Kenneth Faried knows how fleeting this all can be.
The fun. The fame. People filling the building wearing your jersey.
One day it’s the highest of highs. The next … it’s all gone.
Faried was a cult figure early in his NBA career in Denver. “The Manimal” was beloved by Nuggets fans at Pepsi Center as they donned his No. 35 jersey and wore dreadlock wigs in honor of the undersized, non-stop big man.
He was at the top of his game in the summer of 2014, a part of the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team that won a gold at the FIBA World Cup. Faried could count Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Klay Thompson, Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins among his U.S. teammates.
After making the All-Tournament team, he signed a four-year, $50 million extension with the Nuggets in October 2014 as a seeming staple of the franchise’s future.
That never happened. Friction with a new coach, Faried’s injuries, the rise of young bigs (Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic) and an All-Star free agent pickup (Paul Millsap) made Faried basically an afterthought. Traded to Brooklyn in July of 2018, Faried played in just 12 games there before agreeing to a buyout in January.
By then, Faried was unsure of his future in the league. Yet the timing turned out to be perfect.
The Houston Rockets needed someone to help them survive in the post after center Clint Capela’s thumb injury sidelined him more than a month.
“The Manimal” has been revived in Houston, making an instant impact playing off Chris Paul and reigning Kia MVP James Harden. With solid stats (13.6 points per game, 8.8 rebounds per game), he’s eager to contribute however he can for a playoff team.
Faried sat down with NBA.com‘s Sekou Smith in a wide-ranging interview, discussing his journey, the Rockets’ finish to 2018-19 and the looming playoffs.
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Sekou Smith: You had a nickname, people coming to the arena with your jersey on and everything. Did it bother you how quickly that all went away in Denver without you getting a chance to have a say in how things played out?
Kenneth Faried: Yeah, it felt like a slap in the face to me, to be honest with you. All the hard work and the time you put it in. It was like Isaiah Thomas when he was in Boston. The hard work and the grit and you’re hurt or something out of your control happens, you are still there to play basketball and I understand that. But at the same time, you’ve got a lot of outside stresses going on. For me, it was ‘hey, I hurt my back one season and I’m still trying to fight through it.’ And we still wanted to go to the playoffs but didn’t make it. So, let me fight through this and, come to find out, at the end of the season, I have a tear in the top of my gluteus maximus. On the right side I caught a tear and they were like, ‘you tore this and it was pretty bad.’ Talking about surgery and everything.
Me being on this team is a blessing because it gave me new life to my career. People see Kenneth Faried can do this and Kenneth Faried can do that. And Houston is letting him do this and letting him do that.”
Rockets forward Kenneth Faried
But I didn’t do that. I did rehab. And it was like, ‘hey Denver, I did that rehab, worked out all summer and I’m ready.’ They said ‘no, we really don’t care, we brought in Paul Millsap over you.’ And that’s after bringing in [Nikola Jokic] and [Jusuf] Nurkic and trying to play them together. And I’m sitting there looking like ‘hey, I’m still here. I’m still a four-man and can you give me a chance?’ I’m going to prove everybody wrong. I didn’t fall off. I didn’t stop working. I kept working. But I just don’t have the opportunity. And coaches just didn’t believe in me. And now everybody’s so surprised that I’ve re-emerged, this new me. And no, I’ve been here the whole time. I just happened to fall into a situation where the coaches believed in me.
SS: So it was just a matter of confidence from Mike D’Antoni and his staff and an opportunity for you to get right back being, for the lack of a better word, “The Manimal?”
KF: Yeah. I’ve had this. It’s just now I have the confidence from the coach. Yeah, they want me to be confident. They want me to shoot the mid-range, want me to drive my man and do the stuff you know how to do and have been working on your whole career. There’s no problem. So I’m like okay coach, let me do my thing.
SS: Is it hard to figure out who you guys are as a group, given all the transition that’s gone on with this team this season? And how long does it take to get everybody up to speed and ready for that playoff push?
KF: It shouldn’t take that long because all of these guys on this team have been here for a bit. And coach is implementing everything we need, telling guys exactly what he needs from them. The information comes fast. But as a player you should already know a lot of the information. You made it here for a reason. You should already have a high IQ and that there’s a difference between regular season and playoff intensity. And if you don’t, you’re going to learn real fast on this team. With leaders like Chris and James, you’re going to know that I can’t make the same mistakes I made in the regular season in the playoffs, because each and every possession matters. And we know that. I know that. I’ve been in the playoffs before. I’ve seen the three-seed like we were in Denver, go down to the six-seed in the Warriors and they’ve taken off the way they have since then, so I respect it. I respect this process we’re going through right now.
I didn’t fall off. I didn’t stop working. I kept working. But I just don’t have the opportunity. And coaches just didn’t believe in me. And now everybody’s so surprised that I’ve re-emerged, this new me. And no, I’ve been here the whole time.”
Rockets forward Kenneth Faried
SS: Is this the part of the journey that does feel like a career reboot for you, knowing you’re going to be competing on a playoff team, with a group that truly believes they can do something special?
KF: Absolutely. Me being on this team is a blessing because it gave me new life to my career. People see Kenneth Faried can do this and Kenneth Faried can do that. And Houston is letting him do this and letting him do that. So I give coach D’Antoni a ton of credit for that, and a ton of respect for letting, not just me but also James Harden be who he is, Chis Paul be who he is, Clint Capela be who he is. I mean, Austin Rivers, he’s got him over here letting him be who he is after everybody thought he was down and out when he went to Washington. But he’s back on track. Gerald Green, P.J. Tucker … think about where all these guys have come from. And now you’ve got a strong group that’s confident and knows how to get the job done. A group that knows what it takes to be in this league and is going to bring the grit and heart to the floor each and every night.
SS: Knowing the Rockets’ history of taking guys who come from tough situations and flourish once they get in D’Antoni’s system make you feel good about this being the right spot for you to reboot things?
KF: I felt really good coming here because [D’Antoni] is one of those coaches who really allows you the freedom offensively to play and then expects you to be on top of your game as a professional in every aspect. Whatever the scheme is, whatever the program is, that’s on you to be on point. But offensively, he lets us all play free and loose. If he sees you working on your 3-point shot and working your tail off on your game, he’s going to encourage you to do the same things in a game. He knows that’s the only way you’re going to get better is to take those things you’re working on and know what it feels like to have that success. The bottom line is he’s going to give you a chance. It’s up to you, though, what you do with that chance.
SS: That was made clear to you when they signed you?
KF: When I first came here they let me know they were going to play me off the bench behind Nene that first game so I could get acclimated. Cool. Then it was ‘now we’re going to start you because Capela’s gone, so you better figure it out.’ So I had to figure it out when I got out there. And I did.
SS: How strange was it to see the reaction from people when you hit the floor in that Rockets uniform and played well, for people to see that you still had something left in the tank after being almost invisible the last couple of years?
I think I’ve got way more energy than the next guy. But I’ve always been that guy. No one can ever say that I didn’t bring that.”
Faried on his playing style
KF: It felt great. Really. When I was first able to step on the floor knowing you’re going to play minutes, you know, not 20 minutes one night and then not play in 10 straight games or something like five minutes in a blowout or spot duty because somebody is hurt. No, you’re going to play meaningful minutes and each and every possession you’re out there matters. So for me, that felt amazing. It was like a rejuvenation, like wow, a coach trusts me to be out here again to play my position, whatever it is, to guard my position and to score the ball. And really no matter what I’m doing out there, just being out there to help my teammates and to give them my real energy and getting the crowd into it, diving on the floor for loose balls, jumping up for rebounds, creating extra possessions and doing all the little things, that’s fun to me.
That’s fun, being a team player, that’s fun to be a part of again. I love basketball because of that reason. Everybody gets a chance to shine doing what they do, it’s never just one guy. It’s always about the team.
SS: This is a Houston team that’s been through it. Game 7 was on their home floor last year in the Western Conference finals. They know who they are and what they are capable of. What does that look like internally for you, stepping into that sort of situation the way you have?
KF: Seriousness. It’s all seriousness. Everybody is locked in. Every game is a playoff game for us. And that’s how we’re focusing. And that goes for everybody, whether you’re in the rotation on a given night or not. You focus on your job and everybody comes together … because we’re going to need all 12 guys in some capacity every single night.
SS: You’d also appear to have a little more pent up energy than the next guy, given what your path has been here recently.
KF: I think I’ve got way more energy than the next guy. But I’ve always been that guy. No one can ever say that I didn’t bring that. I’ve always had to bring that because no one ever thought I should be here anyway. I wasn’t supposed to be on that team [in Spain], wasn’t even supposed to make it. But hey, I’ve been defying odds my whole career. And I’m going to keep doing it.
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Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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