When Michael Ruffin broke into the league as a second-round pick of the Chicago Bulls, he scored a four-year contract with the first two years guaranteed.
That was 10 years ago. Ruffin has been guaranteed little since.
The former Tulsa standout is now on a non-guaranteed training camp contract with the Thunder. He’s fighting three other players for Oklahoma City’s 15th and final roster spot. Ruffin has only two weeks left to make his mark before the season opener on Oct. 28. He’s expected to receive his first playing time this preseason against Miami tonight at the BOK Center in Tulsa.
Fail to impress the coaching staff in these final two weeks and Ruffin could find himself starting the 2009-10 season unemployed. He’s battling Ryan Bowen, Mike Harris and Tre Kelley for the final roster spot.
But it’s a position Ruffin, a nine-year journeyman, has grown all-too familiar with.
Since leaving TU, Ruffin has made a living the hard way. Through summer leagues and private workouts, training camp battles and preseason performances.
"It’d be great to have a long-term contract and stay with the same team and have stability,” Ruffin said. "But I think that all the moving around has helped build character because everything has been a fight. Nothing’s been easy. So I don’t take anything for granted.”
Ruffin has played for six teams over his nine seasons. He’s had two stints with the Bulls. There were also stops in Philadelphia, Utah, Washington, Milwaukee and Portland.
"I’ve been blessed to be around and play in this league for as long as I have,” Ruffin said. "A lot of guys that came in with me and had those guarantees are not here anymore. And I still have opportunities to keep playing.”
Ruffin’s cross-country career path started when the Bulls waived him following the training camp preceding his third season. He worked out for Philadelphia before the start of the 2001-02 season and impressed enough to receive a partially-guaranteed deal. But the Sixers waived him about a month into his stay.
Out of options, Ruffin headed to Spain, where he played the 2002-03 season. But he wanted to give the NBA another shot and signed with New York’s summer league team in 2003.