Four years is a long time. It’s how long it takes us to complete high school, the period which most of us can complete college degrees and the amount of time it takes to determine a pro athlete’s fate. By the fourth year of an athlete’s career, it’s a lot easier to “map out” their trajectory.
Jeremy Lamb, an enigmatic guard recently acquired by the Charlotte Hornets, is at that crossroads…an upcoming “make or break” year in a sense.
So far, Lamb’s career has been highlighted by two key events: winning the 2011 NCAA Championship w/ the UCONN Huskies & being a centerpiece in the deal that brought superstar James Harden to Houston from OKC. By now, it’s evident the trade was foolishly made by OKC in an attempt to get a “jump” on things because Harden’s talents were set to out-price the Thunder from retaining him. And Lamb was a burgeoning rookie with the game to blossom into a star or, at worst, a Sixth Man.
Kevin Martin’s inclusion in the trade softened the blow on paper but as soon as Harden stepped onto the floor with the Rockets, we were looking a bonafide superstar. Lamb, meanwhile, was nursing an injury that sidelined him until through training camp of his rookie year. With all of the huge expectations, it was not a good sign that Lamb was forced with a huge learning curve.
Sure, the Harden deal will unfairly link Lamb with a future HOF’er for the rest of his career but he has shown only brief flashes to dispel the notion that he can contribute at this level. The 2013-14 campaign started off extremely well for Lamb, who found himself playing an integral role on a Western Conference contender. He seemed to earn (then) head coach Scott Brooks’s trust and was a reliable shooter (36% from 3) when Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook broke down the defense.
With his confidence at an all-time high, the “business” of the game, once again, struck at the worst time for Lamb. In a playoff push, the Thunder dealt for Caron Butler, a battle-tested vet who provided both a scoring pop and intensity in the lineup. The result was not pretty for Lamb. He was delegated to a bench role and could not get on the floor to save his life.
With his job in jeopardy, Coach Brooks had a very short leash down the stretch and favored more experienced players in the game come crunch time (he actually played 17-year veteran Derek Fisher in the WCF!…but that’s another story).
After Thabo Sefolosha and Caron Butler bolted in the offseason, Lamb had the luxury of refining his game and earning the OKC’s trust all over again in 2015. Yeah…about that. 2013 1st rounder Andre Roberson gained the starting nod out of training camp, sharpshooter Anthony Morrow was signed and they traded for a similar in talent in Dion Waiters midway through the season.
Lamb’s ONLY highlight of 2014-15 was a failed handshake with Westbrook that made him a laughingstock amongst his peers. Ok, that last part was an exaggeration but this past campaign could not have turned out worse for Lamb.
It doesn’t help that Lamb’s nonchalant disposition leads way for intense scrutiny in NBA circles. At times, it just seems like he doesn’t care…way too passive to have an impact in big games. Who knows though, a fresh start like the one he has in Charlotte could be just what he doctor ordered. When asked about his new opportunity in Charlotte, Lamb responded by saying:
‘It gives me an opportunity to try to get a role and just play. I’m going to make the most of it. I’m just going to work hard and try my best to put myself in a position to play and have a role on this team.’
Optimism abounds for Lamb for the first time since the start of the 2013-14 season. And there’s one reason why: he is reunited with fellow Husky/backcourt mate Kemba Walker. Walker ALWAYS got the most out of Lamb back at UCONN…the pair led the Huskies to a title back in 2011 and terrorized opposing guards on both ends.
A sense of familiarity and comfortability is what Lamb needs to get his career back on track.
Without any devastating injuries or red flags to this point, Lamb is a still a valued commodity: a relatively cheap wing who can stroke it from long range and create offense in a pinch (avg. almost 17 ppg per 36 minutes, which is the definition of “decent”). The Hornets were one of the worst offensive squads around last year, so it made sense for them to take a flier on him.
In year 4, however, it’s up to Lamb to decide what kind of player he will become. Gone are the hopes and dreams of him developing into James Harden’s replacement in OKC. Now, he just needs to regain his lost confidence one step at a time. Though it’s far from elementary, Lamb’s upcoming year could put him right back where he needs to be.