For many young prospects, the D-League is one of first-time exposure and opportunity. For others, it serves as a league for pure and utter redemption.
Gladness participated in four contests with the Dakota Wizards of the D-League last season (averaging 7.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game, all the while shooting 70% from the field), before joining the Heat following the NBA lockout's conclusion.
Though he was in fact named to the Heat's opening night roster, Gladness played sparingly and was waived by the team in early February. Still, the future NBA champs nevertheless liked the potential they saw in the big man. Gladness returned to South Beach just a few days after being waived, this time signing two consecutive 10 day contracts.
Gladness was eventually let go by the team once more, but by the time his stint was over, the center had appeared in eight games for the Heat. He later in the season went on to sign with the Warriors, appearing in 18 games (starting 7) and averaging 3.0 points and 2.6 rebounds for Golden State.
The Warriors opted not to retain Gladness for next season, but the Heat were all the while keeping a close eye on the situation. Though last season saw Miami take a chance on Eddy Curry, and also reserve a seat on the bench for veteran Juwan Howard, neither player is expected to return.
Thus, a window of opportunity has yet again opened for Gladness. The Heat continued to prove they were still fans of his game, setting him up with an audition of sorts as he played for their Summer League Team in Las Vegas. Assistant Coach David Fizdale, who coached Gladness and the rest of Miami's summer team, had this to say about the big man's potential:
"We've always been very excited about Glad," Fizdale said. "That kind of length, that kind of speed and athleticism, he's gotten better. Every time we've seen him he's gotten a little bit better offensively and we want to see where it goes with him. He's a guy that with a little more weight on his body, he could be a serviceable big."
"You look at what Joel Anthony has done, and he came here as raw as you can be," Fizdale said. "This kid has actually come with more tools than Joel to start. So if you look at it from this perspective, this kid has a good chance to be a pretty good pro."
The Alabama A&M alum continued to work hard this offseason to ensure his chance to break back out onto the NBA scene does not evade him. Gladness kept in close contact with many Heat players this summer, participating in a bevy of group workouts.
And now the D-League veteran (Gladness has played in a total of 81 minor league games since 2009) is seeing his hard work pay off. The Sun Sentinel reports that the Heat signed the all too familiar figure to a non-guaranteed contract for next season, meaning Gladness will participate in training camp with Miami for the second straight year.
Gladness' perseverness is a perfect example of what the D-League grind is all about. Perhaps NBA teams are also realizing signing a younger player with the potential to contribute on the hardwood can be more beneficial than signing veterans who are somewhat past their time with little more to contribute than a steady voice in the locker room.
The big man's newest opportunity awaits him as he takes his talents to South Beach.