The moment was both amusing and concerning.
With his priority on establishing himself on the NBA level with the Miami Heat, undrafted rookie center Orlando Robinson is leaving the business portion of his equation to others.
So, no, Robinson did not know the number of days of NBA eligibility he has remaining on his two-way contract, nor the specifics of the process.
He then was told the number, which stood at 23 going into Wednesday night’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Crypto.Com Arena, as in only 23 more games he could be active for the Heat game nights.
His eyes then widened, as he leaned forward after the morning shootaround at UCLA and asked, “And then what?”
That’s where the dual emotions came into play, as if he summarily then would be kicked off the team bus once reaching his limit, having to find his way back.
His concerns easily allayed, he was told that in such a case he either would have to be converted to a standard contract to continue on with the Heat or would be required to spend the balance of the season in the G League, remaining under Heat personnel control.
That’s when the 22 year old out of Fresno State paused.
“Hmm,” he said, “I didn’t know that.”
What matters is that the Heat do, because Robinson has exceeded expectations to a degree that a case could be made for potential minutes ahead of Dewayne Dedmon even with the veteran center returning from recent health and injury issues.
And when it comes to making situations such as Robinson’s work, there already is a Heat blueprint.
Last season, Caleb Martin was in a similar situation, the days on his two-way contact dwindling at midseason. As with this season, it was a time the Heat were prioritizing avoiding the onerous NBA luxury tax. Eventually, the contract of KZ Okpala was traded, salary-cap space was cleared, and Martin was converted to a standard contract.
“They do a great job here of communicating and letting you know kind of what the idea is before it happens,” Martin said of his situation last season. “Ultimately, they can’t tell the future because things happen and pieces move around. Ultimately they do a good job of kind of communicating, letting you know ahead of time.”
Uneven during his Heat summer-league stint and caught up in a numbers game during training camp, Robinson began the season with the Heat’s G League affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce. Then, with Dedmon ailing, Omer Yurtseven recovering from November ankle surgery, and first-round pick Nikola Jovic dealing with a back issue, Robinson was signed to his two-way contract on Dec. 11.
While two-way players can be on NBA game-day active rosters up to 50 of the 82 regular-season games, such days are pro-rated when a two-way player signs with an NBA team during the course of the season. Robinson arrived with 34 eligible NBA roster nights.
“I would say it just makes you value the time that you have here, and you understand that it’s coming to an end,” Robinson said of being on the unique clock of a two-way contract. “But I don’t really think about that. I didn’t even know that. But again, I’m just here trying to contribute, to do what I need to do to help this team win.”
With the Heat’s center situation having been in such flux before Dedmon’s latest recovery, Robinson had been arriving on game nights aware of not only being on the active list but also in the rotation. In Monday night’s victory over the Los Angeles Clippers, he provided six points and six rebounds in 11:07, enough time to keep starting center Bam Adebayo fresh.
“I wouldn’t say there’s anything different,” Robinson said of having been thrust into a rotation role. “I’m still coming in with the same approach of just trying to do anything I can do to help the team win. It just means responsibility that I’m capable of handling.”
But for how long?
That, Martin said, is when you just have to roll with it, the two-way contract being a double-edged sword of no guarantee as the months of the calendar turn.
“It’s tough,” Martin said, “especially because it’s always easier to operate whenever you know what’s going on. He’s played himself into a great position, no matter what happens.
“It’s a tough situation because you would like to know where you’re going to be for the rest of the season, but that’s just not the case with that type of contract.”
With his two-way clock ticking, Robinson said the only option is to make the minutes count.
“I’ll continue to do what I’ve been doing, trying to contribute any way I can,” he said.
He then smiled, at least now aware of the uniqueness of this initial NBA moment.
“I’ll contribute anywhere I can,” he said.
All while waiting, wondering.
“All you can do,” Martin said, “is do what you can until your days run out and then hope for the best.”