Byron Mullens is looking for a chance to prove himself.
After his team lost more than 80 percent of its games over the past two seasons, after being jammed on the end of the bench in Oklahoma City as a youngster on a contender, and after a trying free agency period, the Clippers’ new reserve big man is ready to show why he was once considered among the nation’s best amateur players and a top 25 selection in the 2009 Draft.
“There are still a lot of doubters and a lot of people kind of saying, ‘Why did the Clippers do this?’ but I hope to prove people wrong. I’m not going to let anybody down on the team,” Mullens said. “I have a lot of stuff to do this year and I’m going to have a lot better shot selection this year, playing a better role on a better team.”
One of the primary things Mullens, 24, will be asked to do for the Clippers is space the floor from the center and power forward position. He made 66 3-pointers last season after attempting just 51 in his first three seasons combined.
“[Head Coach Doc Rivers] just said, ‘We want you to come in and spread the floor,’” Mullens said. “But there’s also going to be some other things that I’m going to have to do like rebounding, and stuff like that, of course.”
And that’s likely one of the areas Mullens was referring to when he mentioned doubters. He’s not known as a defensive player, but is eager to prove he can provide ample help on that end of the floor. He’s not often thought of as a rebounder, but averaged 6.4 per game in 2012-13 in 26.9 minutes in a Bobcats lineup where he was often roaming the perimeter.
After two seasons in Charlotte he entered free agency for the first time in July. The experience was more “stressful” than anything. “It sucked at first,” he said. “I just really didn’t have a winning history behind me. I think that raised a few red flags and stuff like that, but I’m in a real good situation now and I’m not mad about anything.”
That mindset has been revealed in his offseason preparation. He spent time in Los Angeles playing pickup games and working out with Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Matt Barnes and Darren Collison and has been going through strength training, shooting and conditioning, including track workouts, in Ohio, where he grew up.
Essentially, this summer is only the second time in his five-year career he has been able to know what role he would have on a team before the season began. In Oklahoma City he was used sparingly, but being around a perennial contender gave him an idea of what it takes to win. Two years later he’s relishing the opportunity to be a contributor on a winner.
“[The Clippers have] a great group of guys,” Mullens said. “Just the time I’ve been around the other guys already and it’s just been awesome. They’ve put together a really good, winning program, which is a lot better than what I’m coming from. I’m just really looking forward to it; to that first game and to just get out there and play with the guys.”
Mullens already has a very important Clippers fan back home, too. He posted a photo of his son, Baron, on Twitter blanketed by a white oversized No. 0 Clippers’ jersey.
“His birthday is actually coming up. We’re doing his ‘rookie year’ as a theme for his birthday,” Mullens said of his son. “We put that picture of him in that jersey on a ticket, kind of like a ticket stub. It says ‘Baron’s first birthday.’ It’s actually pretty cool.”
Mullens, who often uses the hashtag #Blessed when talking about his soon-to-be one-year-old son on Twitter, said Baron has made him a better person and player.
“I never really had a father growing up so I don’t want to ever let him down,” he said. “I’ll be there for him for everything. He’s really made me a better player. It’s not about playing for me or my wife anymore. I’m playing for his future and I’m trying to set him up not to let him want for anything really.”
In a way, perhaps, Baron will help make his father’s quest to prove doubters wrong a lot easier.