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Friday, March 1, 2013
Antawn Jamison, Lakers rise

By Ramona Shelburne
ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- He's been at this a long time, long enough to have seen just about everything. But something happened this season, his 15th in the NBA, that Antawn Jamison had never been through.

Antawn Jamison
After sitting early, Antawn Jamison has been playing his most productive basketball of the season, averaging 13.2 points and 5.3 rebounds in February.
He didn't play. At all. A coach looked at his roster, looked at the opponent, and for five consecutive games decided that Jamison was not one of the guys who gave his team the best chance to win.

Antawn Jamison, the ninth-leading scorer among active players in the NBA, a guy who has averaged 19 points a game and will soon pass 20,000 career points, went down in the box scores with a DNP-CD for five consecutive games in late December.

"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?"

He tried keeping his frustrations inside, to conduct himself with class and professionalism. The young guys on the team were watching him, looking to see how he was going to handle it.

Still, it was baffling. If they were winning, it'd be one thing. But the Lakers were off to an awful start, and Jamison knew he could help. That was the reason he was here. Why he left a three-year, $11 million offer from his hometown Charlotte Bobcats on the table in order to sign a one-year deal for the veteran's minimum ($1.4 million) to chase a ring with the Lakers.

One day he said something out loud to a reporter. Not about minutes or not playing, but about how hard it was to sit when he felt like he could help.

It wasn't like him. And the second he did it he felt badly about it. He even apologized publicly to Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni.

But as much as he regretted it, in the long run it was the best thing for Jamison and the Lakers.

"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."

It was one bit of drama in a year has been nothing but dramatic. But there is a parallel between Jamison's story and the Lakers' modest resurgence of late -- nothing changed, nothing got better until people got real with each other. About where they stood and why they were here. About what was important and what was in the way.

The Lakers are 12-5 since their "clear the air" meeting in Memphis on Jan. 23. During that span, Jamison has been playing his most productive basketball of the season, averaging 13.2 points and 5.3 rebounds in February.

He is not the main reason for the Lakers' surge, but he is symbolic of why it has finally happened.

Once he and D'Antoni got on the same page, once they started talking and working together, a rapport formed. Trust built. And yes, a little chemistry started to happen.

"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."

The Lakers have settled into an eight-man rotation with Jamison, Jodie Meeks and Steve Blake as the primary reserves. The rotations are set. There is some predictability now.

Meeks -- who fell out of D'Antoni's rotation in January in much the same way Jamison had -- averaged 9.1 points and shot a season-high 46 percent in February. Blake shot 46.6 percent from the field and 45.5 percent from behind the 3-point arc. Jamison shot 48.5 percent. In his past seven games, he's been even better, averaging 15.9 points and 5.8 rebounds.

"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."

It all culminated Thursday night when the Lakers' much-maligned bench, led by 17 from Jamison, 16 from Meeks and 13 from Blake scored 55 points in the team's 116-94 win over Minnesota.

"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."

It's what Jamison envisioned for himself and the Lakers all along when he passed on that $11 million offer from Charlotte to chase a ring in Los Angeles.

He just never imagined it would take this long to finally arrive in this place.

"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."

A few years ago, when he was left behind in Cleveland after LeBron James bolted for Miami, Jamison said he considered retirement. The Cavs were going nowhere. The losing was incessant. After the career he'd had, he didn't need to be a part of another rebuilding project again.

He'd come to Cleveland to escape a similar situation, when things fell apart in Washington after the death of owner Abe Polian.

"It still eats away at me," Jamison said of his six years in Washington from 2004-10, where the Wizards could never get past the second round of the playoffs. "If you take away all the outside distractions, with the talent we had, we could've had a different story. I talk to Caron [Butler] and Nick [Young] and Gilbert [Arenas] from time to time. We had an opportunity to do something special.

"It's amazing how little things can kind of prevent an organization from turning that curve."

Jamison and Butler were the glue guys on those Wizards teams. The adults in the room.

"We had a mixture of veteran guys and young knuckleheads," Jamison said with a smile. "I should've got time and a half for dealing with those guys."

Still, he's been paid well. Over his career, Jamison has made more than $140 million, including the five-year, $50 million deal he signed with the Wizards in 2008. So when the time came this summer to sign with a contender, money wasn't important to him. The only reason he hesitated when the Lakers expressed interest was because of how far Los Angeles was from his home and four kids, ages 12, 7, 6 and 4, in North Carolina.

"But 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.' "

It was a sacrifice. He would take less 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?"