Antawn Jamison came to Los Angeles for one reason: to win a ring.
Since signing his one-year, veteran’s minimum deal with the Lakers, the 14-year veteran has endured his most unpredictable season yet.
In the twilight of his career, Jamison transitioned from five consecutive games with a DNP-CD in late December, to now leading the Lakers’ bench unit in March.
Jamison, who has averaged 19.0 points and 7.7 rebounds per game over his career, was obviously stunned and discouraged by his lack of playing time. The two-time All-Star specifically chose the Lakers over his hometown Charlotte Bobcats, and their $11 million contract offer, to chase a ring.
Back in July of 2012, when he made that decision, Jamison certainly did not foresee a ‘cheerleading’ role on the Lakers bench.
In a recent interview with ESPNLA’s Ramona Shelburne, Antawn Jamison explained his early frustration, how he stayed professional and the Lakers’ “deciding factor” this season:
When asked about the notorious DNP-CD streak, Jamison had this to say:
“Never in my career had that happened to me,” Jamison said. “Never. I just didn’t know what was going on. Did I do something wrong?”
During one of the most difficult stretches of his career, Jamison tried to stay professional and remained a role model for the younger players.
Jamison then explained coach Mike D’Antoni‘s justification for sitting him:
“He was a man about it,” Jamison said of D’Antoni. “He sat down and talked to me. He told me he liked Metta at the 4. I could understand that.
“And ever since then, we’ve honestly had an open dialogue about things. If there’s something going on, he feels comfortable telling me, ‘Look, I’m trying this. You might be in early, you might be out.’
“It was good to have that wall come down a little bit.”
Since the Lakers’ famed “clear the air” meeting in Memphis on January 23rd, the Lakers have gone 12-5. Jamison’s 13.2 ppg and 5.3 rpg averages in the month of February certainly have a lot to do with the Lakers’ recent turnaround. Jamison, however, explained that it was more than just that:
“It really helps out, especially on the bench, knowing when you’re coming in, knowing what your role is. Knowing what is needed of you,” Jamison said. “You’re not worried about shots or minutes or ‘If I make a mistake I’m coming out.’
“There were games where you knew if we had some more chemistry or stability, the outcome would be totally different. I had guys from opposing teams coming to me like, ‘What’s up with y’all? Y’all chemistry is bad.’
“Other people from other teams saw it. That was the deciding factor between us losing and winning games. Now we have roles, guys know what’s expected, it makes a difference. It helps a lot.”
Backup shooting guard Jodie Meeks also endured a similar discouraging stretch this season. Meeks, like Jamison, fell out of D’Antoni’s rotation in January. Meeks explained how Jamison’s support as a role model helped him get through that difficult stretch:
“I talked to [Jamison] when I was going through it, and he told me to stay professional,” Meeks said. “Stay before and after practice, like I always do, that way when my time comes again I’m not as rusty and I can be effective.
“It’s tough, especially being a relatively young player, not knowing how much you’re going to play or if you’re going to play is tough, mentally.
“But I think I’ve done a good job of dealing with it.”
D’Antoni seems to have now settled on a permanent eight-man rotation, with Jamison, Meeks and Steve Blake anchoring the bench unit. A glaring liability in the past, the Lakers bench played consistent basketball in the month of February. That consistency culminated in 55 bench points in the Lakers most-recent 116-94 win over Minnesota.
D’Antoni also praised Jamison for his exceptional play of late:
“He’s just a smart basketball player,” D’Antoni said of Jamison after Thursday’s game. “He understands spacing. He understands when to cut. He understands timing. He’s the type of basketball player that I love.”
After the Lakers’ win over the Timberwolves, Kobe Bryant also praised Jamison and his ability to make plays. Bryant even likened him to a ‘cockroach’:
Jamison then reminisced on his decision to sign with the Lakers and what it means to him, this late in his career:
“Whatever the future holds, I can honestly say ‘I had a shot. I had that opportunity and I took it,” Jamison said. “That’s what this has been all about. Playing for the Lakers.
“Because let’s be honest, with the personnel we have, this is the best opportunity I’ve ever had to win.”
One dimension that weighed heavy on Jamison’s decision to sign with the Lakers was his children. Jamison has four kids, ages 12, 7, 6 and 4, who live in North Carolina. They, however, were supportive of his move out west to play for the Lakers:
“I talked to the kids,” Jamison said. “And I talked to their mom [they divorced two years ago], and she said, ‘For one year, I can hold it down if this is what you want to do.’ “
That was a sacrifice for Jamison. He would take less money and play a lesser role in Los Angeles. He would be far from his children. But at this point in his career, it was the only reason to keep playing:
“For me, it was knowing I had an opportunity to win,” he said. “In the back of my mind, I knew that won’t always be there. And how would I feel if I didn’t take it?”
With the Playoffs fast approaching, the Lakers will need Jamison to continue his stellar play, and for that all-important chemistry to keep developing.