Was Jeremy Lamb a guy who never really got his chance in Oklahoma City?
Or a guy who never did much to make the Thunder’s coaches play him?
Probably some of both. It’s certainly true that being drafted (12th overall in 2012) onto a talent-rich team with championship aspirations was a mixed blessing. Lamb got to learn from some of the best, most driven competitors in the NBA. But he also got somewhat lost in Oklahoma City’s roster his first three NBA seasons.
That should change. The Charlotte Hornets traded for him in June, and the timing of that deal is quite interesting: This is the final season on Lamb’s rookie-scale contract (he’ll make about $3 million this season). The Hornets will have to decide next June whether to extend a qualifying offer of about $4 million to restrict Lamb’s free-agency.
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Is it worth that? Probably not for now, based on his limited NBA résumé. But both he and the Hornets hope what he is about to do will far exceed what he has done.
The Hornets had a massive roster makeover in the off-season. Lamb was one of seven acquisitions, nearly half the regular-season roster limit of 15. General manager Rich Cho said Sunday that Lamb had long been on the team’s radar as a player who could improve the Hornets’ poor 3-point percentage. Even in those limited minutes off the Thunder’s bench, Lamb shot 35 percent from 3-point range and 86 percent from the foul line.
When asked at media day Friday about all the change, coach Steve Clifford summed up his expectations for the newcomers this way:
“I don’t see any guys here where we’ll be asking them to do less.”
That should apply to Lamb, who played just 2,318 minutes over his first three NBA seasons. There’s a wide-open competition in training camp to see who will be the first wing player off the bench. The candidates: Lamb, Troy Daniels, P.J. Hairston and Jeremy Lin when he’s not playing point guard.
Lamb knows this is a “show them” moment, perhaps a career crossroads.
“It feels good to have a fresh start. I put a lot of work in over those three years. It’s in my hands,” said Lamb, who played on Connecticut’s 2011 national championship team with Hornets point guard Kemba Walker.
“It’s definitely important to prove to myself that I can play in this league. I’m not really worried about the contracts and stuff like that. If I play my game that stuff will take care of itself. I just want the chance to compete for my position.”
At 6-foot-5 and 185 pounds, Lamb has good size for the shooting guard position. Clifford said he might also play occasionally at small forward. Clifford showed considerable enthusiasm for Lamb’s chances at media day Friday.
“He’s big, can really shoot and he can pass. I would say if he does those things he can be a big part (of this team) and have a good year,” Clifford said.
“He’s been around great players. He wasn’t involved in those big games, but he’s seen it. He’s put himself in a good place and I think he can really help us.”
Lamb agrees that having been around so many great players in Oklahoma City gave him a different set of experiences that he now might apply to helping the Hornets.
“At times it was frustrating, but I learned a lot from those guys,” Lamb said. “They were NBA All-Stars; they were leaders. I played with a lot of people who taught me a lot – Derek Fisher, Kendrick Perkins, Nick Collison, Anthony Morrow. Of course K.D. (Kevin Durant), Russ (Russell Westbrook) and Reggie Jackson.”
Now it’s different. Now it’s time for him to show.
“I’m starting off my fourth year in the league – not a rookie anymore – and I’ll have a chance to compete.”
Hornets key dates
Saturday: Exhibition opener, at Orlando Magic 7 p.m.
Oct. 7: Leave for China for two exhibitions vs. Los Angeles Clippers
Oct. 11: vs. Clippers in Shenzhen, 1:30 a.m. EDT
Oct. 14: vs. Clippers in Shanghai, 8 a.m. EDT
Oct. 17: First home exhibition, vs. New York Knicks, at 7 p.m.
Oct. 28: Regular-season opener at Miami Heat, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 1: Home opener vs. Atlanta Hawks, 2 p.m.