Jamison on the brink of a milestone

Antawn Jamison didn’t know the exact numbers. He knew he had compiled an impressive resume after 16 seasons in the league but he didn’t know the company he had put himself in as he stood in front of his locker Saturday night in Cleveland.

Jamison is just five points shy of 20,000 in his career. Sometime this week, perhaps even tonight in Philadelphia, he will become one of only 20 players in NBA history to reach 20,000 points, 8,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists. Out of the previous 19 players to hit those numbers, only Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki are active and of the 16 other players to do so only Shaquille O’Neal, who retired two years ago, has yet to be enshrined in the hall of fame.

“I didn’t find out until somebody told me after the game,” Jamison said. “I’ve been blessed to play 16 years and to be able to accomplish that says a lot but I don’t really think about. To sit back and think about all the things I’ve been through, all the ups and downs, and being able to produce year in and year out, it’s rewarding.”

It’s only a matter of time before Garnett, Duncan, Nowitzki and O’Neal are in the hall of fame but what about Jamison? Will he be the only player to hit that lofty career stat line and fail to be inducted? Jamison understands it’s far from a lock but hopes his numbers and the company he’s in will put him in the conversation.

“Everybody who plays this game would love to be in that category,” Jamison said. “That would be awesome. You look at my career and hopefully the numbers will say that. To have those numbers with the guys who do have them in the hall of fame speaks volumes. It’s a dream and hopefully it comes true.”

It’s hard to make the argument that Jamison should be in the hall of fame if you just looked at his past two seasons in Los Angeles; last season with the Lakers and this season with the Clippers. Jamison signed with both teams in the hopes of winning his first championship and is obviously still optimistic that this season with the Clippers will eventually turn out better than last season’s disappointing run with the Lakers.

Jamison had averaged nearly 20 points per game during his career before signing with the Lakers last season. He had averaged 17.2 points per game as a starter with Cleveland the previous season and was viewed as a perfect sixth man for the Lakers after they had also added Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. He could have signed a three-year, $11 million deal with his hometown Charlotte Bobcats and padded his stats before retiring but instead signed a one-year deal for the veteran's minimum ($1.4 million) to chase a ring with the Lakers, and did the same this season with the Clippers.

But last season not only didn’t go as planned for the Lakers, it didn’t go as planned for Jamison who didn’t play in nine games, not because he wasn’t healthy, but because Mike D’Antoni simply didn’t want to play him. He suffered through five consecutive “DNP-CD” games in late December for the first time in his career and openly wondered if he done something wrong.

“There was no communication,” Jamison said of last season. “Just not knowing what’s going on. It was tough, especially with the team not producing the way we should have. I know [D’Antoni] was put in a difficult situation last year and he was trying things out but everything that could’ve gone wrong went wrong last year. I didn’t know what my role was or an understanding of what he wanted. That’s the biggest difference between this year and last year.”

As bad as last season was for Jamison, statistically this season has been even worse. In fact, he’s on pace to have the worst season of his career, by far, but he’s fine with it. After not playing the first 14 games of the season, Jamison has played in the last seven straight. He is averaging 5.3 points and 3.6 rebounds per game.

The biggest reason Jamison has a smile on his face while sitting on the bench this season as opposed to last season is he knew what his role would be this season with the Clippers. When he sat down with Doc Rivers in the offseason, Rivers laid out exactly how he planned to use him this season.

“I was very honest with him and up front,” Rivers said. “I told him up front if you’re coming here to start or play a ton of minutes, that’s not going to happen. I don’t want to overuse you and he was fine with that. I said my plan is to preserve you. You’re a freaking antique. So we’re going to put the polish him and keep him shining and make him look good.”

After a season where he thought he could potentially win Sixth Man of the Year for a championship contender, Jamison was simply happy to know what his role would be before the season began.

“He told me, ‘Antawn, I need you here for the playoffs. I know what you can do," Jamison said. "This team won 56 games without you last year and I think they can do the same thing without you, but most importantly I need you healthy for the second half of the seasons and the playoffs.’ I knew right then what my role was. It wasn’t about the regular season. It was about my health and making sure when the important season comes around at the end of April and going into May and June that I’m healthy and can contribute."

Jamison’s role has increased recently with the struggles of Byron Mullens and Ryan Hollins as well as injuries to J.J. Redick, Matt Barnes and Reggie Bullock. They’ve needed Jamison to do more as he did in Memphis last week when he had a season-high 11 points and 4 rebounds in the Clippers’ 101-81 win over the Grizzlies.

“I wasn’t sure if I was going to play him in the Memphis game because I want to avoid the back-to-backs but he said he was fine,” Rivers said. “It’s so early in the season and we didn’t play him early, I felt like I could play him as much as you want on this trip. But I’m going to be real careful with him. When you’re old like him you can wake up in bed and hurt your foot.”

Jamison laughs when he hears jokes about his age now. Players on the Clippers call him, “16” in reference to how many seasons he’s been in the league and he shakes his head when he’s told Bullock, sitting next to him in the locker room, was just seven years old when he made his NBA debut. Jamison is content with his new role in the twilight of his career as he reaches a personal milestone that will put him in the same company of players that have had hall of fame careers but more importantly have won a title. That’s the final goal Jamison has before he retires.

“I could have been in a situation where I was playing more but I wanted to be on a championship caliber team,” Jamison said. “I knew I would have to take a lesser role and I’m OK with that. I knew what I was sacrificing to do that. I told myself when my last contract was over, for the next 2-3 years I want to really chase a championship and that’s what I’m doing.”