Before embarking on this frantic 66-game season, Antawn Jamison spent the Cavaliers’ condensed training camp educating a roster loaded with youngsters on how to take care of their bodies in order to survive the shortened schedule.
As the season pauses this weekend for the All-Star break, it turns out the old man was right.
At 35, Jamison is one of four guys on the team to play in all 31 games. He leads the Cavs in minutes, averaging more than 32 a night. His workload and performance have even increased as the season has progressed — he has averaged 36 minutes, 22 points and nine rebounds through the first 11 games in February.
“The way he’s played the last couple of weeks has been fantastic,” Cavs coach Byron Scott said. “I’ve played him a bunch of minutes because I’m looking down the bench and we don’t have another guy who can do what he does. He does so many little things that don’t show up on the stat sheet. He’s been fantastic.”
Jamison’s 17.4-point scoring average ranks second on the team behind Kyrie Irving (18.1). His free-throw shooting (60 percent) and defense have both been suspect, but Scott loves the way Jamison opens his mouth and at least communicates defensively, helping teammates get where they need to go.
Against the Sacramento Kings on Sunday, when the offense was struggling to make shots, Jamison scored 21 of the Cavs’ first 50 points and kept them in the game long enough for Irving and Alonzo Gee to take over in the fourth.
Now the looming question is how much longer will he be part of the Cavaliers? Jamison is in the final year of a contract paying him $15 million this season. By moving him before the March 15 trade deadline, the Cavs could acquire a draft pick and clear a spot for rookie Tristan Thompson to start.
But Scott is in no rush to start Thompson, and the Cavs would likely have to take back a substantial amount of salary in any potential Jamison deal. They only have five players under contract for next season in deals that total about $21 million. They are extremely guarded of their cap space and don’t want to make a trade that would hinder their flexibility this summer.
With Jamison playing so well and the team in the hunt for the playoffs, management is concerned about the message it would send to the rest of the team if Jamison were to be traded or had his contract bought out, effectively rendering him a free agent. As a result, Jamison has held steadfast since training camp in the belief that he would end this season in Cleveland.
“Honestly, deep down inside, I don’t want to go anywhere,” he said. “I don’t feel like I’m going anywhere. I enjoy being with these guys. I enjoy leading. These guys are very receptive to what I tell them and what I do on the court.”
Jamison’s time in Cleveland has been a whirlwind, from the trade that brought him to a contender through last season’s rebuild and now the recent signs of hope and life again.
“It’s the most fun I’ve had in a while,” he said.
As for the increase in minutes, don’t expect them to dwindle anytime soon. With Anderson Varejao out at least a few more weeks, Scott will continue to rely heavily on his only consistent frontcourt scoring threat as Jamison tries to lead the Cavaliers to an unexpected playoff berth.
“We have to have that ‘Don’t talk about it, go out and do it’ mentality,” Jamison said. “We have to find a way to win basketball games. We feel like we let a fair share of our games slip away and we have to find a way to put a string of wins together. We feel like we’re a playoff-caliber team, but in order to do that, you have to go out and perform like one.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at http://cavs.ohio.com Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.