Playoffs 2017: East First Round -- Cavaliers (2) vs. Pacers (7)

Dahntay Jones made sure he remained prepared when call came from Cleveland Cavaliers

Cleveland again reaches out to veteran late in season for postseason support

Lang Whitaker

INDIANAPOLIS, IN — On the last day of the 2016-17 NBA regular season, with most teams either digging into their playoff preparation or making vacation plans for summer vacations, the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers signed a player who had not played professional basketball in about a year.

Dahntay Jones had been a late addition to the 2015-16 Cleveland Cavaliers, signed on the final day of the regular season one season ago, after playing in 43 games for the Grand Rapids Drive in the NBA D-League. The then-35-year-old Jones was brought in to provide depth and leadership, and his presence paid off in the NBA Finals, when Jones played in 6 of Cleveland’s games and scored five points in the Cavs’ Game 6 win.

After the Cavaliers made history coming back from a 3-1 deficit against Golden State to win the franchise’s first NBA Championship, Jones went to training camp with the Cavs, and was the last player waived. Jones eventually ended up back home in New Jersey watching as the 2016-17 season began without him. While he may not have been in the NBA, he didn’t leave basketball behind, training all winter and playing high-level pick-up games throughout the winter. Jones kept at it as the Cavs shuffled spots at the bottom of the roster, bringing in various players to try and find the perfect combination. And on April 11, literally at the final hour, once again the Cavs came calling.

“Dahntay is a true professional,” said LeBron said on Saturday. “He’s a guy that will do whatever to help this team win, from if he’s never called upon to if he’s called upon for 20 seconds, one minute, five minutes. He always stays ready, he keeps his body in shape, his mind fresh, and the guy’s gonna work on his craft every day. Great teammate. It’s great to have him around. I wish he was around much longer than he’s been here, but I’m happy to have him around.”

NBA.com caught up with Jones on Saturday after the Cavs practiced at Butler University’s historic Hinkle Fieldhouse. While Jones has averaged 5.4 points per game over the last 13 seasons and played in 624 NBA games, last season he earned his first championship ring. And this year, Jones is relishing another chance.

NBA.com: What is your role with this Cavs team?

JONES: I’m a teammate first, I do what I’m supposed to do. I’m a defender, I can get out in transition. We all are a bunch of specialists with some great players here, so my role is to play defense, make open shots, run the floor, and be a teammate.

NBA.com: What were you doing the last few months once the season was underway?

JONES: I was working out every day, and playing three times a week trying to keep myself in shape. Every week was a different week, with different opportunities presenting themselves, but ultimately, my heart was [with Cleveland]. So I passed on a couple of opportunities to be able to come back and play with these guys. But I just had to stay ready every week, because you didn’t know the climate of the next week, and I’d rather just be prepared for anything.

NBA.com: And you were in New Jersey for most the year?

JONES: New Jersey and New York. I live in Edgewater, New Jersey, so I come in New York every day. I would do some work at the NBPA, and then I played at the New York Athletic Club on Sunday, Monday and Thursday nights with guys who play basketball at a high level, who have either played overseas, or maybe they recently stopped playing professionally or were waiting on a new contract. So we had a group of 12-15 guys that consistently played. The New York Athletic Club has a team that plays in tournaments, so I got the chance to practice with them and stay in shape and stay on top of my game.

NBA.com: What was it like to get the call once again on the last day of the season that the Cavs wanted you?

JONES: I’m grateful and blessed to have any opportunity. So, it was great. When my teammates hit me, that’s when I knew it was real. I’d been back and forth with the Cavs for a minute, but when Bron, James [Jones], Tristan [Thompson], JR [Smith] hit me—I talked to those guys all year round, but they had gotten wind of the news—I knew those guys were excited. It was important for them, so it made me feel good.

“It’s great to have him around. I wish he was around much longer than he’s been here, but I’m happy to have him around.”

LeBron James on Dahntay Jones

NBA.com: I was watching you on the bench during Game 3 and you seemed to be very vocal. Is that part of your role?

JONES: My job is not to just sit there and watch the game like I’m a spectator. The guys on the floor draw energy from their teammates. So if your teammate is over there not paying attention, not engaged? Those guys on the floor give it all they have, and they need to draw energy from different players, and sometimes you can draw strength or encouragement from your bench. I see the game from a different perspective than them, too, so I can help guys like Shump, JR and Bron with their coverages and maybe things they don’t see. So, we keep the bench over there engaged. Especially on the road, it’s big to have a support system on your bench that can help you get through tough moments. Even when we were down 26, our bench was still active. Our bench tried to give the energy to them when they didn’t have anything. When they didn’t feel comfortable in the game, we tried to encourage them that the game was not over and tell them that we still had a chance because we are special, and we’ve proved it time and time again.

NBA.com: There was another moment where it looked like Lance Stephenson tried to engage with you guys, but you didn’t respond.

JONES: We’ve been there before. We’ve seen all the woofing, we’ve seen all the antics, we’ve seen all the stuff about, “This is my court! This is my house.” You’ve got to remind guys that we’ve been here, we’ve seen this. We’ve come back, we’ve made people eat their words. So go out there and be special. That’s what it’s all about. We’re all teammates first.

NBA.com: When last season started and you were out of the league, did you ever think that your career might be over?

JONES: There was a point last February when I was in the D-League when I was ready to quit. My coach out there, Otis Smith, he had a conversation with me. He said, “Man, you give more to your teammates than you believe. You’ve got to finish what you started.” So I finished the season, and as head coach, he was getting calls from some teams and he told me there were playoff teams that wanted me on their roster, it was just a matter of which team would pull the trigger first. So he told me to stay ready. Once we finished the D-League season, I was still working out. When it comes time, the big playoff teams were dealing with the cap, and they may not be able to add you early, but they can add you later and save some money under the luxury tax. So it’s not always the way it seems. At that point in time you have a plethora of people you can add, and now you’re trying to add things that can help you.

NBA.com: And you had a relationship with Cavs coach Tyronn Lue before they signed you?

JONES: I’ve trained with T-Lue, so T-Lue knows what I can and can’t do. He was one of the people who encouraged me to keep playing, because there was a point in time where my body was a little messed up. I asked some people I respect if I should keep playing or move on, and he was like, “No, you got a lot of years left in you,” and gave me some encouragement to keep going.

NBA.com: Was there a point a few years back where you thought you might retire without getting a ring?

JONES: Well, I knew the Cavs were one of the teams that were interested, and I knew it was an opportunity. But I never think negatively. Did I think it was over? No, and even when I finished the D-league last year, I knew there was interest for veterans for the next season as well, so I was prepared to stay ready and go to training camp again. I’ve had a whole bunch of stuff happen to me over my career—organizational things not going the right way, whatever. It’s just that sometimes when you persevere and you work hard, good things happen to you.

Lang Whitaker has covered the NBA since 1998. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here or follow him on Twitter.

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