Roy finds familiar faces in Minnesota
OCT 08, 2012 5:00a ET
So he shoots and he smiles and he explains for the millionth time exactly what the Regenicon treatment he had on his knees involved. He repeats ad nauseum that he feels good, because what else can he possibly say?
Really, it sounds exhausting.
Since he informally announced his comeback last June on Twitter, Roy has been one of the biggest questions in the NBA. He's been under constant scrutiny, from the initial veracity of his pledge to return to the team he'd pick to his health and how long it might last. Add that to the inherent pressure of the situation he faces – to reestablish or redefine himself successfully after being one of the league's best guards mere seasons ago – and Roy is facing a tough task.
That doesn't mean there aren't breaks, though, and for Roy, there are two very obvious breaks that are making the early days of this transition easier: Bill Bayno and Will Conroy.
Bayno scouted Roy for the Portland Trail Blazers while the shooting guard was still in college at the University of Washington. The two have a relationship that dates back to 2005, and Bayno later coached Roy in Portland before joining the Timberwolves staff. It was he who worked out with the shooting guard last summer in Los Angeles and reported to David Kahn that he was in good enough shape to pursue, and now, seven years after they first met, Bayno will help Roy ease in yet again and attempt to successfully complete a transition he never imagined he'd face.
And then there's Conroy. Bayno is an asset, of course, but Conroy was the spark. We've heard the story several times since Roy first signed with the Timberwolves in July: Conroy, a friend of Roy's, was with the Timberwolves in training camp last season, and he thought the team and Rick Adelman might be a good fit for his friend. He mentioned that when Roy started shopping for a new NBA home, and poof, here he is, signed to a two-year contract with Conroy back for his second consecutive training camp in Minnesota.
But it goes much deeper than that. First, there's the relationship between Conroy and Roy. They're not just friends. They're best friends. They attended Garfield High School in Seattle together before Conroy, who was a year ahead of Roy, headed to play for the University of Washington. Roy followed a year later, and the two guards started alongside one another in many of the Huskies' games. Conroy went undrafted in 2005, Roy sixth overall in the following year's draft. It would have been easy for their paths to diverge, but they didn't.
While Roy spent the first five years of his career in Portland as one of the NBA's biggest stars, Conroy bounced around, signing 10-day contracts with the Grizzlies, Clippers and Rockets and playing in the D-League and overseas. The two never lost touch and remained close, and when Roy announced his comeback, it was on Conroy's Twitter account.
There's also the idea that Conroy latched onto the Timberwolves last winter and convinced Roy to give the team a shot based on a days-long experience. That couldn't be further from the truth. Conroy first got to know Adelman back in 2010 on those 10-day Rockets contracts, and even back then, when Roy hadn't yet retired and had a long-term, big money deal in Portland, Conroy was telling how much he would enjoy playing for the coach.
"I know the kind of personality Brandon has, and I know the kind of personality Coach Adelman has, and I just thought it was a perfect fit," Conroy said. "I told him when I first played for Coach, I said, ‘Hey man, if you can play for Coach Adelman, you'll love it.'"
Conroy also knows Kahn from his time in the D-League, and once the tweets were sent and the idea of Roy's comeback was public, Conroy texted the Timberwolves' president of basketball operations. He told him that there would be a chance for the Timberwolves to sign Roy, and that he should go after him. Kahn's response? He was already trying.
Now, months after the pursuit began, both Roy and Conroy are in Minnesota, a short-term package deal. Conroy knows Roy better than anyone else with the team, and he's been able to offer a kind of early comfort to his friend. After playing his whole career in Portland, Roy will need to adjust to Minnesota, and having Conroy around, at least for these first few weeks, will ease the transition.
"It's really fun, just knowing when I look out there on the floor, we have that bond," Conroy said. "Like if something happens on the court, I'll look at him, and he already knows what I'm thinking. That makes things a lot better. I know it makes it a lot better for him, coming to a new situation where he's never been this far from home playing basketball."
Conroy said he thinks Roy is surprising everyone with what he's been able to do so far, but he never doubted what his friend could achieve. Someone else might get shaken by the pressure or irked by the doubters, but not Roy. He's his own harshest critic, Roy says, and he knows what he was once capable of. He wants nothing more to get back to that point, and having a barrage of fans and critics picking apart his health and his desires can't help.
At least, though, it might not be hurting.
"I usually kind of can block out what people are saying," Roy said. "I'm not really a big social media guy, but I do set the bar high for myself and I always try to go out there and not prove anything to anybody else, just prove it to myself that I can do it."
Conroy can vouch that it's true. Roy won't even set up a Twitter account, Conroy said, and instead, he'll tell his friend to tweet for him, everything from his comeback announcement to messages about Huskies sports.
"He's a caveman," Conroy said. "All he cares about is his family. He goes home, and he tries to block all the other stuff out. It's kind of hard now in this day and age with everybody connected so close to each other. He tries to stay away from that, even when it's good stuff, even when he was not hurt and was one of the top two guards in the game and people were speaking good about him. He would never know what they were saying."
That outlook will work in Roy's favor in the coming months, even as he settles into his new role. What those months will bring remains uncertain. Roy's knees could falter, or they could hold up. Conroy could finally earn an NBA roster spot with the Timberwolves, or he could set back upon his worldwide basketball tour. But for now, the consistency is there for Roy. He has Bayno and Conroy, a new team and a new chance. Changes will come, and challenges, too, and this won't be easy. But if anyone has the right attitude to tackle it, Roy does.
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