Posted Aug 6 2010 6:40PM
The roller coaster has dropped him off somewhere near the intersection of Proven Success and Uncertain Future. It is the summer of 2010. Jason Kapono unbuckles and gets out. He looks around and decides this is a good place.
Of course he does. He's not going to say otherwise, not with a new and very powerful coach hitting Philly and not coming off a season heavy on the disappointment. Going negative now would be the wrong move. But he also would not say otherwise because Kapono is a shooter and that means he just keeps firing, ideally without overthinking the moment, preferably without concern of what could go wrong, hopefully while loving the pressure of the proving ground rather than shrinking from it.
Now all Kapono has to do is prove he's still that guy. He insists with a marksman's certainty that he is, yet is realistic enough to admit that a critical aspect of his 2010-11 with the 76ers will be to re-establish his former public standing as arguably the most-dangerous three-point threat in the league.
What a time to take on the project, too. Doug Collins is taking over as coach, a sideline heavyweight with no allegiance to past rotations or need to make previous roster decisions look good. Ohio State's Evan Turner, the consensus College Player of the Year, is coming in as the No. 2 pick in the draft with the potential to play three positions, including Kapono's at small forward. Second-year point guard Jrue Holiday, a fellow UCLA product, had a nice rookie finish. Thaddeus Young is 22 and has a promising future. Spencer Hawes was acquired, at 22, as a new center. The Sixers are not waiting for the past to catch up.
The encouraging news for Kapono is that it's not like he's some major reclamation project. It was just 2007-08 that he led the league in three-point shooting -- for the second time. He also won the three-point crown at All-Star weekend twice, a gimmicky title except that it brought a former second-round pick additional publicity and affirmed his place among peers in his specialty.
But Kapono has tumbled from the 51.4 percent behind the arc and 49.4 overall in 2006-07 with the Heat that earned him a free-agent deal in Toronto worth a reported $24 million over four years to the 48.3 and 48.8, respectively. The 2008-09 in Canada resulted in 42.8 and 43.2. Traded to Philadelphia, he dropped all the way to 36.8 on threes -- out of the top 40 -- and 41.9 overall.
He needs a reminder season. He needs to re-position himself as one of the top long-distance threats of the league.
"Definitely," Kapono admitted. "Every year is a fight. You always want to try to establish yourself. But after a year in which your team doesn't do that well and you don't really play as much as you would like -- whether it was fair or not, whether it was a deserved role for you -- yeah, I definitely want to go back and establish myself, have a prominent role, play a significant part on the team and obviously win."
The part about a deserved role is the shot that did connect. Specifically, the inconsistent role under coach Eddie Jordan. Kapono was always going to be the perimeter weapon, just as in Miami and Toronto, but the choppy minutes became a source of frustration.
October and November: 16.2 minutes a game, 46.5 percent overall, 44 percent on three-pointers.
December: 12.5 minutes, 38 percent, 34.8 percent.
January: seven minutes, missed all four tries from behind the arc, missed one other field goal.
February: 10 minutes, 11.1 percent overall, zero for seven on threes.
March: 22.2 minutes, 37.4 percent, 35.2 percent.
April: 27.9 minutes, 53.3 percent overall, 42.4 percent on three-pointers.
Back and forth he went. Down and down went the success rate, until he felt like he had no flow.
"Not at all," Kapono said. "That's the hardest thing. Especially as a shooter. It's a feel-game. It's a rhythm-type of role. For you to go in once every fifth game and get one or two shots versus consistently playing the same amount of minutes and getting the same amount of shots, it's a lot easier. That's the toughest role in the NBA. Obviously they're all tough. But to come off the bench and have a role where you don't really know what to expect makes it all the more challenging."
The new season brings a new chance with a new coach and a new system. Somewhere in there, at this potential intersection moment of a career, he needs to recapture the old Jason Kapono.
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