When Stan Van Gundy was hired I scanned the rosters of his teams with the Orlando Magic trying to think of possible players he might be interested in bringing into the fold at his new home in Detroit. Ryan Anderson seemed like a no-brainer. Jameer Nelson seemed possible. DeAndre Liggins made sense. But never in my wildest dreams did I imagine Van Gundy would call on Brian Cook to suit up again and play for his team.
But that's just what happened, as the 33-year-old Cook accepted an invite to be a part of the Pistons squad at the Orlando Summer League, playing with rookies and undrafted players 10 years his junior and overseas vagabonds looking to impress scouts.
But things are coming into focus now as Cook's two-year hiatus had to deal not just with eroding NBA skills, but was a conscious decision to be with his wife as she battled cancer.
Joel Brigham at Basketball Insiders profiled Cook and his comeback attempt in a really nice article everyone should read. And thankfully, at least according to Cook's quotes, his wife's cancer appears to be in the past tense.
"My wife had cancer, so I've had to be at home a little bit the last couple of years," said Cook, who is playing for the Detroit Pistons' Summer League team. "I'm ready to get some competition back in me, so it's been good for me to get out here and be with these younger guys, these hungry guys, because I'm hungry too. I'm trying to squeeze out a few more years."
Will he win a roster spot in Detroit? Likely not. Cook is a stretch four at his best, and the power forward slot in Detroit is stacked with the likes of Greg Monroe, Josh Smith, Jonas Jerebko, Luigi Datome and Tony Mitchell all possible to be on the team on opening night.
In the first two games with the Pistons, Cook looked sharp in Game 1 and was a complete non-factor in Game 2. Cook knows the odds are long, but he talked about how appreciative he is of the opportunity Van Gundy has given him.
"He was one of the first guys I called in being a free agent because I'm very comfortable with his offense," Cook said. "I look back at my career, and he's one of the few coaches that really cared about me and held me accountable. When you're young, you don't realize that. I've been at home with my kids and my wife, and I've matured during that process. (Van Gundy) gave me a shot to come down here. I'm ready."
But even if he doesn't stick in Detroit maybe he shows enough to get a flyer from another NBA club looking for that valuable stretch-big skill set. Or maybe he bides his time on the Pistons' D-League team, Grand Rapids Drive, while he waits for an NBA opportunity to appear.
The D-League is a more popular option for longtime NBA players looking for one more shot compared to playing overseas. With the D-League, you can get called up to the big show at a moment's notice while you're tied to more restrictive contracts overseas. Also, while a life abroad for a young player looking to scratch out a career for himself makes sense, it makes a lot less sense for a vet like Cook.
Whatever happens, Cook says he's ready to get back to the game he loves.
"I'm hoping to get something this year; I love playing the game of basketball," Cook said. "I just want to compete. [Hitting the open shot] is something I've always been able to do, but I've also been able to work on my body while I've been out.
"I've still got something left, a couple more seasons in me."