A year and a half ago, Jumaine Jones and Bernard Robinson were seen as solid members of the Charlotte Bobcats' rotation, one a 6'8" long-range shooter who could also run the floor and grab some boards, the other a versatile 6'6" defensive specialist whose coach said could play all five positions. Between the two swingmen, they averaged 17 ppg and 8 rpg, starting 60 games. Jones was 27, Robinson 25.
Both were free agents and made the most of their success. Jones got a one-year deal with the Phoenix Suns after failing to get big money. He had wanted a long term deal averaging $4 million a year, but all he got was a $1.5 million (tax free) offer from a team in Israel. Robinson stayed with the Bobcats, getting a two-year, $2.1 million deal, not bad for a guy picked late in the second round in 2005.
But last year, neither lived up to their promise and got stuck in bad situations. Jones suffered an off season injury, a partial ankle tear, in a pickup game in Atlanta and never fully recovered. His season in Phoenix was a bust, playing in only 18 games and averaging 2.2 ppg. Worse yet, Phoenix was his sixth team in seven years. That didn't help his reputation.
Robinson's inconsistency led him to spend a lot more time on the bench in Charlotte, playing only 241 minuts in 21 games and shooting under 30% before being dealt to the Nets for Jeff McInnis just after New Year's. For the rest of the season, he played only 37 minutes in 10 games. Then, he topped off his season in the playoffs when an hour before Game 6 of the Cavs' series he was found asleep in the players' lounge. That didn't help his reputation either.
Now, both have an opportunity to get more minutes with the Nets...and what could be their last chance in the NBA. Robinson has a guaranteed contract that will pay him $1.08 million this season. Jones only has a non-guaranteed training camp contract. His chances of making the final roster depend in large measure on whether the Nets sign Allan Houston and Houston proves he can play well after a two-year layoff.
Jones' reputation is "quiet but solid". As Hoopshype said of him in one of their capsule descriptions: "Able to play both forward positions... Explosive... Great in the open court... Has three-point shooting range... Very effective shooting from the corner... Pretty good rebounder... Tenacious defender... Should drive to the basket more often... An underrated player." That was written after his career year in Charlotte, however, and before his bust year in Phoenix.
In 2005-06, Jones had a breakout year. Through his first 34 games, Jones couldn't seem to get untracked. Then, once Gerald Wallace went down, things changed. He was inserted into the starting lineup at small forward and took off. Even after Wallace came back, Jones held his starting job, moving over to power forward, where he filled in for Sean May. Jones did well as a starter, going for 13.5 ppg and 5.7 rpg on 41.0% shooting overall, 35.1% from long range and 78.0% from the line. He started 41 of the Bobcats' final 42 games.
That career year with Charlotte included a career game, with him scoring 31 in an upset win over one of his former teams, the Lakers. Video of that game shows Jones doing everything he is noted for and well: hitting corner three's, running the court, playing good defense, muscling for rebounds at both ends...and leading his team to a victory.
Bobcat coach Bernie Bickerstaff was pleased, considering he had traded for Jones as GM. "Coach Bickerstaff gave me the confidence to just go out there and shoot the basketball," Jones told RealGM. "He had a meeting with me earlier this season and told me that he brought me here to shoot the basketball, and I wasn’t doing that. So once I had that meeting with him it gave me the confidence to go out on the court and just play the game of basketball."
Jones decided to sign with Phoenix rather than somewhere else in the NBA where he would have gotten more time or in Israel where he would have gotten more money for one simple reason. He wanted to win. Before signing with the Suns, he had been on losing teams ever since playing on Philadelphia's 2001 NBA Finals team. He also thought Phoenix would be a stable situation. He has been traded six times in his career (once the deal was rescinded when the player he was traded for, now campmate Mateen Cleaves, failed a physical).
"This is probably the only team I'd take the amount of money I did to come and play with," said Jones last year. Presumbly, that same attitude carried over to his decision to join Nets camp. And presumbly, his injury has healed.
Robinson is not the talent Jones is, but like him he suffered through a bad season last year. His forte is defense. Hoopshype pretty much sums it up: "Good athlete with nice defensive skills... His jump shot lacks consistency." How good a defender? When he was coming out of Michigan in 2004, here's how NBADraft.net described him: "Defensively he might be the nation's best on the ball defender … Really understands how to play the passing lanes well with his long arms, lateral quickness and swift hands ... tends to over play his man and reach too often." He dropped in the draft, in part because he was seen as a tweener, in part because of his off-court troubles, including an arrest on assault charges for touching a female student in April 2002. He received probation.
At Charlotte, Bickerstaff fell in and out of love with Robinson. After a non-descript rookie season, Bickerstaff gave him all the rope he could in 2005-06 and Robinson responded. In March 2006, he had back-to-back double-doubles against the Magic (17 points, 13 rebounds) and the Cavs (15 points, career-high 14 rebounds). That same month, Robinson scored a career-high 21 points on 8-11 shooting to go with three steals at Washington. Bickerstaff also talked about Robinson being "the one guy on our team who can play all five positions". So much so that Robinson was slotted in as the Bobcats' third string point guard after Brevin Knight and Ray Felton.
By January of 2007, Bickerstaff had tired of Robinson's well-known inconsistency. "The basketball doesn't always do what he would like it to do, and that's not good sometimes," Bickerstaff said on January 2. The next day, Robinson was traded to the Nets for a real point guard, Jeff McInnis. Dave D'Alessandro quoted Nets' brass as not being that hopeful about Robinson: "He had some games when he did a phenomenal job defending guys, but after limiting Kobe for a quarter one night, he might get cranked by Chucky Atkins the next night."
After that, his season went down hill, playing in only 10 games and becoming somewhat of a joke. Not everyone thought the Nets were making the right choice in sitting Robinson. Charley Rosen of FOX Sports had raved about the trade, saying the acquisition "could be a steal" and described Robinson as "wildly talented slasher, lacking a reliable long-range game, but virtually irresistible when he can run loose in an uptempo game."
Now he has chance, says Nets GM Ed Stefanski, to put last season behind him. "Bernard Robinson will get a chance this year. The year we traded for Boki (Nachbar) , he didn’t get into a game until the following year when he had a preseason under his belt and the coach felt comfortable. There’s a chance for Robinson to step up also."
There is no way, short of a wave of injuries, that Jones and Robinson will duplicate what they did in Charlotte two years ago, but if both make the final roster and can do what they did there, the Nets will have done well.