MIAMI When it came time to cut Jeff Adrien in the preseason, Charlotte Bobcats coach Mike Dunlap said something encouraging that went beyond courtesy.
Youll be back, Dunlap told Adrien, a journeyman power forward on an unguaranteed contract.
Dunlap meant the NBA, not specifically this Bobcats team. But those words proved prophetic. Several weeks into the regular season the Bobcats brought Adrien back. Hes the least acclaimed and lowest-paid of four Charlotte power forwards. Hes also the starter, at least until the injured Byron Mullens gets back in shape following a month off with a sprained ankle.
Adrien beat out Tyrus Thomas and Hakim Warrick for minutes, despite those two costing the Bobcats a combined $12 million this season. Thomas and Warrick are more talented, but Adrien won over Dunlap by being more intense, consistent and rugged.
Predictable, physical, is how Dunlap describes Adrien, who played college ball at Connecticut. Hell get in a crowd and get a tough rebound. He gives you someone who will show up every day.
Implicit to that comment is Thomas and Warrick havent done that. Thomas has been an expensive enigma most of this season, and its conceivable the Bobcats could waive him under the amnesty clause next summer.
Warrick, acquired in a trade with New Orleans, went from a starter to out of the rotation four games ago. He hasnt played since logging four minutes against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Jan. 26.
So when the Bobcats play the Miami Heat on Monday, it appears Adrien will again be in the starting lineup. Theres a hunger about his approach born of recent experience.
Undrafted coming out of UConn, Adrien played portions of two seasons with the Detroit Pistons and Houston Rockets. In between those stints he played in Spain and Russia and in the Development League in Erie, Pa.
The NBA lifestyle is pampered five-star hotels, ball boys lugging around your bags, charter flights to each away game. Adrien has seen the other side of making a living at basketball.
Hes always had great humility, Dunlap said. The first thing hed do is thank you for the opportunity for his per diem or his uniform. Up here sometimes its rare to find that gratitude.
While Adrien didnt expect a return engagement with the Bobcats, he wasnt surprised, either.
I didnt do anything wrong. At the time I wasnt what they were looking for. And thats fine, its a business, he said. I wanted to come back the minute that I left.
When the Bobcats brought him back, Dunlap described him as low-maintenance and mature, someone who would act the same whether he played or not. Adrien said he got that from his college coach, Jim Calhoun, a demanding sort who grew up like Adrien in a working-class Massachusetts environment.
Were almost from the same neighborhood. It wasnt easy for him or for me, Adrien said. Coach Calhoun is one tough guy, and I try to be that same guy
And I will out-work the next person.