The battle for Wizards starting shooting guard is crucial. The backup power forward spot almost just as much, especially with Antawn Jamison nursing injury and little to show in terms of front court depth. The backup point guard position, however, is a relatively unheralded story.
The talented and rock-steady Randy Foye is thought by many to be the favorite to spell Gilbert Arenas. Foye is also in the mix to play off the ball some. But, there’s already quite a crowd competing at shooting guard with Mike Miller, DeShawn Stevenson, Nick Young and even Caron Butler factoring in.
And then there’s Mike James. With Javaris Crittenton currently out with a foot injury and an unknown timetable for return, some of the competition at point has been eliminated … or at least postponed. But with two DNPs in five preseason games, is James being given a fair shake?
“The only way you can really assess yourself is by playing … I got two DNPs in preseason,” James said after Friday’s practice. “Whether it’s fair or not, I’m not the coach, so I can’t say. All I can say is the opportunities I have, I gotta take advantage of them, weather they’re short or not.”
That’s not the only problem in James’ eyes. He’s had a hard time defining his role. On his progression in that department, James said, “So far, I still don’t know my role. That’s the thing right now that’s the most curious to myself … where things are going to stand.”
“Coming into training camp, I prepared myself as well as I possibly could. Coach basically said that there would be battles for things and nothing would be given to people … so we’ll see what will happen. Right now, it’s not encouraging, it’s a little discouraging,” James continued.
“But you can’t complain about things. You understand that there’s two options you can take from this, you can continue to keep working hard, or you can throw in the towel. The second one is definitely not what I plan on doing … never throw in the towel. I’m going to continue to keep working hard and keep grinding. If things don’t change, we have to go from there.”
When asked about James’ role and if he sensed any frustration out of him resulting from two DNPs, Flip Saunders deadpanned, “I mean, that’s exhibition … some guys play and some guys don’t.”
Still, James’ frustration has been noticeable from the bench at times, and seemed to come to a head with a tweet he made (the one you see above) at 9:35 pm on October 14th, not long after the Wizards beat the Cavaliers in Cleveland, a game in which James was handed one of his two DNPs. On Friday, I asked James about invoking a similar line to the beginning of ‘December 4th’ on Jay-Z’s Black Album.
“I mean, it’s a true statement. That’s normally what happens in this game or in anything in life. Most people take you for granted. And when you’re dead … it’s just like Michael Jackson. Now they want to come out with a movie, now they want to forget all the charges that were brought against him, and they want to give him his greatness, give him back his credibility that he’s always rightfully deserved. Why couldn’t they give that to him while he was still here? It only took when he died that people wanted to show how great of a person he was, and how he has a Guinness Book World Record for giving to foundations and charities around the world*, which nobody talked about when he was here on earth.”
“So, it’s the same thing, James said. “When you’re missed, when you leave, when you get traded, then they want to talk about how valuable you were to the team and how other things about you stood out. But when you’re here, they take advantage of you, so they never really care, they never really express it. So, it’s just a true statement … they really don’t miss you until you’re dead or you’re gone. I don’t plan on dying, so after this quote … I’m outta here.”
Potentially being missed or not, James’ three preseason appearances have produced mixed results and leave a lot to be desired by those who comment on sites like Bullets Forever. He looked ‘okay’ in his first game against Dallas, out of sync in Toronto, and stats indicate that he was “serviceable” in an un-televised match against Detroit.
On assessing his play so far, James said, “I give myself a ‘C’ … sometimes you have to get into the feel of the game, you have to keep working and grinding. Against Detroit, I made some good plays, I made some ‘okay’ plays. In Toronto, I didn’t play as well as I was capable of playing. You know, that’s just preseason. Coach is using preseason to figure out who are the players he can trust on the court. So, it’s basically take advantage of the opportunities when you’re given them.”
Over his 45 total minutes of action, James has scored 17 points on 7-15 from the field (.467) with five assists, six turnovers and three steals. His cumulative plus/minus stands at minus-19, the second lowest on the team (Andray Blatche has a minus-24 over five games).
Mike James seems to be a good guy whose lighthearted nature has formed a bond with teammates. But personality only gets you so far. What we do know is that James is one of Ernie Grunfeld’s “assets” … possibly as a veteran point who can manage a team in brief spells, but more likely as an expiring $6.47 million contract.
Which direction the NBA journeyman’s career homestretch will go remains to be seen. Either way, Mike James isn’t going out without a fight. Problem is, he might not have many fighting chances left.
* Jackson is estimated to have given over $500 million to charities in his career.