FRISCO, Texas — Sometimes Justin Dentmon wants to strangle his cell phone. But like the rest of us, he can’t live without it. It’s just that so few of us experience the stomach-wrenching anxiety he does with each ring of an incoming call or beep of a text.
“I feel like I’m on call every day, I’m waiting every day,” Dentmon said. “Every time Bill [Neff, his agent] calls and leaves a message, I’m thinking that it’s somebody calling for a contract. I’m really just trying to be patient.”
But time is running short, on the the NBA season, on that elusive call-up and ultimately on the 6-foot point guard’s NBA dream.
“I’m just hoping for that call-up, man,” Dentmon said. “Just the chance, the opportunity.”
Dentmon, 27, plays for the Texas Legends. It is his second stint with the Dallas Mavericks’ D-League affiliate in the last three years, and he leads the league in scoring at 21.5 ppg. He’s averaging 25.9 ppg in 15 games with the Legends since being traded mid-season from the Austin Toros, the San Antonio Spurs’ affiliate he won the league MVP with and led to the D-League title a year ago.
That season, while averaging 22.8 ppg and 5.5 apg while shooting lights out from beyond the arc, it took until March 24 for Dentmon to get the call for his first 10-day contract with the Spurs. A few days after San Antonio released him, the Toronto Raptors quickly scooped him up with another 10-day contract. But they decided to hold onto Ben Uzoh, a D-League staple this season with the Springfield Armor.
But Dentmon felt like he had finally got himself on the map and closer than ever before to realizing his dream. Last summer he was set to play for Dallas’ summer league team and Dentmon and his agent believed that the Mavs, whose president of basketball operations, Donnie Nelson, co-owns the Legends, were ready to sign him to a partially guaranteed NBA contract. That would get him to training camp in October where he could compete for a roster spot.
But disappointment followed. He didn’t play as much as he would have liked in the five summer league games and then four days later his desired contract fell through because Dallas re-signed veteran, but troubled guard Delonte West. Without an NBA contract, Dentmon returned to the D-League Toros this season to begin the fight all over again.
And now with just 13 games left in the Legends’ season, West’s shadow looms again. The Mavs waived West prior to the season for detrimental behavior and he’s been out of the league since. Five weeks ago he failed to report to the Legends after signing a contract, however he is apparently ready to join the team now in a late attempt to salvage his derailed career.
It’s a difficult pill to swallow for Dentmon. He essentially plays the same position and could lose essential playing time. It seems like that’s been a constant threat since the Legends traded for him on Jan. 22. West signed his original Legends deal on Jan. 25 and days later a report revealed the team was making a play for former NBA MVP Allen Iverson, who declined the invite.
Still, with flirtations with West and Iverson, the prospect Dentmon was left wondering what it all meant for him.
“I talked to Bill [his agent] and I’m like, ‘Bill what’s going on? They’re bringing in all these guys and they just traded for me,’” Dentmon said. “He just told me to continue to be me.”
So Dentmon does. He’s scored 30 or more points in five of the last 10 games and has averaged 27.9 points during that stretch to get the Legends on the cusp of playoff contention. He arrived to the team during a 12-game losing streak and has since helped them win six of their last nine. Still, he waits for the call he has yet to receive.
“I’m still hoping that he will,” said first-year Legends coach and former NBA forward Eduardo Najera. “I’ve been working with him in terms of mentoring what he needs to be doing. I think scoring takes you a long way, but you’ve still got to be able to play defense and be in great shape. I’ve been pounding on that because I really believe this kid, in top shape and he when plays individual defense — and we’ve been working on it every single day in practice — he can make it to the NBA and also stay there because he’s that talented.”
Dentmon, who went undrafted out of Washington in 2009, has played overseas in stints, in Israel and Italy and even the Dominican Republic. At home, he’s fought the constant battle of being labeled undersized and the perception that he’s a shooting guard trapped in a point guard’s body. He keeps coming back to the lower wages of the D-League, he said, because he deems it the second-best league in the world and the best way to make it to the No. 1 league.
“I just really want to stay here, but playing here it seems like it keeps pushing me away,” Dentmon said. “I’m trying my hardest. Last year, I did a great job of playing the point and this year I’m playing a little bit of both, but it’s just tough, it’s tough.”
So he plays, practices and practices some more as he waits for the phone to ring. If it doesn’t ring soon, Dentmon said it will be time for him to make his own call whether to stay or go make a better livelihood playing overseas.
“It all depends on if I’m getting any looks or if get called up this year,” he said. “If I don’t get any call-ups this year, maybe it’s telling me I need to go overseas for a little bit.”