Lakers point guard Ramon Sessions drives past Rockets guard Courtney Lee… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)
It's tough to imagine an NBA player "never getting a chance" in almost five years as a pro, the cliche enough to make most people scoff.
But Ramon Sessions has pushed back a series of basketball boulders to reveal a meadow of opportunity.
"It's crazy. My whole career, there's never been a point where I kind of had control," he said. "Now I've got control."
He's been the Lakers' point guard for one month, and it's never been easier to remember his decision to leave the University of Nevada and enter the 2007 draft as a junior because he figured there was a lack of point guards in a draft heavy on big men.
His name almost wasn't called.
Milwaukee took him 56th out of 60 picks, just below Herbert Hill and just above Sammy Mejia. His Nevada coach, Mark Fox, could barely stomach the draft-day drop.
"He knew it was a risk to go because he wasn't projected in the first round," said Fox, now the coach at Georgia. "And then to go as late as he did, I just felt sick for him because there's not a better person. He's as genuine a young guy as I've ever been around."
Turned out that scouts liked Sessions' passing ability but weren't sure about his scoring.
"I just knew I had to work then," Sessions said.
He was sent down to the Development League early in his first season, recalled a couple of months later and sustained a fractured hand in his first practice back with the Bucks.
When he finally returned, he played well in the Bucks' last seven games, collecting a team-record 24 assists against Chicago, but the momentum quickly stalled before his second pro season.
There was a new Bucks coach, Scott Skiles, and a host of other small guards: Luke Ridnour, Charlie Bell and Tyronn Lue. Sessions didn't even suit up for the first two games that season.
"I was like, man, here goes something else holding me back," Sessions said. "Am I really going to make it? That's what I started thinking to myself."
But then the Bucks' backcourt had to be reshuffled after Michael Redd got hurt. Sessions ended up being solid, averaging 12.4 points and 5.7 assists, and at times brilliant, scoring 44 against Detroit and assembling a triple-double against the Lakers.
He became a free agent in July 2009 but it felt like draft night all over again. Nobody wanted him.
It was the summer before LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh became free agents. Teams were already carving out salary-cap space.
"It was a long, long process," Sessions said. "A lot of teams were saving for LeBron and them."
The Clippers and New York expressed modest interest but he finally signed a four-year, $16.4-million contract with Minnesota, 66 days after free agency began.
He picked up the phone and called his mother, Ann, who worked at a coffee shop in a hotel for 20 years in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
"She was always getting up at five in the morning, supporting me and my sister," Sessions said. "I said, 'Mom, you don't have to work anymore.' It was the best phone call I ever made. I bought her a house in South Carolina and she's just hanging out watching every game."
But Sessions never got past rookie Johnny Flynn, a high draft pick for the Timberwolves, and was traded to Cleveland in 2010, basically as a salary dump. The Timberwolves were happy to take back the substantially cheaper contract of Delonte West, whom they quickly waived.
In Cleveland, Sessions found himself playing behind Mo Williams, but got more minutes after Williams was hurt and even scored 32 against the Lakers. He was nudged aside, however, not long after the Cavaliers acquired Baron Davis from the Clippers for Williams.
"They end up just throwing him in the lineup," Sessions said. "My minutes went from 30-35 to, like, 20."
Last year, the Cavaliers drafted point guard Kyrie Irving with the top overall pick. Sessions knew what that meant.
"Here we go again," he said, rolling his eyes.
He was averaging 10.5 points and 5.2 assists as a backup when the Lakers plucked him away a few hours before last month's trade deadline. They also traded Derek Fisher the same day in a cost-cutting move.
"When they got rid of Fish, I was like, wow, these guys really must believe in me," Sessions said. "They want me to come in and play for the Lakers and start for the Lakers when I'm in Cleveland and I can't even start for them."
Sessions, 26, is averaging 13.1 points and 7.1 assists with his new team, providing a burst of speed and scoring the Lakers haven't had at the position in years.
"He's given this team a big lift," Lakers Coach Mike Brown said. "You see and you feel some leadership capabilities within him. That's something that at that point-guard position, if he can get comfortable doing it, which I think he very well can, it can help out this organization for a long, long time."
Sessions is expected to decline a player option for $4.6 million next season and become an unrestricted free agent.
He said he didn't want to move again, not with so much clarity in his basketball career. A return to the Lakers would seem logical if the sides worked out a multiyear deal.
"These fans really believe in me in this place and they really know basketball. They've seen the greatest of greats come through here," he said. "It's unreal. In my whole career, it's never been like this, being noticed. You're on ESPN every night or TNT. You're with Kobe Bryant out there in the backcourt.
"I want to be here. I don't know what that means or how that's going to happen. It ain't no secret. I'll tell anybody that. I tell [Lakers General Manager] Mitch Kupchak. I tell my agent. I want to be here. Period. For a long time."