Is This It for Antawn Jamison?

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Is This It for Antawn Jamison?
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

It was supposed to be the seventh stop of Antawn Jamison's NBA journey.

After only 22 appearances—and plenty more healthy scratches—as a member of the Los Angeles Clippers, a deadline deal sent the 37-year-old to the Atlanta Hawks.

That's how it read in the transaction log, at least. In reality, Atlanta was simply a detour on Jamison's route to the waiver wire, a destination he officially reached Friday, via Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

After 15-plus NBA seasons, this feels like a possible unceremonious send-off for a player deserving of something far better. If that's in fact how it plays out, it won't follow the two-year plan the scoring forward had laid out late last season.

"After this year, I got two more years," he said, via Michael Lee of The Washington Post. "Mentally, I'm set for two more years and that's it."

His mind might be up for the challenge, and his body seems like it could handle the workload in the right situation.

The question is whether an NBA team will give him the chance to prove himself. It's a war he's been waging since 1998.

 

Remembering the Ride

At some point, the basketball world will figure out how to process Jamison's career, then kick itself for waiting far too long to properly appreciate it.

He's a shoulda-coulda-woulda superstar, a player continually burned by the wrong-place, wrong-time tragedies of his story.

The No. 4 overall pick in 1998, a draft-night swap sent him to the Golden State Warriors. Not only was the start of his career delayed by a lockout, but it also took place in a toxic environment on a Warriors team still picking up the pieces after being rocked by the Latrell Sprewell-P.J. Carlesimo choking incident a year earlier.

The conditions couldn't have been much worse, but they were still better than the team's roster. In Jamison's rookie season, only three players on the team—John Starks, Donyell Marshall and Chris Mills—averaged double figures, but none managed more than 13.8 points or shot better than 42.1 percent.

Being a savior wasn't going to be enough. Jamison needed to be a miracle worker.

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

The win column says that miracle never happened, but Jamison's stat sheet begs to differ.

The Warriors went just 116-262 during his five seasons in Oakland, but it's hard to pin all—or any—of that blame on him. He played for five different coaches across that stretch and served alongside 52 different teammates.

If the NBA had a broken home, Jamison was growing inside of it.

That's the miracle portion, though. In spite of all the changing faces around him, Jamison was growing. A 9.6-points-per-game scorer as a rookie, he bumped that number to 19.6 as a sophomore.

Over his final three seasons in Oakland, he played all 246 of the Warriors' games. He averaged 22.3 points on .452/.313/.745 shooting, 7.5 rebounds, two assists and 1.1 steals.

With 38 wins in 2002-03, the Warriors seemed to be turning a corner. But the Washington Wizards swooped in and inked rising star Gilbert Arenas to a six-year, $65 million contract the Warriors couldn't match. Golden State quickly made a mad dash for the reset button, shipping Jamison to the Dallas Mavericks as part of a nine-player trade.

In Dallas, Jamison dropped from key contributor to sixth-man supporter. Surrounded by Dirk Nowitzki, Michael Finley, Steve Nash and Antoine Walker, Jamison was playing with more help than he could have dreamed of before.

David Sherman/Getty Images

He was an unfairly talented reserve, easing his way to 14.8 points on .535/.400/.748 shooting and 6.3 rebounds in 29 minutes. He picked up Sixth Man of the Year honors and the Mavs rolled to 52 wins, but they were dispatched in the opening round by the Sacramento Kings.

Clearly, the Mavs were still missing some pieces, and Jamison was deemed expendable. An offseason trade sent him to the Wizards, reuniting him with former Warriors teammates Arenas and Larry Hughes.

Jamison pumped in 19.6 points a night during his first season in the nation's capital, as the Wizards saw a 20-game boost in the win column (45, up from 25 the season before) and an end to the franchise's seven-year playoff drought.

Caron Butler joined the fold the following season, replacing Hughes as the third face in Washington's three-headed monster. Jamison upped the ante to 20.5 points a night and corralled a then-career-best 9.3 rebounds a night.

The Wizards ripped off 42 wins, but a first-round matchup with LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers brought their demise. That became a broken record in Washington, as the Wizards came up short in three consecutive first-round series with the Cavs.

Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

Arenas struggled with knee problems, playing just 15 games combined over the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons. Jamison kept pulling his weight (21.8 points and 9.5 rebounds), but Washington was consistently losing the superstars numbers game without Arenas.

Soon thereafter, the injury report was the least of Washington's concerns. In early 2010, the Wizards lost Arenas to an indefinite suspension after a gun incident inside the team locker room.

Jamison was the one who would later address Wizards fans before a home game, saying, via NBA.com's David Aldridge, "We're going to do everything in our power, as long as I'm your captain and all these guys right here are my teammates, to make this one of the most respectable organizations in the league."

After 11-plus seasons in the league, it seemed everything had come full circle for Jamison. He entered the league with a franchise reeling from a self-inflicted wound and now was left picking up the pieces after another superstar had taken himself out of the equation.

That's where his tale seemed to turn, though. Rather than use him as a means of getting out of that mess, the Wizards simply tried to put him in a better position. A three-team, six-player deal saw him land alongside James in Cleveland, the one place responsible for spoiling nearly all of the success he'd enjoyed at the NBA level.

Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Jamison only made 23 starts before postseason play opened, but he'd still settled in as the clear-cut No. 2 option for the playoff push. He finished second to James in postseason scoring (15.3) and rebounding (7.4).

The Cavs, however, were steamrolled in six games by the Boston Celtics in their Eastern Conference Semifinals meeting. James made his infamous exit from Cleveland the ensuing offseason, and Jamison once again found himself alone atop a blindsided franchise.

Still, the then-34-year-old led the Cavaliers in scoring during the 2010-11 season (18.0) and finished second behind Kyrie Irving the following year (17.2).

It was the first time since his one-year run as the Mavs' sixth man that Jamison had failed to reach 18.0 points. From his second season in the league through his 14th, he averaged an even 20 points and 7.9 boards.

 

Dramatic Decline and the Uncertain Road Ahead

He went ring-chasing in each of the last two seasons, with both stops blowing up in his face.

He was an extra in the Los Angeles Lakers' disastrous 2012-13 campaign, a player seemingly dropped at random from coach Mike D'Antoni's rotation even while the walls were caving in around the pair.

He had an even smaller role on this season's Clippers. He averaged just 11.3 minutes across 22 games for Doc Rivers' team, reportedly part of a plan to keep him fresh for the postseason, via NBA.com's Scott Howard-Cooper. It's hard to imagine the plan Jamison signed off on included a deadline-deal to the Hawks.

If this is really the end, he's got plenty on which to hang his hat.

His numbers, all too forgettable during his peak, collectively now stand as some of the finest any frontcourt player has ever produced:

Still, he may well be the only player among that group not to slip inside the doors of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

People will point to his lack of honors (two All-Star appearances, no All-NBA selections), a way to justify their previous slights by slighting him again. They'll ask about his postseason success, never bothering to consider the mess he inherited in Oakland or the fact he was a little too early in Dallas, a little too late in Cleveland and constantly burned by chemistry problems he had nothing to do with.

He's the unfortunate face of the nice-guys-finish-last cliche, one of the game's true "good guys" who always seemed out of favor with the basketball gods.

Will any of his luck change now? Does he have any say in the conclusion to his story?

He might not be completely out of options. Before his buyout was even completed, potential suitors were starting to emerge.

The Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs were both interested in him over the offseason, according to ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst and Arash Markazi. The Washington Wizards still reportedly view him with tremendous respect.

Where should Jamison go to continue his career?

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If he does have another entry to make on his hoops passport, there's a good chance that ticket will be punched for what he can add to a locker room. Just because the basketball world largely ignored his incredible ride doesn't change the fact he has a wealth of experience to share.

If there's an on-court role left for him, it won't be a big one. He's never been the best athlete nor much of a defender, and Father Time has taken his toll on both areas.

He still offers something in terms of spacing (36.1 three-point percentage in 2012-13), and I'm not sure his wide assortment of flip shots and runners will ever age. He's always played the game with a high basketball IQ, and that knowledge hasn't left him.

Jamison's the forgotten superstar of his generation, so perhaps this would be an all-too-fitting end to his illustrious career.

I'll still hold out hope for one more chance, though. If that call comes, maybe then he'll get the respect he's always deserved.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

 

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