At a quick glance during his time as a Milwaukee Buck, O.J. Mayo was an underwhelming presence on the court. In three years, Mayo played in only two seasons’ worth of games (52 in 2013, 71 in 2014, and 41 in 2015), and his production decreased year over year during his 24+ minutes of action per game.
Outside of the stat sheet, though, Mayo was more than a washed-up veteran to his teammates. He regularly sought out his younger teammates (primarily Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker) on fast breaks for assists, spaced the floor on offense, and genuinely tried on defense. Furthermore, he was one of the few Bucks who displayed any sort of edge, and stepped up to the role of veteran enforcer on the floor while helping acclimate his teammates to the pros off of it.
As an end-of-the-bench veteran, Mayo was well-liked by his peers and generally carried a decent reputation with fans. However, his pre-salary cap spike salary (3-year/$24 million) yielded very little in the way of on-court success, and a broken ankle prematurely ended his third Milwaukee season, putting any hope of an end-of-contract improvement to rest. Even fans who appreciated Mayo’s extracurricular contributions felt a sort of relief when it became evident that his time as a Buck was nearing an end.
For those few fans who did have hopes that Uncle Juice would return, those hopes were quickly dashed once news that he would be suspended by the league for two years broke. Little was known about the circumstances surrounding Mayo’s suspension, but a two-year hiatus imposed by the NBA was enough for O.J. to drop off of Bucks fans’ collective radar almost completely.
On Sunday, Sports Illustrated’s Ben Golliver brought O.J. Mayo back into our lives (for a short time, at least) and caught up on what the former USC star and lottery pick has been up to. In short, the suspension was a rude awakening. Mayo has had a particularly rough time away from the league (especially in his personal life), but has dedicated himself to making a full comeback. Why does that matter for Milwaukee?
On paper, it matters very little, as Milwaukee renounced Mayo’s rights upon the expiration of his contract. Mayo can return to the league as an unrestricted free agent if he is successfully reinstated to the NBA, which could happen as early as July 2018. Would the Bucks have any interest in a shooting guard who played relatively poorly for them in the past, and will have not played professionally for two years since? Would any team?
It’s possible, but unlikely. However, Mayo is aware of the environment he will return to if reinstated, and understands the predicament his career will be in next summer:
Most of all, he [Mayo] insisted, his former coaches, teammates, organizations and the NBA itself do not bear any of the blame for his current predicament. With the benefit of hindsight, Mayo wished he had taken the league’s counseling and support programs more seriously. He admitted that he hadn’t acted professionally enough to deserve a spot in the NBA, and he thanked Milwaukee coach Jason Kidd, GM John Hammond (now with Orlando), and owners Marc Lasry and Wes Edens for doing “everything in the world to help me.”
“I want to go back to what I left [in Milwaukee],” Mayo said, when asked for his dream destination. “I was real close with Jason Kidd. That was the best relationship I had with a coach besides [Dwaine Barnes]. I had great relationships with Giannis [Antetokounmpo] and Khris Middleton. I was comfortable there. I felt like I let them down, cheated them for two years. They paid me $8 million to be, in my eyes, a subpar player. They invested millions of dollars for me to be on top of my s---, and when you’re not on top of your s---, it shows. I’ll be 30 next summer. If they just give me the chance, I can make it up. I owe them.”
These are the words of a man who understands the consequences of his own actions, and wants to do what he can to try and make it right. Whether or not the Bucks are interested in enabling his redemption in Milwaukee will remain to be seen, especially since the team’s salary cap situation probably won’t allow for them to spend any significant amount on a free agent. Mayo’s expectations could also be reasonable (i.e. a one-year veteran minimum), which would reduce the risk of bringing Uncle Juice back to the Bucks.
Everyone loves an underdog, and Mayo has put himself into position to play out the much-beloved story of someone righting the wrongs of his past. With the proper expectations (on both sides), and a little luck, O.J. Mayo could help the team in a limited role next season. At the very least, it would be a fun story to follow. At this point, why rule it out? Bring back Uncle Juice!