo, who logged seven points, 17 assists and six steals in 35:19 in the next game, a 129-115 win over the Charlotte Hornets. With Rondo on fire, Machado could only get on the court in the final moments, again logging no offensive stats in the final 1:05.
The next day, with Machado's 10-day contract expiring, the Lakers announced that they had signed Jemerrio Jones, a 6-foot-5 small forward for South Bay, to take Machado's roster spot in a continuing effort to evaluate the talent on their development team. Machado missed the final six games of the NBA regular season and would have been returned to the South Bay Roster, but the G League regular season had ended on March 23 and the team had failed to make the playoffs.
On April 9, the Lakers finished their NBA season with a 104-100 loss to the Portland Trailblazers. the team logged a woeful 37-45 record -- the sixth consecutive losing season for one of the NBA's marquee franchises. With Earvin "Magic" Johnson resigning as the team's president of basketball operations hours before the final loss (and conducting a bizarre news conference to try to explain the unexpected decision), the future shape of the team and the list of players on the roster (beyond James) remains murky.
Scott Machado turns 29 on June 8, and he knows his time to make it back to the NBA is growing short. But he's going to try, and he'll use Andre Ingram, the man Machado replaced in Los Angeles, as inspiration. Two years ago, Ingram, then 33, finally made it to the NBA on a full-time basis, so it can be done.
"Of course, I'd love to go back to the NBA," Machado said, "but if that doesn't happen I'll just play at the highest level I can for as long as I can."