Photo via Sports Illustrated.
The NBA Development League has shown that it isn't all about development this season, disproving its own name by taking on reclamation projects like Rafer Alston, Greg Ostertag, Jamaal Tinsley and Mike James as they all look for a way back to the big show. Those players' NBA comebacks pale in comparison the newest player to sign with the D-League.
Former NBA center Jerome James signed a contract with the league on Tuesday, according to league sources, and will find out his new team sometime after clearing waivers Thursday afternoon. The 36-year-old big man is apparently attempting an NBA comeback after playing a total of four regular season games since the 2006-07 season.
The comeback seems, at least at first glance, to be an ill-fated one.
James' career was (has been?) built upon one solid stretch of games as he was an absolute beast for the Seattle SuperSonics during their 2005 playoff series with the Sacramento Kings. Aside from that, it's been almost a complete bust, but in those five games -- as Kevin Pelton explained at the time -- James was terrific.
When the playoffs began, James truly sprang to life. In Game 1, James had 17 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks, taking advantage of the Kings double-teaming the Sonics All-Stars. The performance was largely written off as a fluke.
"If he plays like that again, so be it," said Sacramento guard Cuttino Mobley. "I seriously doubt it. Nothing against him. You're not Shaq."
Mobley was right; James didn't play like that again. He was better. Unhappy with his field-goal percentage in Game 1 (35%, 7-20), James shot 9-for-11 from the field in Game 2, scoring 19 points and adding nine rebounds. In Game 3, he tied his career high with 22 points and added nine rebounds. James kept it up in Game 4, posting 17 points and eight rebounds, before a relatively quiet Game 5 (11 points, six boards) as the Sonics clinched.
For the series, James averaged 17.2 points, 9.4 rebounds and 2.2 blocks, shooting 58.1% from the field. He improved his scoring average more than any other player during the First Round. James celebrated the Sonics series victory by donning a trash bag as a cape - a nod to his possibly apocryphal tale of being told to talk his belongings home in a trash bag when he was released by the Kings in October 2000.
Those playoff series netted James a five-year deal from the New York Knicks worth a $29 million, but he was unfortunately never able to live up to being worth anything close to that contract as injuries, weight problems and conditioning all got the best of the big man.
James was able to play semi-regularly during the first two seasons of his contract with the Knicks, though he essentially shut it down for good beginning in the third year of his five-year deal.
"Big Snacks" wasn't healthy enough to play more than 15 total minutes of basketball from April 18, 2007 through April 9, 2010 -- the date the Chicago Bulls waived him in favor of D-League call-up Rob Kurz. By then it was basically too late, though, as James had already been paid $18.6 million during that time to sit on the bench thanks to the atrocious deal given to him by Isiah Thomas.
So what's James been up to as of late? Your guess is as good as mine as there hasn't been much written about him ever since he was released. It's hard to assume he's currently in shape, however, considering he slowly bloated up from his days as an underrated banger with the Sonics to an overpaid bench warmer with the Bulls.
It'll be interesting to see if any teams take a chance on James ... and even more interesting to see if he's in the sort of shape to have any chance at an NBA call-up.
If nothing else, it'll be fun to see if he signs with a team before Gerald Green gets an NBA look on the off-chance that the below dunk is re-created: