CLEVELAND — Before he left Cleveland for sunny Los Angeles, veteran Antawn Jamison left the Cavaliers one final going away present: He taught Samardo Samuels what it means to be a professional.
At Samuels' request, they spent two months together last summer near Jamison's home in Charlotte, N.C. They worked out together every day, either in the weight room or on the basketball court — and sometimes both. Although he was the old man on the team last season, no one on the Cavaliers' roster was in better shape than Jamison — and perhaps no one was in worse shape than Samuels. He wanted to make sure that never happens again.
“I've got a work ethic now,” Samuels said. “That's what I truly picked up from him was to work hard and do what I need to do to keep my body in shape.”
Now Samuels is facing the bitter reality of the NBA. Despite working harder than he ever has in an offseason, he rarely gets off the bench these days. He had 10 points and a couple of rebounds in Wednesday's loss at the Indiana Pacers. His 22 minutes were the most in a game since Nov. 7 at Golden State, when half the roster was either sick or injured.
Samuels is doing his best to stay positive despite the inactivity, but conceded the limited playing time makes him more anxious when he actually does get an opportunity.
“I want it to happen now,” Samuels said. “Sometimes it's like you want it so bad and you're waiting and waiting, then when it does come, your mind starts racing. You're overthinking everything. I miss a shot and it's like, ‘Oh (shoot), I can't miss a shot.'
“It's like a broken record, waiting for your opportunity. I wake up like, ‘When is this opportunity going to come?' That's the tough part.”
That's why Jamison still texts and calls Samuels fairly regularly. Despite playing for the Lakers, Jamison is keeping close tabs on the Cavs these days. He called Samuels early in the season when minutes were scarce and told him to stay positive and motivated.
Jamison felt like he was talking to a different Samuels. It certainly wasn't the same teammate he had the past two years. Jamison said it was “definitely” the most committed he'd seen Samuels to basketball.
“He surprised me this summer,” Jamison said. “He was outdoing me. He was there before me lifting in the mornings, working on ball-handling techniques. Then we'd get shots up in the afternoon. He was kicking my (butt). He was dedicated.”
Samuels knew things had to change. Cavaliers coach Byron Scott was fairly blunt with him at the exit interview after last season, but Samuels knew he had a bad season without having to hear it from his coach. He was unable to join the team in Toronto for a game early in the season because he lost his passport during the lockout. He angered Scott by showing up to camp out of shape, then denying that he was overweight and out of shape.
“Last year was hell,” Samuels said. “Over the summer, I was like, ‘I'm going to go after it. I'm going to dedicate myself. I need to get better.”'
Samuels has improved, but rookie Tyler Zeller and a healthy Anderson Varejao have cut into his minutes. He admitted he regrets not getting serious earlier, sometimes wondering how life might be different now had he showed this type of dedication during the lockout.
But he tries not to dwell on it, instead working toward his next chance — whenever that might be.
Both Jamison and Scott said Samuels' biggest hurdle remains the mental side. He still makes silly mistakes on the court, whether it be a bad pass or a mental breakdown on defense. A big part of Jamison's message during the summer was eliminating the mental mistakes as an excuse the coaches can use not to play him.
“It probably is just the mental aspect of it,” Scott said. “It's nothing physical. It's all between the ears right now and getting that part of the game down pat. Once he does, he's going to be in the rotation on a steady basis.”
Distributed by MCT Information Services