Two days after openly questioning the thought process behind his diminished role, Lakers forward Antawn Jamison apologized.
“I shouldn’t have expressed my frustrations the way I did, especially after a win,” Jamison told reporters. “It derails from what we’re trying to do here.”
The Lakers (15-15) have won six of their last seven games, which has coincided with Jamison sitting out the last five. That reflected a stark contrast to the Lakers’ initial expectations when they signed him this offseason to a one-year deal worth the veteran’s minimum ($1.4 million). Few expected Jamison would reflect his career 19.2 points per game through 15 seasons. But they envisioned him becoming the Lakers’ sixth man and lead the bench with secondary scoring.
Shortly after the Lakers fired Mike Brown, Jamison’s role expanded under coach Mike D’Antoni. He posted a season-high 33 points against Denver on Nov. 30 and then averaged 12.3 points over the next four games. But Metta World Peace’s offensive and defensive consistency, Jordan Hill’s energy and Jamison’s streaky shooting and subpar defense all have contributed toward a diminished role. Jamison even sat in the Lakers’ blowout win Friday over Portland when seldom-used reserves Devin Ebanks, Robert Sacre and Earl Clark played in garbage time, an issue D’Antoni says he made out of respect for the 15-year veteran.
That dynamic prompted Jamison to vent his frustrations to this newspaper.
““It doesn’t make sense at all,” Jamison said. “They’re pretty much telling me my services are no longer needed.” Jamison also wondered why D’Antoni hasn’t explained the demotion to him directly.
“I know you all have a job to do, but if you go to a player after he didn’t play in a game, he’s going to be upset,” D’Antoni said. “Stuff comes out, but there is nothing there.”
“He didn’t send me a Christmas gift and I’m kind of upset about that,” D’Antoni added jokingly. “But he’s a great guy and professional. He understands I’m taking a different way to go. It’s nothing he didn’t do. He just has to keep getting ready and it will come back in his favor.”
Has D’Antoni echoed those sentiments and his overall thought process directly to Jamison?
“The only way I know how to handle anything is I’m trying to talk to the guys every day on what’s going on. We have 35 assistant coaches they can talk to if they have problems,” D’Antoni said, jokingly. “My door is always open if there’s any problems. It’s always been that way. There’s absolutely nothing there.”
“Most of the time I [make rotations] without pre planning it. A lot of times you make a substitution or you go that way because you see something early in the game that you’d like to exploit. As a player, they can see that. I can understand why it’s difficult to accept or needs a better explanation. I could do a better job of communicating. There’s no doubt about that. But I’m great, he’s great, the team’s winning.”
Jamison stressed such themes even when he acknowledged his frustrations. But he shied away from revisiting any grievances. Instead, Jamisn reiterated his preference for playing for a championship caliber team and stressed how “winning overrules everything.”
“There’s not going to be no rocking the boat for myself or demanding a trade,” Jamison said. “I’m here for the long haul. I’m here to help this team win a championship. If the opportunity comes up again, I just have to be patient and be ready for the opportunity to present itself. Until then, we’re winning. That’s the most important thing.”
“I’m a competitor and I want to compete. But I came here not only to win but to win a championship. If that calls for me to be a cheerleader or coach some of the guys on the bench I’m sitting next to, I’m willing to do that. I’ve had all the individual success you could possibly have, but most importantly, it’s about winning a championship and being there for your teammates. I’d rather be in LA winning basketball games and have a chance to contend rather than being in some other city being 5-30.”
Following Sunday’s practice, Jamison continued working on his jump shooting and working with other reserves. Jamison has cemented a strong reputation as a professional and has never had any reported locker room friction.
That dynamic wasn’t lost on Lakers guard Kobe Bryant.
“It’s one thing to lead from the front by playing a lot of minutes,” he said. “But there is also leadership from the backside, not playing a lot of minutes and being a professional and showing unselfishness for the group. I think that has an affect the rest of the team. It helps us as a ballclub to be unselfish and play for each other. When he gets his opportunity, he’s going to come in and play well.”
Jamison vowed he will keep that mindset even if the diminished playing time continues.
“The biggest thing is for me to continue to work and be positive,” he said. “If the opportunity comes up, I’ll be ready. I’ve seen it so many times where they give up and then the opportunity comes. Then they’re not physically prepared. They’re not mentally prepared. It’s a long season. Things are going to happen. In my situation, I’m going to continue to work and continue to be positive. When the situation comes up, I’ll be ready to compete at a high level.”
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Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org