Follow the Leader

In his 22 months in Cleveland, veteran forward Antawn Jamison has seen both ends of the basketball spectrum.

When he arrived at the Trade Deadline two seasons ago, he joined a team that was an odds-on favorite to win the NBA title – with Jamison himself as the final piece of the puzzle. Months later, the Wine and Gold were picking up the pieces and Jamison found himself in the unfamiliar (and unwelcomed) role of coming off the bench.

And last spring – after 10 seasons of playing at least 66 games per – Jamison injured his left pinkie finger on February 27 against the Sixers. To correct the injury, the former Tarheel had nine screws and two plates put in.

And yet Jamison, the Cavs consummate professional, is ready to roll as his second Training Camp in Cleveland tips off.

“I love the organization, and it’s a very unique situation,” said Jamison as he wrapped up a pre-Camp workout at Cleveland Clinic Courts. “I think we learned a lot in a disappointing season. But we still have a lot of and a lot of room for things to happen. (It’s) a great fan base. And I’m kind of getting used to calling this home.”

Jamison is among the squad’s elder statesmen – one of only three players born in the ‘70s. But the 13-year pro from North Carolina feels rested and ready for season number 14 as the Cavaliers return to respectability.

“I was getting treatment throughout what I guess you’d call the offseason,” said Jamison. “And I’ve been playing for the past couple months and haven’t had any setbacks or anything like that. So, I can pretty much presume that (the finger) is fully healed. It hasn’t prevented me from any activities as far as playing or lifting or anything like that.

“I can pretty much go out there and be myself when I’m out there playing.”

It’s been a while since the Cavaliers took the court – even longer for Jamison. But he was near the top of his game when he went down late last year. Five games before being injured, Jamison notched his 18,000th point as a professional. In his last game before the injury, he led the Wine and Gold with 28 points and 13 boards – netting 16 of his 28 after intermission in a 115-109 over the Knicks.

Jamison is entering the last year of his contract and knows that trade rumors will eventually circulate. But, naturally, he’s kept an even keel about things outside of his control.

“I look at it as if I didn’t go anywhere last year, I’m not going anywhere this year,” reasoned the two-time All-Star. “Especially this year with Tristan (Thompson) and Samardo (Samuels) and those guys. My value now is greater than it was last year. These guys can learn a lot from me and what I’ve been through. I think it benefits those guys – knowing Coach Scott’s system. It makes sense.”

It’s difficult to believe the affable vet was once the biggest thorn in the Wine and Gold’s side. Before being dealt here in early 2009, Jamison did plenty of postseason damage as a member of the Wizards. In three consecutive first round series against Cleveland – 16 games total – the 6-9, 235-pounder averaged 21.5 points and 9.6 rebounds per contest.

In 56 games last season, Jamison put up his standard strong numbers, averaging 19.7 points and 7.3 boards per contest. The model of consistency in his dozen-plus years in the league, Jamison has averaged 19.4 and 7.9 for his career.

In terms of veteran leadership, Jamison is the best of both worlds. He can still perform at a high level and is the perfect mentor for young guns like Tristan Thompson, Samardo Samuels and Omri Casspi.

“You know me – I’m not going down without a fight, but when they need me to help out I will definitely help out,” offered Jamison. “I remember my rookie year. I was competing with some vets. When it was time to play, we went at it. But when it was time to learn, they did everything possible to help me out. It made a difference in my career.”

Antawn Jamison’s role might change this season in Cleveland. Thankfully, the man and the player will not.