Although he’s a free agent with a lot to lose, Bernard James doesn’t think twice about lacing up his shoes and playing for the Dallas Mavericks’ summer league team.
The way James sees it, he’s played sparingly through two NBA seasons. If he fails to get a new contract with the Mavs, at least he can showcase his talents to some other teams during summer league play, which starts Friday in Las Vegas when Dallas faces the New York Knicks at 3 p.m. CDT.
Not even the prospect of an injury, which could interfere with his plans and affect his contract status, is enough to keep James off the Mavs’ summer league roster.
“Knock on wood, but I managed to stay healthy pretty much throughout college and these last two years in the NBA,” James said after Monday’s practice at American Airlines Center. “So I’m not really worried about it.
“I know how to take care of my body.”
To be honest, James’ career has been in flux since entering the NBA as a second-round draft pick — 33rd overall — out of Florida State.
As a rookie, he averaged 2.8 points, 2.8 rebounds and 10 minutes of action while playing in 46 games. Last season his numbers dipped to 0.9 points, 1.4 rebounds and 4.9 minutes in only 30 games.
James knows the summer league route is his best chance to get a leg up on the competition and prove that he’s worthy of receiving more minutes.
“I feel like contractually it’s the same as the last two summers,” James said. “The first year I wasn’t guaranteed a contract, the second year it was a team option.
“And this year I’m a free agent, so for me it’s the exact same situation. I’m playing for a contract, so that’s the way I’m going to go out there and play. That’s my mindset.”
The 29-year-old James, who spent six years in the U.S. Air Force, knows what he must improve to earn more court time.
“My mid-range jumper and just putting the ball on the floor for more than two-three dribbles,” said the 6-foot-10, 240-pound center. “It’s just a lack of experience, because I haven’t really been in that situation a whole lot.”
Since the Mavs’ season ended in a first-round playoff loss to San Antonio that stretched seven games, James has been working on seeing the floor better when he has the ball.
“When I get the ball and put it on the floor, I’m thinking scoring,” he said. “I’ve got to start looking for other people and passing as well.”
James applauds the Mavs for negotiating a trade that brought back Tyson Chandler, the center who helped Dallas win the 2011 NBA title.
“He’ll definitely be a good anchor for our team,” James said.
Whether James will be back next season as one of the reserves behind Chandler remains to be seen. Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said he wants James on next year’s team.
“I’d like to be here, too,” James said. “But anything can happen. It’s a crazy free agency.”
So crazy that while James’ future in Dallas is in limbo, the Mavs remain in the loop to acquire LeBron James, Chandler Parsons, Luol Deng, Lance Stephenson, Vince Carter, Trevor Ariza, Shawn Marion, Pau Gasol, Isaiah Thomas, Gordon Hayward and Mo Williams.
“Whether I stay with the Mavericks or not, [summer league] is a good chance to get some exposure and kind of remind teams of what I do out there and how I can help them,” James said. “So that’s why I decided to go ahead and play [summer league] this year.”