DALLAS — The NBA Developmental League is designed to develop young talent to one day be NBA-ready. But, hey, if it helps revive an old vet’s career along the way, what’s the harm?
See Mike James.
The Utah Jazz on Sunday night saw all they wanted and more of the 37-year-old fireplug point guard who refuses to stop believing just because NBA general managers did. James carved up the Jazz for a season-high 19 points and five assists to help his Dallas Mavericks to a 113-108 victory that put them in a tie in the standings for ninth place with the wheezing Jazz and two games behind the Los Angeles Lakers for the final playoff spot in the West
James survived two 10-day contracts and earned his keep for the remainder of the season. And he’s hardly been just a passenger as he was last season when the Chicago Bulls picked him up and never found a use for him. James came to Dallas and rather quickly supplanted Darren Collison as the closing point guard. Following a 33-point loss at Houston on March 3, James took his spot as the starter, too.
The Mavs beat the Rockets in their very next game with James finishing with eight points, six assists and one turnover. Dallas is 8-3 sine he became the starter, is just two games off of .500 for the first time since Dec. 20 and is back in the playoff conversation with an April 2 meeting in L.A. against the shaky Lakers.
And the only reason James, a one-time 20-point scorer for the Toronto Raptors, is back in the league — let alone starting for the first time since 2008-09 with Washington — is because he didn’t stop believing and pleaded for one last shot in the D-League. The Texas Legends, the Mavs’ affiliate, gave it to him.
“It was frustrating for me to have to go that route,” James said. “It was frustrating that no team would really give me an opportunity, not because of my skill level, but because of my date of birth. So I just had to prove everyone wrong that what they believe about me, don’t put me in the same statistic as everyone else. So it’s not about living the dream, it’s about this is who I already know myself to be and the things I’ve already prepared myself to be capable of doing.”
In his 33 games with Dallas, James is averaging 6.0 ppg and 2.8 apg while shooting just 36.5 percent from the floor (and 40 percent from 3-point range), so he didn’t earn his playing time by instantly becoming an explosive scorer or playmaker.
Listen to Vince Carter describe what James, a reserve on the 2004 Detroit Pistons title team, has delivered:
“His ability to make shots, he’s been in big games before, he’s been in playoff games before, his toughness,” Carter said. “He’s not afraid to take the shot, he’s not afraid to guard the best player, best guard, whatever the case may be. He’s just very experienced, seasoned, and I think he’s done a great job in taking on the role, and he really brings it in practice. … He’s always ready to play. I recall playing against him and he’s always ready to go. I think that adrenaline can sometimes wear you out, and once he got his legs he had more arc in his shot and he’s just been in an unreal rhythm right now for our team.”
And coach Rick Carlisle, who has granted James — having played 15 games the last three seasons and out of the league entirely two years ago — this new life and finally settled the position after Derek Fisher came and went and Collison couldn’t consistently get the job done:
“The thing I like about him, he’s one of these guys that has great experience and he has great confidence in himself,” Carlisle said. “If there’s blunt things you need to say to him, you can be completely straightforward with him. He’ll take everything the right way, and he’ll keep battling his butt off.”
Most didn’t bat an eye when the Mavs called James up after just a few days with their D-League affiliate, the Texas Legends. Hardly anyone noticed when he got a second 10-day contract and when he was signed for the rest of the season, making it 11 teams (including two stints with Houston) in 11 NBA seasons.
Now, some are taking notice, including Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin, who singled out James’ recent contributions before Sunday’s game. More will take notice after Sunday’s performance and as the stretch run heats up. In his 11 starts, James is averaging 10.4 ppg., 4.8 apg and is 24-for-51 (47.1 percent) from beyond the arc.
“This is just who I am, you know, I’m a worker bee,” James said. “Any time somebody’s started giving me credit and loving who I am as a ballplayer it makes me go in the gym even more and it makes me prepare even more because I understand that the only way that they’re giving me the love that they’re giving me is because of what I’m doing on the court. So I never focus on the praise that people give me. I just continue to keep focusing on my work.”