Perhaps no player on the Cleveland Cavaliers receives more unmerited scrutiny than Antawn Jamison. The 13-year veteran forward has underwent a tumultuous NBA career, continuously alternating between being the best player on garbage teams and a role player on some very competitive ones.
After years of futility in Oakland, Jamison got his first taste of winning in his only season with the Dallas Mavericks, winning the NBA´s Sixth Man of the Year Award in 2003-2004. After four years of relative success in Washington, the Arenas-Butler-Jamison-led Wizards eventually succumbed to injuries and locker room shenanigans. Jamison landed in Cleveland at the 2010 trade deadline.
At the time, it appeared as if Jamison was the final piece to a league-leading Cavaliers squad that already included LeBron James, Mo Williams and Shaquille O’Neal. We all know how that story ended.
From day one in Cleveland, it has seemed as if Antawn hasn’t been able to win over the fans’ acceptance.
It may be because he’s not A’mare Stoudemire (who the Cavaliers were supposedly considering for J.J. Hickson, amongst others). It may be because he was acquired for fan-favorite Zydrunas Ilgauskas (who the Cavaliers got back a month later) or maybe because of his supposed failure to show up in the playoffs (he averaged 15.3 PPG and 7.4 RPG on 47 percent shooting from the floor).
'Tawn's reception in Cleveland wasn’t met with the vigor and enthusiasm former GM Danny Ferry likely envisioned.
In the wake of LeBron’s relocation of talents and the subsequent roster overhaul, Jamison suddenly found himself as the best player and senior citizen on an incredibly young and unproven (sports etiquette for underwhelming) Cleveland roster.
Benched against his will in favor of youngster J.J. Hickson, Jamison still managed to put up 18 PPG for the Cavaliers before missing the final 26 games of the season due to a finger injury. Trade talk has followed Jamison since last season and persisted through the lockout and into the 2011-2012 season.
The question lingering around Jamison is almost certainly not if, but when he will be traded. The Cavaliers simply don’t have plans for an aging forward who’ll turn 36 before next season. But should they?
There are plenty of both positives and negatives with Jamison’s game. On the plus side, he is a scorer. Call it unorthodox, call it crafty, call it ugly. The point is, Jamison can put the ball in the hoop and has done it over 8,200 times in his career to the tune of almost 18,700 career points.
On the flip side, Antawn has never shot the ball exceptionally well. Although he has shot .453 from the field for his career, he’s shot just .435 in his two-year stint with the Cavaliers and is shooting a career-low .417 this season.
Furthermore, his free-throw troubles have resurfaced this season after he had seemingly corrected the problem last season. It’s frustrating to see a .724 career free-throw shooter connect on just 59 percent of his shots from the stripe. Jamison’s inconsistency at the line is part of a larger problem that has plagued the Cavaliers in recent years.
A better team free-throw percentage would have undoubtedly granted the Cavaliers another couple of wins this season.
Getting back to Jamison, his offensive versatility, although often predictable and perplexing at times, is seemingly effective enough to keep his team in the ballgame. Antawn may jack up too many poor shots, lack an aggressive post game and rely on too many circus shots instead of fundamentals, but he produces.
His 17.3 PPG is greatly needed on a young Cavaliers team that has no other real scoring options outside of rookie phenom Kyrie Irving.
There have been many games this season where Jamison's scoring has kept Cleveland within striking distance when the rest of the team has started out lackadaisical. While Kyrie is undoubtedly the Cavs' top scoring threat, he has the tendency to pick it up later in the game; Jamison appears to be the one player consistently ready to play from the opening tip.
While Jamison’s perimeter shot selection is often questionable, he tends to make enough threes to keep defenses honest. Any big man who can shoot 35 percent from downtown isn’t exceptional but is appreciated in the new league of "Stretch 4s." That Jamison can extend the floor makes his offense an asset and clears the lane for Irving when he wants to get to the hoop.
Rebounding has never been a staple of Jamison’s game, but he’s not exactly a bad rebounder either. He’s averaged over 10 RPG for a season just once; he's averaged eight per game for his career.
Jamison's not overly aggressive on the offensive glass, and that’s a result of his size and position. Although he’s become a power forward in his later years, Jamison’s natural position is small forward. At 35 years old, he’s clearly too slow to be guarding LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant.
Unfortunately for Cleveland fans, he's also too slow and small to guard the Kevin Love, A'mare Stoudemire and Blake Griffin.
While this weakness can be maddening for fans, the reality is that the NBA just isn’t a defensive-minded league. Yes, defense wins championships. Yes, the best teams play great defense. The Cavaliers are not and will not be a great team next season. They do, however, have the potential to be a good team after a surprisingly competitive season, which had NBA experts claiming the Cavaliers were lottery bound in 2012.
With Kyrie Irving at the helm and young talent in Alonzo Gee, Ramon Sessions, Tristan Thompson and Omri Casspi, the Cavaliers should continue to improve next season. It appears as if their quest for a surprise run to the playoffs will be effectively cut short due to the prolonged absence of Anderson Varejao.
With the hustle, rebounding and heart of Varejao, this Cavaliers squad could sneak in as the eighth seed in the East. Without the "Wild Thing," however, the Cavs will need to settle for competing every night and hoping to strike gold with their mid-high level draft pick. If they can add another scoring option at shooting guard, Cleveland should be in good position to contend in 2012-2013.
Here lies the Cavaliers problem. They have a group of youngsters and Jamison, Varejao, Anthony Parker and Daniel Gibson representing the team’s veteran leadership. There is no reason Parker should be back next season—there was no reason he should have been brought back this season.
Gibson has been chronically overrated his entire career. Varejao, while the team’s unofficial captain, has missed significant time due to injury throughout his career, and is not primarily an offensive player.
If the Cavaliers don’t draft another scoring option at guard (they could also really use a true center inside who knows how to play defense and rebound without fouling), however, their offense won’t look promising next season if they part ways with Jamison.
Kyrie Irving cannot serve as the team’s sole offensive option. In an offense that already looks uncertain at times, putting the entire offensive burden on a second-year player wouldn't bode well for improvement in year two of the "Kyrie Era."
Love him or hate him, Antawn Jamison should remain a Cavalier, not only for the rest of this season but next season as well. While his contract isn’t friendly now—he’s earning $15 million this season—the Cavaliers should at least make him an offer, preferably closer to the $8-10 million a year range for 1-2 more years.
Tristan Thompson is indeed the Cavaliers power forward of the future and should be given extended minutes for the rest of the season. A poor shooting percentage and raw offensive skills, however, prevent Thompson from being anything more than a promising talent at this point.
Hopefully, Tristan’s game will improve with more playing time, but even so, his greatest assets are his defense and rebounding not his offense. Having Jamison around as a mentor couldn’t hurt his development.
The main argument for keeping and hopefully re-signing Jamison is an argument of necessity. Cavs fans found out what happens when you can´t surround a young star with proven talent. It doesn't matter how good Kyrie Irving is or will become, without quality role players around him, the Cavaliers will never get back to being an elite team.
Detractors who will cite the salary argument—that the Cavaliers should rid themselves of Jamison´s contract in hopes of saving money to lure a free agent or two—don´t live in the reality that is being a Cleveland fan. Cleveland sports simply don't attract marquee talent in free agency, no matter the sport.
If LeBron James couldn't convince someone better than Larry Hughes to sign in Cleveland, nothing can. If Jamison truly enjoys playing in Cleveland as he´s claimed, maybe he´d reconsider finishing a respectable NBA career in Charlotte, and stay with the team whose looked to him for leadership during their most difficult moment as a franchise.