As any number of prospects looking to break into the NBA can attest to, finding one's niche and sticking with a team in The Association can be a tough thing to do.
Failure can come quickly. In such a small period of time, it's tough for a young gun to truly strut his stuff and prove his worth to an NBA team. Having said that, however, Daniel Orton luckily doesn't have as much to prove. At 6'10" and 275 pounds, what he instantly provides a team with (a big body, if nothing else) is almost always in demand.
After leaving Kentucky following his Freshman year, the big man was drafted in the first round of the 2010 NBA Draft. Moving past an injury-riddled first season, Orton has since gone on to appear for three NBA teams in as many seasons ---the Magic, the Thunder, and most recently, the 76ers.
The youngster has failed to display a surmountable amount of staying power, but his big body, strength, physicality, and aggression has ensured that he, at the very least, bounces around from team to team in need of the very services he can provide, for as ever long as they may need them.
Thus, it makes sense that Orton dons a minor league uniform in the interim. After getting released by the 76ers in January (just prior to his season-guarantee kicking in), the 23 year old subsequently caught on with the Maine Red Claws of the NBA D-League.
"The decision (to play in the D-League) was all about trying to get back into the NBA," Orton recently told RidiculousUpside.com. "I'm trying to get a call-up. I had offers to go overseas and make some money, but I'm trying to get back into the NBA more so than anything."
He continued, "(The D-League) is the easiest way to get back. By not being overseas, NBA teams are able to get back to you quicker. You'll be able to get to wherever you need to go in the NBA a lot quicker too."
After appearing in 22 games with Philadelphia earlier this season and being an NBA vet in his own right, one would expect Orton to not only start, but dominate on the D-League level. That said, the big man has a habit of letting his emotions get the best of him. In addition to being amongst the league leaders in D-League technical fouls over the last two seasons (this season with Maine and last with the Tulsa 66ers), Orton was also suspended one game while with the 76ers following an altercation with the Blazers' Meyers Leonard.
Still, as he worked to channel his emotions in the right direction the rest of the way, the center logged a solid few months for the Red Claws. In 24 games this season (11 starts), Orton averaged 11.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks in just over 24 minutes of play per contest. Such numbers, especially in the limited minutes, make him of the league's top big men available.
As he waits for yet another call, however, Orton has enjoyed his time in Maine. He added, "The fans here are amazing. They give us a lot of love. They love they have for the game of basketball and the Red Claws organization makes it a lot of fun playing here. The support is just incredible. Being around it and seeing how much people love the game is a lot of fun."
What's more, Orton's familiarity with many of his Red Claws' teammates has made the transition a much easier one to handle. He said, "Most of the guys are actually around my age, so they were in my high school class. I played Summer League with Chris Wright. I knew guys like Abdul Gaddy, Tyshawn Taylor, and Zeke Marshall. There were a lot of guys, coming into this, that I did know on the team."
Continuing one's quest to stay on the grind in hopes of catching on with an NBA team can be quite the enduring challenge, but in the meantime, Orton sees no reason to do things that keep his spirits up. As an NBA vet, he himself sort of stands tall in town (quite literally, too, of course) as somewhat of a local celebrity. Asked to call in to the local sports radio show, the young gun instead showed up at the studio and was raring to go for up to an hour.
"A lot of people who know me know that I just like to talk," Orton said with a smile. "I'm usually just staying in my room, so to be able to actually go out and do something in Maine was a lot of fun. That's what I was looking for."
And as he keeps working, Orton can only hope that NBA teams realize he's what they are looking for, as well.