Los Angeles Lakers forward Antawn Jamison is coming off of a 2011-12 season that saw him play all but one contest for a rebuilding Cleveland Cavaliers squad. Having served his basketball penance, he went for a quick, career-ending fix and signed up with the Lakers in hopes of earning his first championship. Jamison’s scoring gifts and ability to contribute without having the offensive sets tilted his way would see to work perfectly on a Lakers team full of punch in the starting lineup but without many threats off the bench.
Recently, though, Jamison hasn’t even been afforded the chance to get off of that bench. The hybrid forward hasn’t played a second over his team’s last five contests, taking in a series of Did Not Play: Coach’s Decisions along the way. When a blowout win over Portland on Friday didn’t even result in Jamison seeing action, the veteran vented, telling The Los Angeles Daily News that the Lakers were “pretty much telling me my services are no longer needed.”
On Sunday, after some reflection and a talk with Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni, Jamison took a calmer approach. From ESPN Los Angeles:
"I'm here for the long haul and I'm here to help this team win a championship. So, if the opportunity comes up again, I just have to be patient and be ready for that opportunity to present itself. Until then, we're winning. That's the most important thing and we're doing it at a pretty good level right now, so I'm just pulling for my teammates and smiling. It's tough not playing, but most importantly, the reason why I'm here is to win."
ESPN’s Dave McMenamin went on to quote Jamison as telling his fans that he and coach D’Antoni “aired things out” in the wake of the Portland embarrassment, with D’Antoni signing off on the whole ordeal but saying “there is absolutely nothing there.”
Of course, there’s completely and totally something there.
D’Antoni told reporters on Friday that he didn’t play Jamison in garbage time of the blowout win because he did not want to embarrass the former star. That the blowout appearance was beneath Jamison, a possible Hall of Famer once you consider his NCAA credits, hinting that he’s saving his scoring forward for a time better suited for his services.
The problem with that is that the Lakers worked through three close wins and a loss in the four games preceding Jamison’s most recent DNP-CD. All contests that saw D’Antoni needing to cherish every spent minute and used possession, with Jamison watching from the bench all along.
Not throwing the 36-year old into the fray with the team up 20 against Portland and LaMarcus Aldridge sidelined due to injury is one thing. Not tossing him out during close wins over the Bobcats, Knicks or Warriors is another.
Jamison’s previous five games prior to that stint were no cakewalk, either. The forward missed 15 of 20 shots during that stretch, failing to contribute in the one area (scoring, efficiently) he’s expected to excel at. That five-game stint can certainly be labeled a blip, just a minor funk in the midst of a 1000-game career that has seen Jamison average over 19 points per game, but at his age it could be a worrying sign.
And, considering D’Antoni’s typical approach with such things, this could be the beginning of the end.
The new Lakers coach just does not like playing deep rotations. Starting small forward Metta World Peace is D’Antoni’s committed new reserve power forward, a sound choice considering World Peace’s current (fantastic) shape and aging legs. Jamison’s in-between game seems perfect for a half-court offense that would at times feature broken plays and sets that may not have gone right, but because D’Antoni rides his starters so much there’s not a lot of half court misery to depend on, here. Not with Steve Nash running things, to the tune of 34 minutes a night since his return from a fractured fibula.
Worse, Jamison’s in-between game doesn’t seem an obvious fit for the Lakers offense. With D’Antoni around, this is a team that wants shots at the rim, or three-pointers from the side. Jamison has proven adequate over his career as he’s hit for 34 percent from long range since 1999, but his 31 percent mark this season is not what his newest coach (his 13th head coach in a 15-year career) is looking for from an offense-first forward.
That leads to the biggest problem. The Lakers are just fine offensively, thank you very much, ranking sixth out of 30 NBA teams. It’s the 20th-ranked defense that is the problem, and Jamison (as evidenced by his play in Cleveland last season) is an absolute sieve on that end at this point in his career.
This is why it’s hard to see where Antawn fits in, even considering what he has to offer on the other side of the ball. On the downside of a fantastic career, Jamison isn’t going to play consistent and lights-out ball offensively off the bench despite his considerable smarts and touch. The production is going to come and go, as we saw in the five games prior to his sitting streak, and the Lakers can’t really afford to wait things out as they attempt to dig out from a 15-15 start to the season.
A season that was stuck at 11-14 before the team decided to sit Jamison.
It’s all very tricky, but as Jamison submits – this is what happens when you willingly come to a team in search of a ring, diving down the totem pole along the way. Jamison made himself into a role player by joining the star-heavy Lakers at his age, and role players sometimes have a tough time finding their way into the rotation.
It’d be nice to see him contribute, though. And for he and his similarly offensive-minded coach to come up with a solution that pleases all, while sustaining that current winning touch.