Antawn Jamison on scouting for Lakers: ‘We can’t recruit off of banners and past championships anymore’

Believe it or not, Antawn Jamison has been retired for five years. The 42-year-old last suited up in an NBA game during the 2013-14 season, finishing his 16-year career with 20,042 points (44th-most in NBA history) and 8,157 rebounds (64th-most in NBA history).

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Since retiring, Jamison has been quite productive. After a brief stint as an analyst during Los Angeles Lakers broadcasts for Time Warner Cable SportsNet, the two-time All-Star realized he wanted to become an NBA executive. Since last season, he’s been working in the Lakers’ front office as a scout.

HoopsHype caught up with Jamison at the Gatorade Jr. NBA All-Star Invitational – a tournament for the top youth teams in North Carolina – where the Charlotte native served as an honorary coach. He discussed his scouting gig, his goal of becoming a general manager, the Lakers’ pursuit of stars and much more.

For those who don’t know, you transitioned from broadcasting to scouting for the Lakers’ front office in late 2017. What prompted that transition and what has that experience been like?

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Antawn Jamison: Just like with anything else, it was just a matter of getting comfortable. When I first got started, I had no idea what to expect. But I’ve known Jesse Buss for a long time and he called me up and said, “Man, I think you’d be good for this role. We just want to see how it would work out.” From there, I just had to learn how to get the scheduling right, so I wasn’t putting too much on my plate and stuff like that. I’d go out to [scout] Duke games and everyone would be looking at me crazy (laughs). But I just had to get comfortable. I think the biggest adjustment for me was just the scheduling. Things like knowing how long it would take to get in and out if I fly into a certain city and finding my way around certain arenas because I’d only come in through the player entrance (laughs).

Once I got used to all that stuff, it was easy for me. They love my insight on the game. I was able to provide my point of view on things and they respected it and they felt like I knew what I was talking about a bit. Assessing the game came easy. That part has always come easy to me – sharing what I saw and what could be improved – whether it was as a teammate or as an analyst or as a scout. Now, for me to be part of the group that puts everything together, that’s what intrigues me.

So you want to become an NBA general manager someday…

AJ: Yeah. Eventually, leading a front office and getting the opportunity to put all the pieces together would be the ideal job.

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Gaining scouting experience is obviously beneficial, but how else has your time in the Lakers’ front office helped you as you pursue your GM goal? You’re working alongside president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and GM Rob Pelinka. Are you picking their brains too?

AJ: I get to see Magic Johnson in action! This is someone who, as a player, I looked up to and now, as a businessman, I look up to even more. Every time I come in there, we just chop it up and talk about everything other than basketball. It’s good to get different assessments from him. I’m learning from Rob Pelinka, who’s been on the agent side, too. [Golden State Warriors general manager] Bob Myers was my agent when I was playing, so I’ve been picking his brain as well. Somebody told me a long time ago, “Take advantage of the people you come in contact with.” I’ve done that. You just never know [what you can learn from someone]. After I retired, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But just by keeping my connections and doing my job, the Lakers reached out and said, “We think you’d be good as a commentator. Do you want to do this?” Then, that opened up new doors for me. Now, this [scouting] opportunity presented itself and hopefully it can open up more doors.

I love the “work.” I always tell people this, but I’ve still never worked a day in my life. I’ve been playing basketball or getting paid to watch basketball. Are you serious?! I can’t make this stuff up! I’m very lucky. This is so much fun for me. I’m never, like, stressed out about anything. And I’m in a situation where I can still spend time with my kids. I’m still in the carpool lane, doing my daddy day care thing. I can still do all of that stuff. And that’s what it’s all about for me, man. You won’t hear any complaints coming from over here. I’m enjoying myself. Someone asked me, “Is this fun? Is this something you want to be doing?” Every year, I get more into it and new things come up and I’m picking different peoples’ brains and learning from new scouts on the road. This is so much fun for me!

After playing together in Cleveland, you and LeBron James reunited in Los Angeles. When you’re looking at the Lakers as a destination and you have LeBron, Los Angeles, the franchise’s history, the great weather and so many guys being from the area, how much of an advantage is that? How attractive is that situation as a whole for players?

AJ: Well, the most important thing in today’s generation is winning. It’s all about winning. I think in the past, especially when I played, it was more about the destination and the market. But these guys can play in Alaska and still have unbelievable marketing and sell just about anything. Now, these guys are like, “Look, we love LA. We’re there in the offseason. But I want to know if we can win.” That’s why the Buss family and Magic and Rob are doing what they’re doing. We get it. We can’t [recruit] off of the banners and past championships anymore. And instead of talking about putting more banners up there, we need to do everything possible to actually put more up there. Magic and those guys are going full force; they have their foot on the gas pedal and they’re trying to get people in there. And you can just tell that, of course, when you have LeBron James on your team, it makes it that much easier. And he’s doing a great job as far as bringing attention [to the Lakers] and bringing guys there. It should be fun and I’m excited to see what the future holds, especially in the next couple years.

When you look at free agency and trades, it’s exciting stuff – not only for the Lakers, but just in general. I mean, you saw how exciting this NBA trade deadline was. To me, this past NBA trade deadline was more exciting than the NFL Draft and almost more exciting than even the NBA Draft! It was unbelievable for, like, two weeks. You kept hearing about all these different scenarios and then you have six trades in one day. Then, there’s a little break and there’s another handful of trades! They just kept coming.

There were 57 players traded in the seven days leading up to the deadline, which is the most in NBA history!

AJ: It was crazy! And I liked the fact that they moved the trade deadline so it’s before All-Star Weekend too. I think it gives teams more time [to get new players acclimated] and it makes things even more exciting. It’s been great, man. I’m really enjoying it.

It sometimes seems like there’s an anti-Lakers sentiment around the NBA, especially among small-market teams. I think there’s the belief that things come easy to the Lakers, which frustrates other franchises. It kind of reminds me of the New York Yankees and how they’re sometimes viewed as the “Evil Empire” in Major League Baseball. Is that real? Do you feel that working within the organization?

AJ: I can see that. I get [the frustration] from a small-market team because they already feel like they’re at a disadvantage. They’re already scared of losing their star, losing their guys. They’re already feeling like that and then, all of a sudden, you have the face of the NBA, LeBron James, joining a Lakers organization that’s already one of the biggest names in all of sports – not just in basketball, but in all of sports. I can understand that [anti-Lakers sentiment]. It happens to teams when they’re winning too. There’s only one team in the NBA that’s [sitting back and feeling great right now] and that’s the Golden State Warriors. Every other team is trying to find a way to get to their level and not lose any stars.

I don’t think [the anti-Lakers sentiment] is as bad as some think. I don’t think it exists among players. Other organizations might [feel that way], but that’s part of what goes on. It’s human nature… The Lakers did a great job of getting LeBron; I don’t think anyone foresaw that happening before the start of last season. It’s been interesting, and it’s exciting for me to be part of this organization.

You mentioned the Lakers landing LeBron. You were able to watch that whole process play out behind the scenes. What was that like seeing his free-agency decision unfold from a front-office perspective?

AJ: It was cool. I was still there in Cleveland when he left to join Miami. Then, I left Cleveland and, shortly after, he came back. I joked with him, “You owe me, man!” (laughs)

But there were some tough years for the Lakers, and [I saw them up close] while commentating and then scouting. There were some uncharted waters – things they had never really experienced before. To get that good news – and to get him when he’s still healthy and coming off of one of his best seasons – was huge. I played with him and he just makes everybody better. He makes everyone want to be successful. He makes everyone want to come in and work hard. It was great to get that news and know he’s going to be part of the organization. We’re finally together for, hopefully, more than a year and hopefully we can make some noise.

We often hear about the recruiting that happens during All-Star Weekend. By the way, I’m talking about player-to-player recruiting, not tampering. I’m not trying to get anyone in trouble…

AJ: (Laughs).

With the player-to-player recruiting, some guys don’t even try to hide it. For example, Bradley Beal admitted he chatted with various stars and tried recruiting them to Washington. You were a two-time All-Star; is recruiting during All-Star Weekend relatively common?

AJ: In my generation, it didn’t happen. It’s totally different now. I’m able to accept it, though. Things change. The way things happened back when Bill Russell and those legends played is totally different from the way things happened when Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen played. When Mike and them played, [the mentality was], “I’m not going to join forces with you. I’m going to figure this out on my own and compete with you.” But that’s changed.

You have to think about it, these guys are coming up together in the AAU circuit. Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing weren’t friends in high school or college! When you met [another star], you two were meeting as rivals. During the offseason, maybe you could laugh and have a good time and let bygones be bygones, but after that? [We’re back to being rivals]. This generation is totally different. A lot of these guys have been cool with each other since they were 13 years old! I get that part. I understand it. But I know for some [former players] or people who have worked in NBA organizations for a while, it’s hard for them to grasp that this is the new wave. But it’s what happens.

A lot of these guys develop strong relationships with each other and have a lot of history before they even enter the NBA. And it makes sense that two friends would think of ways to team up. Decades ago, two stars would probably need to get past their bad blood in order to have that kind of conversation.

AJ: Yeah, it’s very different. I will say this: During All-Star Weekend, we’ve always put our differences aside. Even if you didn’t like somebody, you were civil during the All-Star Game. I saw Shareef Abdur-Rahim earlier today. We never understood each other and we didn’t get along when we played. Off the court, we were always cool and we’d talk about our days playing AAU [against each other] and how we always used to face off. But [we didn’t get along].

I didn’t realize that. Was it just because you were both star players who always went at it?

AJ: Yeah! He used to kick my a**! I couldn’t stop him. I knew he was going to pump fake and I knew I had to stay down, but guess what? He did it so well, I’d be like… (jumps hesitantly). Whenever we played, [people could tell] we didn’t like each other because it was intense. We both competed hard and we both wanted to win. We wanted to win the game and win the match-up. Me and him were talking with Bruce Bowen, who’s another guy I couldn’t stand when I played! I wanted to score the job and Bruce’s job was to prevent me from scoring. Now, we can joke around and have fun. That’s what the All-Star Break is all about. For guys like Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant – I saw those guys talking the other day, just shooting the breeze – it must be a lot of fun because these guys are actually friends on the court and off the court.

It also seems like the game itself has changed drastically – even just in the five years since you’ve been out of the NBA. How crazy is it to see how much the style of play has evolved in such a short period of time?

AJ: Man, I was just telling my son this the other day. He was telling me, “I’m a guard, so this and that.” I said, “Son, there are no positions anymore.” There are no more positions! You have Nikola Jokic, who can pass better than most point guards – in my opinion. He sees the floor better than them and he’s a willing passer. Before, if you were a seven-footer, you [weren’t given that opportunity]. Dirk Nowitzki really helped the game evolve because he was one of the first seven-footers who came out and thought, “I’m going to score from the outside before I do anything on the inside.”

Now, there are no positions and they switch everything. I think for the average fan and people who love the game of basketball, it’s fun to watch. I love it. I think it’s unbelievable. But for some people – like some older coaches – it’s definitely difficult [for them to adjust] and they’re trying to figure it out. I love it, though. I’ll sit there with my kids and we’ll watch basketball all day. It can be the Nets playing the Knicks and even though New York’s record is horrible, you could still see a fun, entertaining game. Back in the day, there were certain match-ups that everyone wanted to see and those were the fun games. Now, I think you can see fun, good basketball being played in just about any match-up on any given day.

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