This was where Duncan Robinson expected to be. On the court at Wells Fargo Center. In the heart of the NBA playoff schedule. In full sweat. Shooting, passing, scoring.
And yet this also in no way could have been what the fourth-year Miami Heat guard could have possibly envisioned as his place in May 2022.
The work came on Saturday afternoon, stands empty, well after practice was over, long after Kyle Lowry and Jimmy Butler had exited the building, between Games 3 and 4 of the Heat’s Eastern Conference semifinals series against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Instead of being alongside Butler, Lowry, or even other rotation players, this was Robinson finding action in three-on-three with Javonte Smart, Mychal Mulder, Haywood Highsmith, Omer Yurtseven and Caleb Martin.
Having fallen out of the rotation, it was a matter of taking whatever work he could find.
Even if it meant going head to head against Yurtseven in this makeshift 3-on-3 matchup, defending in the post against a center.
“Just to stay in shape, it’s good for sure,” Robinson said ahead of the Heat’s Sunday night Game 4 meeting with the 76ers in the best-of-seven series. “Just to keep it fresh, keep it moving.”
As with almost all things Heat, the 3-on-3 hardly was innocuous competition, with coach Erik Spoelstra and assistants Chris Quinn and Caron Butler among those looking on.
But, no, this is what neither Robinson nor the Heat signed up for when Robinson signed a five-year, $90 million contract in August, coming off two of the most dynamic 3-point seasons in the franchise’s 34 years.
But with Max Strus inserted into the starting lineup in March and with Victor Oladipo earning rotation minutes in the middle of the first-round ouster of the Atlanta Hawks, this is where Robinson stands.
As an outsider when it comes to playing time.
“I mean it’s been a challenge,” Robinson said to a pair of reporters as he walked off the court, the rest of the media having departed, “but it comes with the territory. It’s part of being a professional.”
As the Heat went into Game 4, Robinson had appeared for just 55 seconds in the series, mop-up duty at the end of the Game 2 victory at FTX Arena.
As for the end of the Game 3 blowout loss? Not even that.
“Whatever Coach needs me to do,” Robinson said of such action. “He tells me to go in, I go in. He doesn’t tell me to go in, I don’t go in.”
Otherwise, Robinson finds himself in the same mode on game nights as Yurtseven, Highsmith, Smart and Mulder, greeting players at midcourt as they come to the bench during breaks, or offering encouragement as play continues in his absence.
“I’m on the court, my job is to play basketball to the best of my abilities, help us win,” he said. “If I’m not on the court, help us win. If that’s being a supportive teammate, that’s what I do.”
Saturday, he and Martin were the last two players off the court following practice, each having been in and out of the rotation as complementary players.
No, not when Robinson had envisioned in August, but nonetheless part of a journey that led to his unexpected NBA breakthrough in the first place, from NCAA Division III roots and then as an undrafted free agent.
So, yes, he has been here before.
“I mean, I didn’t play a lot in high school, so probably then,” he said of the last time in his basketball career that game nights came with no assurance of playing time. “I had stretches in Michigan [with the Wolverines] when I didn’t play, as well.”
Just as the best of times, as recently as the first game of the first round, when he drained eight 3-pointers and scored 27 points off the bench against the Hawks, it remains a matter of taking whatever comes his way.
“I mean that’s part of being a professional,” he said, “part of my job.”