Nets’ James Finally Arrives in Brooklyn
It’s been a long road from Newark’s Prudential Center to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center for forward Damion James, who signed a 10-day deal with the Nets on Jan 13.
“It’s great,” center Brook Lopez told HOOPSWORLD of James’ return to the team. “I’m so happy he’s back here. I think he’ll continue to get more and more minutes as he earns them.”
James once appeared to be an integral part of the franchise’s future when he was acquired in a draft-day trade in 2010. He had starred at Texas for four seasons, ultimately averaging 18 points and 10.3 rebounds per game as a senior before being selected 24th overall that June.
James was thought to be NBA-ready on Day 1 and even told HOOPSWORLD that he hoped to be a “more athletic Joe Johnson” someday.
And then he broke his foot.
The Nets neglected to pick up James’ option during the 2011-2012 season, and even though general manager Billy King and his staff still believed in his abilities, they allowed James to sign a non-guaranteed deal with the Atlanta Hawks before the season. James ultimately didn’t make the team and was forced to sign with the D-League’s Bakersfield Jam, for whom he averaged 15.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per game in 17 appearances.
It sounds cliché, but James responded to the situation. Even with every NBA hopeful in the league putting him in the crosshairs, James never lost his competitive spirit, and eventually proved to King and the Nets that he was healthy enough for another chance.
“I’m who I am,” James told HOOPSWORLD before making his first appearance of the season — a 17-second effort that included one rebound in Tuesday’s win over the Toronto Raptors. “I bring it to whoever and they bring it to me and guys that will be in my position will take it lightly but I don’t take it likely. I bring it to them. So they’re either going to elevate their game or I’m going to embarrass them.”
One would assume that James needed to change his mentality from the D-League, where he was presumed to be one of the best players on the floor every night. In the NBA he’s being asked to fill a roll, but he didn’t seem to think that changes anything.
“It’s the way I was trained,” James said. “I was trained to be a killer so of course I’m going to play my role but that role is going to be to kill them. No matter what it is, guard the best offensive player, rebound, get buckets in transition, offensive rebounds and if I prove myself, other things will take care of itself.”
There’s no guarantee that James will sign another 10-day deal with the Nets or what may happen to him in the future. Brooklyn currently carries 15 players, and if King wants to make a trade, James might not be retained.
But while that doesn’t sound too promising for the 25-year-old New Mexico native’s future, he doesn’t have to look far to find inspiration.
Nets forward Kris Humphries was once a first-round pick who had led the Big 10 in scoring and rebounding as a freshman at Minnesota. When he got to the NBA, however, it really took him six years and four teams before he really carved out a spot for himself in a rotation.
For James, the experience taught him about patience and focus — two things he’ll continue to rely on if he’s to succeed at this level.
“What I had to learn is that certain things you can’t control,” James said. “I couldn’t control breaking my foot twice, I couldn’t control that. I never been hurt in my whole entire life, never missed a basketball game my whole entire life. For it to be in my first two years in the NBA was kind of funky.
“Me and Kevin [Durant] talked a lot, we are good friends, like bros,” James continued, referring to his former college teammate. “He just told me, you will be back, you are a first-round talent and that’s something you can’t look over. I just kept faith and he kept my focus and I’m back.”
And it’s not like James signed a 10-day contract for a team that simply needed a warm body until another player returned to health (although Gerald Wallace’s health issues may have helped James land the opportunity).
Whereas James would be another face in the crowd in Sacramento or Dallas, he actually has roots with the Nets and the familiar environment is helpful for someone who’s trying to make a home for himself.
“If I was on another team on a ten-day I would feel nervous, but this is the team that drafted me so they really believe in me and for them to bring me back it shows me a good sign.”
And of course, James gets to play next to Johnson, who he had once hoped to emulate.
“I watch him every day, check out how he works and stuff like that,” James said.
“It makes me feel great knowing that somebody idolizes me and thinks that highly of me,” Johnson told HOOPSWORLD. “I just try to do it the right way. Damion is a great dude now that I’ve met him. I’m sure we’ll get a chance to hang out here, but that says a lot.”
James still has a long way to go. Interim coach P.J. Carlesimo said he’s happy that the forward is familiar with the Nets’ system, but explained that he still needed a refresher course on some of the finer points of the playbook.
And as far as his health is concerned, James says he’s 100 percent and no longer concerned with his right foot.
“I am in great position now,” James continued. “Billy King, I can’t thank him enough and the Nets organization for giving me another chance to prove myself because it don’t happen that often and for those guys to believe in me, it says a lot.”