Antawn Jamison takes pay cut in hopes of a title with Lakers
They stood side by side holding up a new Lakers jersey, the two men having reached this point with different expectations.
Newly signed Laker Antawn Jamison called it a “dream opportunity” and “ideal scenario” to play for the Lakers. He always admired how the Lakers won 16 NBA championships. Jamison believed he would fit well with the team because he’s hungry for his first championship after 14 seasons.
Meanwhile, Mitch Kupchak considered the signing “just as surprising” as the Steve Nash acquisition. The Lakers somehow convinced a division rival to send an elite point guard their way. They also somehow convinced Jamison to turn down lucrative offers, including one from his hometown Charlotte Bobcats, to accept the veteran’s minimum.
But here they stood Wednesday at the Lakers’ practice facility as Jamison proudly sported his new jersey with the number 4. Jamison appeared enthusiastic as he spoke for over 30 minutes, gushing about the Lakers’ championship prospects, their depth and his willingness to come off the bench. Kupchak stood to the side appearing as if he’s still processing the signing.
Yet, the the circumstances remain fairly simple.
“I’ve done a lot of things, but the one thing that drives me is to have my name associated with being a champion,” said Jamison, who has played with the Golden State Warriors, Dallas Mavericks, Washington Wizards and Cleveland Cavaliers. “It was a no-brainer.”
So much so that Jamison didn’t receive or need any current Lakers to recruit him. He also asked his family, including four children, if he could play far from his Charlotte residence to fulfill his dream.
Kupchak, meanwhile, had hoped to avoid using his mini mid-level exception worth $3 million and sign players to veteran-minimum deals because of the Lakers’ bloated payroll under a more restrictive labor deal. Yet, Kupchak also voiced concern about upgrading the team’s bench, which finished last in the league in points (30.5), 20th in shooting percentage (21.8%) and 28th in efficiency (27.2).
Somehow, Kupchak found the perfect candidate in Jamison, who’s averaged 19.5 points during his career.
Jamison “makes us a better team. We’re happy to have him aboard,” Kupchak said. “We feel we’ve made the team stronger and positioned ourselves better going forward in the season in our quest for a championship.”
Jamison aids that process in a variety of ways.
His scoring punch can happen both at small forward and power forward. The presence of Kobe Bryant, Nash, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol will give Jamison easy looks at the basket. His infectious energy could lead the bench to become more offensively organized. Jamison’s hustle and scoring could make it easier for Lakers Coach Mike Brown to rest Bynum and Gasol.
Jamison seems ready to fulfill that job. He already played a bench role in Dallas where he won sixth-man-of-the-year honors. He played that season with Nash, whom Jamison touted as the “best pure point guard” since former Utah Jazz guard John Stockton. Jamison played two of his three seasons for Brown, whom Jamison praised for his “attention to detail.” Aside from a recent nine-day vacation, Jamison said he’s stayed active this off-season through various yoga and on-court exercises, leading him to say the “batteries are rejuvenated and ready to go.”
“I want to win,” Jamison said. “I put myself in positions to make sure that 82 games, my body can withstand it. Mentally be prepared for games night in and night out. To be in this situation where the magnitude of every game is just as important as the first game or the last game, that’s what you want to be a part of. And for that to finally happen, it’s been a long time but I’m grateful this opportunity has presented itself.”
He could experience hiccups, though.
Kupchak smiled when he jokingly praised Jamison’s defense, which is considered the weakest part of his game. Anticipating the increased scrutiny and exposure the Lakers invite, Jamison admitted he couldn’t recall a time in his career when every NBA game was televised. And as hungry as he is for a championship, it’s telling that matching Bryant’s 51 points in a regular-season game in the 2000-01 season still stands as “one of the highlights of my career.”
Jamison could overcome such challenges. He believes his preparation and hunger will help him avoid becoming the weak link on defense. Jamison sounded more thoughtful and analytical in his news conference than someone consumed with the spotlight. He reiterated how he remains thirsty for a championship.
“It’s great to be a part of an organization where the only thing you work toward is winning championships,” Jamison said. “It’s not about making it to the playoffs. It’s supplying another trophy to this organization and I’m just grateful for this opportunity, grateful that the Laker organization felt that I was a piece to the puzzle to make this happen and I just can’t wait for the season to get started.”
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