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Enes Freedom: ‘It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize why I got little playing time and was released’

Enes Freedom (formerly Enes Kanter) with Celtics

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - JANUARY 12: Enes Freedom #13 of the Boston Celtics stands during the playing of the national anthem before the game against the Indiana Pacers at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on January 12, 2022 in Indianapolis, Indiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

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Enes Freedom (former Enes Kanter) has been an outspoken critic of the Chinese government and those he deems too sympathetic to China.

Freedom has also fallen out of the NBA after 11 years in the league.

The center began the season with the Celtics but played a career-low 12 minutes per game. They traded him to the Rockets, who waived him.

Freedom, via Sopan Deb of The New York Times:
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize why I got little playing time and was released,” he said. “But it does take people with a conscience to speak out and say it’s not right.”

“I don’t want to retire at the age of 29,” Freedom said.

“Sometimes,” he added, “sacrifice is a very important word, so there are bigger things.”

Did Kanter lose his job because he criticized China’s oppressiveness and authoritarianism? Maybe. The NBA has clear financial incentives to avoid triggering China’s wrath and has sometimes bent to expand/maintain its reach in the country.

But Kanter was not nearly as effective as usual this season at his biggest strength – interior scoring. He has long been a defensive liability. Boston has flourished defensively this season in large part by putting five quality defenders on the floor, giving opponents no weak spot to attack. The rebuilding Rockets had little basketball reason to use a roster spot on someone who appears to be past his peak.

As the league has gone smaller, center has become the NBA’s deepest position. Practically everyone who would’ve been a power forward/center in a previous era is now exclusively a center. Many former power forwards are now centers. Some prior combo forwards and even small forwards are now primarily centers.

It wouldn’t be shocking for a limited player like Kanter without firm political stances to be unsigned.

Nor would it be shocking for that player to be providing depth to an NBA team’s bench.

We should vigilantly watch for signs of players facing de facto bans due to their speech, especially when that speech is advocating for freedom for others. But it’s often difficult to find strong evidence, let alone proof.