Catching up with Damon Jones
Former Cavs PG wants back in the L.
by Brendan Bowers / @StepienRules
Before this season, Damon Jones played significant minutes for the Cavaliers. But since the $16 million deal he signed in 2005 with Cleveland ran out this past season, he’s been serving threes overseas — playing first in Italy, and most recently now in Puerto Rico. Prior to going overseas, he played in 657 NBA games over 11 seasons, averaging 20.5 minutes, 7 points, 3 assists, and less than 1 turnover a night. Next season he hopes to build on that NBA resume.
“I had a great experience in Italy,” Jones said in a phone interview over the weekend. “I played against some good talent, unfortunately the team was not able to pay the whole season, so I spent only a couple months over there. But I did have a chance to experience a new culture, and play at a high level of basketball.”
Jones signed a deal worth $500,000 to play in one of Europe’s top leagues for Martos Napoli of Italy. Around January, after nine games in which Jones averaged 13 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists as the starting PG – playing alongside the likes of Robert Traylor and Travis Best – the team disbanded after the players stopped getting checks. Jones has since moved on to Puerto Rico with his sights set on returning to the NBA next season.
“Right now I’m playing for Quebradillas, and there’s some great talent here [in Puerto Rico]. I just got done with an extensive training camp, and my focus is strictly on winning, refining my PG skills, and looking to remind people that I can play the PG position again.”
It’s the reminder that brings Jones full circle. Coming out of Houston 12 years ago as an undrafted, undersized two-guard, he had to work to convince teams he could play the one in the Association. Over a decade later, he’s back working to convince those same teams he can still do it.
“When I first got into the NBA, I really had to learn and understand to play the game from the PG position, and grasp the concept of being an NBA PG. By about my fifth year, I was really able to learn that, and I think the work ethic I had, as well as being fortunate enough to be around some good players, really helped me have some good years.”
The best statistical year came in Miami during the ‘04-05 season when he played alongside two of those players — Shaq and Dwyane Wade — as the starting PG for a Heat team that went to the Eastern Conference Finals. He averaged 12 points and 4 assists per game that season, but when he got to Cleveland his role changed.
“When I got into the Cleveland situation, as you know, LeBron does a lot of the playmaking, so they asked me to primarily focus on shot-making. But right now, I’m strictly focused on getting back to being a PG, and hope to come back as a PG next season in the NBA.”
The comedian with a basketball persona shouldn’t overshadow Jones’ work ethic. Jones made himself into an 11-year NBA player, and that doesn’t just typically happen for 6-3 collegiate SGs. And as far as the showmanship he brings to the court and locker room, he believes it has its place and its purpose.
“I think an important ingredient for any successful team if they want to be a championship caliber team is camaraderie. It’s important to be able to do things that bring in and incorporate everybody from the 14th or 15th guy to the star on the team, and building that sense of comfort and camaraderie is something that I always try to do everywhere I go. A lot of times people see that as me being a jokester, or not being serious about winning, but it’s just the opposite. I’m serious about winning, and in order to do that, it’s important to have fun, to have guys on the same page, so everywhere I’ve been I always try to talk to guys, learn their personalities, and I’ve been successful with that.”
Despite criss-crossing the Atlantic this season, he’s still keeping up with those teammates, as well as the League he hopes to re-enter next season on a regular basis.
“I’m watching games every day on the internet, I keep up with stats, I’m seeing how guys are playing, teams are doing, and I think it’s important for me to do that as far as making a comeback in the NBA next season. I’m keeping up with the League every day, and I’m also in constant contact with just about all the guys I played with. I still talk with guys like LeBron, Wade and Shaq on a regular basis.”
As far as any conversations with LeBron about what he might do next season?
“I have no idea what LeBron will do next season, and I haven’t talked to him about that. It’s going to come down to what’s best for him and his family.”
And his thoughts on the Cavaliers this season?
“Ever since Dan Gilbert came in, the Cavs have been a great organization committed to winning. Mike Brown and his philosophy has worked, and he’s had 50+ wins every year. The sky’s the limit for that team. My only concern for the Cavaliers this season is the chemistry when Shaq comes back. Before Shaq got hurt the Cavs were clicking on all cylinders, the chemistry was at an all-time high, and since he’s been out, they’re still obviously winning and playing well, but it’s different guys that are stepping in to play those minutes. When Shaq comes back those guys will go back to having limited roles, and [the Cavs] ability to regain that chemistry they had before he went down is a concern. But otherwise, besides that, this team has as good a chance as anybody.”
As does Jones next season to make the NBA comeback he’s working toward. Here’s hoping he lands somewhere, the NBA’s a better place with Damon Jones. And there has to be a spot for a veteran PG who can also shoot it better than anyone else in the world, right?