ESTERO — Andre Barrett, Theron Smith and the rest of the Florida Flame would love to see their NBA dreams "Smush-ed" this weekend.
After all, it was a year ago at the NBA Development League's inaugural Martin Luther King Jr. Showcase that the off-guard with the funny name took his first step from Tamiami Trail to Sunset Boulevard, from Lee County to La-La Land.
"I had just brought him in, and two days later he was gone, right after the Showcase," former Florida and current Austin coach Dennis Johnson told the Austin (Texas) American-Statesman of Smush Parker, the former Flame turned starter for the Los Angeles Lakers. "The thing he really got out of it was a next-year invitation from the Lakers, and (then he) went to camp and had a great camp."
The D-League will hold its second annual Martin Luther King Jr. Showcase today and Monday at the Crown Coliseum in Fayetteville, N.C. All eight Development League franchises will play over the course of the two-day event, with no less than 50 NBA scouts in attendance.
Needless to say, the Flame don't have to be reminded of Parker, Chris Andersen — the league's first-ever "call-up" in 2001, who has since played five seasons in Denver and New Orleans/Oklahoma City — or any of the remaining 34 players promoted over the league's five-year history.
Most of them already know what's potentially at stake.
"It's pretty big," said Smith, who appeared in 33 games last season for the Charlotte Bobcats and has averaged 14.3 points and 6.6 rebounds in starting every game for the Flame this season. "You've got a chance for 30 teams to come out and see everybody, and it's a good opportunity to show your talents. Then, you hope."
The games are of greater short-term importance to D-League players that aren't currently the property of an NBA team — in Florida's case, everyone but Dwayne Jones (Timberwolves), Earl Barron and Dorell Wright (Heat) can sign with any team — but even most players under contract to a parent club are playing on one-year deals and could again be looking for work come summer.
Flame vs. Patriots, RimRockers
What: Second annual Martin Luther King Jr. Showcase When: Today — Florida Flame (11-7) vs. Fayetteville Patriots (4-11), 5 p.m.; Monday — Flame vs. Arkansas RimRockers (10-8), 2 p.m. Where: Crown Coliseum, Fayetteville, N.C. Opposing Head Coaches: Fayetteville — Mike Brown; Arkansas — Joe Harge Season series: Florida, 4-1 vs. Fayetteville; First meeting vs. Arkansas Players to Watch: Florida — G Andre Barrett (15.5 ppg, 7.0 apg), F Theron Smith (14.3 ppg, 6.6 rpg), G Dorell Wright (16.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg), C Earl Barron (13.8 ppg, 8.5 rpg); Fayetteville — G Gerald Green (1st game), F Erik Daniels (19.8 ppg, 9.3 rpg), G Melvin Sanders (20.5 ppg, 2.0 apg); Arkansas — C/F Pape Sow (19.5 ppg, 12.0 rpg) G Kareem Reid (14.7 ppg, 8.1 apg), F Matt Walsh (13.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg)
Regardless of contracts, several said they realized there are potential dangers in being, well, showcased. Barrett, for one, said that the D-League season stats will hold up just fine in the eyes of most scouts, and warned against approaching the event as a one-time opportunity to turn heads.
"If you think of this as do-or-die, you might push the issue or do something you haven't been doing since you've been here," said Barrett, who is second in the league with seven assists per game. "A lot of guys are going to be so anxious for this, but you've got to realize that if you start doing something unexpected or things that other players aren't used to watching, it's going to throw the team off."
The team remains the primary focus as Florida heads into the Showcase, with the Flame figuring to draw pretty well scout-wise, thanks to a two-day sweep of Roanoke that pushed Florida (11-7) a half-game in front of Arkansas and Albuquerque for the league's best record.
"Winning brings scouts because they want to know how you're winning," Flame coach Jeff Malone said. "They'll look at stats, but when you get to an (NBA) team you're not going to be a scorer, you're going to be a role guy. They come watch these guys for the effort, defense, whatever else they can bring to the table now, before they can work their way into a starting lineup."
The Flame open against the hosting Fayetteville Patriots, who at 4-11 have the league's worst record but will debut 18-year-old Boston Celtics rookie guard Gerald Green, who was projected by some to go as high as third in this year's draft after averaging 33 points, 12 rebounds and 7 assists as a senior at Gulf Shores Academy in Houston.
Florida will meet the second-place Arkansas RimRockers on Monday, a game that, barring the first-day outcomes between the Flame-Patriots and Arkansas and 8-7 Austin, could potentially be a matinee meeting for first-place.
"We've just gotta do what we do," Malone said. "This is a chance for them to be seen, but we're trying to win games first."
NOTES: Florida enters the two-day Martin Luther King, Jr. Shootout with the NBA D-League's best record, following back-to-back wins over Roanoke at Germain Arena on Thursday and Friday. ... The 105-98 win on Friday was a coming-out party for the 20-year-old Wright, who scored a Flame season-high 32 points on 15-of-22 shooting and added 9 rebounds. Earl Barron, who was assigned to the Flame from the Miami Heat with Wright on Jan. 3, had 23 points and 13 rebounds. ... Florida could be without starting F/C Hiram Fuller, who missed Friday's win with stiffness in the fingers on his shooting hand. ... Today's game is the first as a pro for Patriots G Gerald Green, the No. 18 overall pick in the 2005 draft, who was assigned from the Boston Celtics on Jan. 6. ... Arkansas acquired Matt Walsh, a former Florida Gator and the 2005 MVP of the SEC tournament, on Dec. 30 after he was waived by the Miami Heat.