By now, Sebastian Telfair was supposed to be having the kind of games Derrick Rose has been producing in the playoffs against Cleveland. Six years removed from one of the most storied high school careers in recent New York City history, Telfair figured to be an All-Star, a max player and a marketing marvel at this point.
Instead, as Rose has carved up the Cavaliers, Telfair's watching from the Cleveland bench in slacks and a handsome blazer.
Telfair, 24, is no longer the Brooklyn legend with a world full of potential. He's a 15th man. You wouldn't know it by talking with the former Lincoln High point guard. As confident as ever, he believes he'll still be a star one day.
"Absolutely, absolutely," he said last week, before a team workout in Chicago. "I still have the talent I always had, and the things I needed to work on, I'm much better at. I'm stronger, I'm still young and I think the time is now."
Well, not right now. Behind Mo Williams, Delonte West and Daniel Gibson, Telfair's not going to have an impact this season. But he believes his relocation to Cleveland as a throw-in player in the February trade that brought Antawn Jamison to the Cavs will turn out to be just the boost his struggling career needed. He's not likely to contribute much on the court, but Telfair could end up with a championship ring.
After unremarkable stints with losing teams like the Portland Trail Blazers, Boston Celtics, Minnesota Timberwolves and Los Angeles Clippers, Telfair said playing on a winning team has been an eye-opener.
"The way guys prepare for a game on a winning team is completely different from on a losing team," he said. "I don't want to say 'professional' because every team in the NBA is professional. But the focus on this team -- from their coaching staff down to their key players -- is big. The guys that are the stars and getting paid the big bucks are the guys that are in the gym early and making sure everyone else is working hard. That has a huge effect on a team."
Telfair believes he will blossom from being in Cleveland. But adds the caveat: "If I get the opportunity to play."
With the plethora of point guards in Cleveland and a $2.7 million player option for next season, Telfair, who has been traded four times in his six years, is likely to pick up the option and remain with the Cavs. More than likely he will remain a 15th man, too. Coming off an injury-plagued season that didn't help his value, his place on the team will become more solidified over the summer. In practice and in the limited minutes he received late in the season, he showed enough to intrigue the Cavaliers.
After working his way back from a groin injury, the 6-foot playmaker got significant minutes over the last four games of the regular season, when Cleveland rested some of its starters. In 19 minutes a game, he averaged 10 points and three assists, highlighted by a 21-point and four-assist performance against the Pacers.
"He's just as professional and focused as anyone I've been around in this league," Cavs coach Mike Brown said. "You can see he did some nice things in the few minutes he played for us down the stretch. He's a better package than what I expected."
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Telfair's play late in the season was his outside shooting. Still weak from beyond the arc (22 percent), he showed improved accuracy from midrange. He admitted shooting is an area he targeted for improvement. "I think at this point I have it where I need it to be to perform at a high level," he said. "I've put a lot of work in and I'm ready to go showcase it."
Telfair knows many will view his words as hot air, thinking he'll never live up to the promise he showed before Portland selected him 13th in the 2004 draft. He's started 181 of 392 career games, averaging 7.9 points and 3.9 assists on 39 percent shooting. But he says maturity and a new appreciation for hard work will get him where he wants to go.
"I've had spurts during my career where I've played Sebastian Telfair basketball, where I played the best I can play," he said. "Then I've had other spurts where I didn't. A lot of it had to do with the situations I was put in, the teams I was on, and my own focus. Sometimes when you think you're focused you need to be doing a lot more than you're actually doing, and six years in, I understand that now.
"I've always been humble, even when I was playing at a lower level and dominating. But it is humbling understanding the amount of work that goes into being a star in this league."
Chris Broussard is a contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.