Once Antawn Jamison put on a Lakers uniform, he immediately imagined a few things.
He would finally win his first NBA championship. The significant paycut he took to arrive here on the veteran’s minimum would become a worthy investment to erase any frustration after never winning the game’s best prize. Jamison would also become a reliable role player, either as a starter or a reserve.
None of those scenarios happened. The Lakers lost in the first round of the 2013 NBA playoffs. Jamison witnessed constant infighting between Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard. Jamison experienced philosophical differences with coach Mike D’Antoni and even sat six games because of a coach’s decision. Jamison averaged 9.4 points on 46.4 percent shooting and 4.8 rebounds, numbers that both complemented his poor defense and marked the second-lowest statistical output in his 16-year NBA career. Jamison suffered a torn ligament in his wrist that required off-season surgery. He even skipped his exit meeting with Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak and D’Antoni before parting ways via free agency.
Yes, Jamison encountered plenty of frustrations in his lone season with the 2012-13 Lakers. But none of it had to do with his experience playing with Bryant.
“Kobe gets a bad rap that he shoots the ball all the time and that it’s hard to play with him,” Jamison said in a recent interview with Los Angeles News Group, as part of a wide-ranging story regarding what qualities the Lakers’ No. 2 draft pick will need to thrive under Bryant’s presence. “It wasn’t difficult playing with him at all.”
In fact, Jamison argued Bryant became “one of the easiest teammates to sit down and have a conversation with about the game and about what we’re trying to do.” With Jamison’s locker next to Bryant’s, the two often took advantage of those fireside chats.
“He’d throw out some things to me and I’d give him my response,” said Jamison, who is currently an analyst for Time Warner Cable Access SportsNet. “He was receptive of that. That was probably one of the things that shocked me the most. When it came to the game of basketball, he soaked it up and you could talk to him without it being uncomfortable.”
That hardly fit the dynamic between Bryant and Howard.
Both accounts have said the two experienced tension throughout the 2012-13 season for too many reasons to count. Bryant soon became irritated with Howard’s jovial personality, his frustration at not receiving the ball inside, how he handled adversity and using his surgically repaired back as an excuse not to give his full effort. Howard became frustrated with Bryant’s seriousness, his high-volume shooting and questioning his toughness.
But Jamison defended Bryant, saying the Lakers’ star often told Jamison and his teammates not to be afraid to demand him to pass the ball. Jamison also said that Bryant’s high-volume shooting proved warranted because of Steve Nash’s prolonged injury, Howard’s back limitations and Pau Gasol’s changed role under D’Antoni. Bryant also averaged 27.3 points on 46.2 percent shooting and six assists in 38.6 minutes per game through 78 contests before tearing his left Achilles tendon in mid-April.
“You have to understand Kobe and know where he’s coming from,” Jamison said of his demanding leadership style and high-volume shooting. “He’s not doing it out of malice intent. At that particular time, we needed him to shoot. We didn’t know what we were doing with what the coach wanted from us offensively. Kobe bailed us out a lot. He wants to win. He wants another championship.”
Bryant has the same goal for the 2015-16 season, but the circumstances have drastically changed.
The Lakers are one season removed from finishing 21-61, marking their worst record in the franchise’s 67-year-old history. They missed the playoffs for two consecutive seasons. Intrigue surround the Lakers’ injection of youth, including their second, 27th and 34th draft picks as well as the return of Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and Tarik Black. But question marks will linger on how the Lakers will assemble their roster during free agency.
Bryant also will enter the 2015-16 campaign in possibly his last year of a storied 20-year career after experiencing season-ending injuries in three consecutive years.
“He’s definitely receptive as far as being more patient and understanding that he’s not the Kobe of seven to eight years ago,” Jamison said. “He can only do so much on his own. Maybe a rookie might not have that big of an impact with the success that he’s had in the past. But now at this particular juncture of his career and the state of organization in the rebuilding process, he will realize he needs those younger guys to go out there, participate and play well. So he has to do more building up than breaking down and being hard.”
The Lakers have currently debated whether to select Duke center Jahlil Okafor, Spanish center Kristaps Porzingis, Ohio State guard D’Angelo Russell or guard Emmanuel Mudiay after playing professionally last season in China. But Kupchak stressed that how either player could perform under Bryant’s presence will not factor into the team’s selection process.
But Jamison offered clairvoyance on what the dynamic will entail between Bryant and the Lakers’ prized rookie.
“Kobe will make sure he challenges those guys. Off that, you’re going to see who has the mental toughness not only to deal with the transition from college to the NBA, the strenuous practices and the travel, but also from arguably one of the greatest to play the game in his era,” Jamison said. “I would think they would use that to the utmost ability and take advantage of that. I don’t think Kobe will do anything to hinder the progress of one of these young guys or do anything that won’t make them successful. Kobe will do everything possible to let them know what it takes to be a professional night in and night out. These young guys will soak it up and have a good understanding of what they’re coming from and knowing he’s trying to get the best out of him as well.”
Okafor, Russell and Mudiay have publicly expressed admiration for Bryant’s resume. They also downplayed any issues they might have in absorbing Bryant’s tough demands.
“They’re going to soak it up like a sponge,” Jamison said. “It’s going to be eye opening at first. But after they understand where he’s coming from and accustomed to his personality, it won’t be a problem at all.”