In 11 days, Antawn Jamison will play his final game for the Cavaliers, pack his bags and return home to Charlotte, N.C. His 26-month sentence complete, Jamison and the Cavs are likely headed for a mutual, amicable split.
But before he goes, Jamison should be applauded for the way he has carried himself through some of the most difficult stretches in franchise history. He arrived a mercenary, the hired gun expected to bring a championship to Cleveland. He leaves a nanny after baby-sitting a Cavs roster so youthful that coach Byron Scott joked that Kyrie Irving’s breath still smells like the baby formula Similac.
Jamison is not without his flaws. His defense is abysmal, regardless of Scott praising him as the team’s best communicator. I’ve often wondered what Jamison was saying on defense, other than “There he goes!” and “Help!”
He has no conscience as a shooter, unwilling to pass on any shot, and his field-goal percentage the last two seasons has been the worst of his career. But he is still averaging close to 18 points a night, and it’s terrifying to think how far this team would have fallen without him.
They would be the Washington Wizards, Saturday’s opponent, or worse, the Charlotte Bobcats.
The Bobcats are a rudderless ship slapping against the currents of legitimate NBA teams. The Wizards have a key piece in John Wall and have surrounded him with knuckleheads, creating a toxic environment while stunting the growth of their one shot at a star.
Even bad, rebuilding teams need some professional veterans to hold the locker room together and set the example for the rest. There is a reason that Baron Davis was whisked out of Cleveland so quickly. He said and did all the right things during his brief time here, but leaving Davis around to mentor Irving would be like hiring Snooki to watch your daughter.
Jamison and Anthony Parker, however, are the types of leaders that young locker rooms desperately need. At 35, Jamison is the team’s second-oldest player (to Parker), yet he is in fantastic shape, perhaps the best of anyone on the Cavs.
The stretching routine he endures before every game, either on the locker room floor or the trainer’s table, lasts the better part of 45 minutes. He wears a pair of headphones and closes his eyes while a member of the training staff stretches every hamstring, quad, calf, hip flexor, ligament, tendon and all points between. The Similac drinkers have poked fun at the old man on occasion, but Jamison understands the maintenance required with age.
As a result, he is the only player to start every game in this lockout-shortened season. He has played the most minutes of anyone and averages nearly 34 per game.
His locker is next to Tristan Thompson’s at the arena, and that’s probably not by accident.
Jamison is a superior professional with just the right timing. He knows when to laugh and when to chastise teammates for not playing hard or taking losses too lightly and chuckling a bit too much after games. He knows when to stick up for his guys on those nights when Scott ruthlessly tears apart his players’ performances.
He knows how to be competitive and still mentor, something he learned the hard way last season when he publicly groused about coming off the bench so the Cavs could figure out what they had in J.J. Hickson.
Jamison likely saw Hickson for what he was — a young player with a ton of athletic ability and the lack of discipline or focus to ever get it all out. Given the way Jamison prepares, he took it as an insult and a bruise to his ego.
Jamison knew almost instantly he had the wrong attitude and apologized for it. A year later, Hickson is long gone and Jamison remains — at least for 11 more days.
It wasn’t what they expected when they traded a first-round pick to Washington for him two years ago, but nonetheless, the Cavaliers are grateful for all that Jamison has provided.
Now it’s time to move on. Thompson is ready to assume the starting role at power forward, and Jamison, a free agent this summer, has made it clear on multiple occasions that his two full seasons in Cleveland have been mentally and physically draining. He hasn’t been exposed to this type of losing since early in his career at Golden State, and he came here expecting to play for a title other than Mr. Mom.
Maybe he’ll latch on with a contender for one more shot at a title. Maybe he’ll go home. He has already flirted with the idea of signing with the hometown Bobcats and providing exactly the type of direction that shambled franchise desperately needs.
Wherever he goes, he will leave behind plenty of memories in Cleveland, although probably not many he’d like to remember.
I’ll remember how he answered every question, most more than once, after the Cavs were humiliated in a 55-point loss to the Los Angeles Lakers last season. I remember walking down the tunnel of Staples Center with him that night as he boarded the team bus. He looked worn and tired from all the losing, but still managed to smile and remind himself how much worse life could be.
I’ll remember how reporters flocked to Irving in good times and Jamison in bad, how he was always there to answer every question with a thoughtful, thorough, three-minute response no matter how mundane the question.
It is widely understood within the media that Antawn Jamison cannot answer a question in less than 250 words. Some of it is fluff, but listen long enough and he’ll deliver gold.
He is one of the last remaining ties to the franchise’s glory years, and perhaps perfectly illustrates how it all went so wrong so quickly.
Antawn Jamison arrived amid high hopes as the missing piece to a championship. He will depart drowning in the misery of losing, all the while missing out on the peace of a championship.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.