This season, in addition to backing up Derrick Rose in Chicago, Mike James brings that veteran’s perspective to sportsnet.ca, covering topics around the Association in his new weekly column, James World.
Last weekend the Phoenix Suns traded Marcin Gortat to the Washington Wizards for the expiring contract of injured big man Emeka Okafor. A lopsided trade, it signalled the waving of the white flag on the Suns’ part and was perceived as a measure to free up cap space and improve position in the draft lottery. In another word: tanking. So what’s it like when your team dogs the season before it even begins? And what about if you’re the guy being moved just days before the season begins? Chicago Bulls guard Mike James dishes on dealing with the harsh realities of the NBA, the ever-growing Andrew Wiggins Hype Machine, and also looks back at his past trades.
You always go into a new season thinking you have an opportunity to win a championship, or make the playoffs. But when the organization makes trades that are not really geared to help the team, and instead maybe motivated by the salary cap or draft picks, it’s really frustrating.
That said, this may be an opportunity for somebody else to step up and become a good, or even great player in this game. There are superstars in the game that are born, but the rest of the stars are made. So if one player leaves, that becomes an opportunity for another guy to come in and step up and make his name.
And even though the organization may be thinking about the future as opposed to right now, you still have a job to do every day. You’re not going to go out there and embarrass yourself; you have to put in your work and play the game the right way. You still have a future to look out for. If you tank the season just like the organization may have thought about doing then there’s a chance teams won’t want to sign you the following year.
It comes down to this: Just because a team is losing, you don’t have to be a loser. You have to go out and compete with your heart every single day. And even if you’re losing games, people can see your passion in how you play and prepare.
But it’s always an experience when you’re traded. Most of the trades that I’ve been in, I was never a player that was just thrown in. In most cases, I was the reason why the trade happened because of whatever happened with myself or the organization. No matter where I went I played with my heart. Going to a new team, the only thing that changes is the name on the front of the jersey. The name on the back is never going to change — that’s the name I’m never going to disrespect. Because of that name on the back I always play with a chip on my shoulder and a passion, and it’s because of that passion that I’m going to compete for the name on the front.
The only time I was ever surprised by a trade was when I was traded from Houston to Toronto. That was the only time that it shocked me — all of the other times I either asked for a trade or knew that it was coming. I remember it was Media Day in Houston and I was having the most fun, laughing, joking around. And then Jeff Van Gundy called me the next day. We were about to have our first practice, and I’m getting ready and he calls and says, “Mike, you’ve been traded.”
I said, “Are you serious?” I honestly thought he was joking.
“No, really, you’ve been traded.”
“Where am I going?”
“Toronto!? Who am I getting traded for?”
“I know you’re not trading me just for Rafer.”
I mean, like wow. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing because I always thought Houston was the place for me. But that’s how things happen in the NBA, so you always have to be prepared for anything. And wherever you play you have to play with your heart. I had put in the preparation that summer, so I had the mindset believing that I was going to be one of the best guards in the league that season. I wanted to do that for Houston, but obviously when I got traded to the Raptors my mindset didn’t change. I was a little angrier, but I still had that passion.
And listen, all of this hype is not fair to the kid [Wiggins]. Now he has to live up to expectations that he may not be ready to live up to. So he can’t fail. And never mind just being a basketball player — right now anything less than all-star status is a failure for him. He has no place to fall. So it’s not fair. That’s the problem that he’s going to face and it comes down not to physical toughness, but mental toughness. Guys are going to be keying on him and nobody is going to give him anything, especially as a rookie. He’s dealing with expectations of being a great NBA player, but so far all he’s proven in his young career is that he’s a great high school player. Even now as a freshman going into college he needs to prove whether he can be a superstar at that level. Fourteen points a game is not going to be acceptable. Eighteen points is not going to be acceptable coming from him.
But even if he averages 10 points, he’s still going to be drafted No. 1 because of the hype. It has nothing to do with his skills. These days the game is built on potential, not what skills you can provide now. So because of that there’s going to be a ton of pressure on him, and only superstars can handle that. And you know, they say pressure busts pipes. But it also makes diamonds.
Q: Andrew Wiggins is getting a lot of hype, but who’s the best high school player you’ve ever seen? –Janelle, Halifax, N.S.
The best high school player of all time, the guy who started this trend of hype and potential, I think, is Felipe Lopez. He’s from New York and played for Rice HS and at St. John’s University. He’s probably the best high schooler to ever play the game. And there was so much hype behind him. Maybe if he had come out after his freshman year his career would’ve been different, but because he stayed in school it’s almost like everybody caught up to him. And it comes back to work ethic. You may have a certain skill level that’s better than everybody else on the high school level, but if you’re not putting in the work and instead you’re just trusting your skill, everyone is going to catch up as other kids start peaking with you. They always say hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.
[Ed note: Lopez was the 24th pick of the 1998 draft and averaged 5.8 points in 16 minutes per game in four years playing for Vancouver, Washington and Minnesota.]
Q: I read that Dwane Casey announced DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay are the Raptors co-captains. I didn’t realize they had captains in basketball—what do they do and does every team have one like in hockey? Who is the Chicago Bulls captain this season? –John, Port Credit, Ont.
Your captains are your vocal leaders. They’re guys that motivate your team and keep everyone under control. That’s what the captain does. They don’t have to have been on the team the longest, and aren’t necessarily your best players. They basically lead by example, somebody who everybody believes in and has everyone’s back. He’s there to pick somebody up when they’re struggling. This is what you’re expecting from your captain.
In Chicago, our captains are Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah. Joakim, he’s the energy for this team right here. He’s the one that maintains the defence, constantly talking and uplifting players. In my eyes those are the two leaders.