EL SEGUNDOJamaal Tinsley wants to make one thing absolutely clear: despite his past - good and bad - there's no reason to feel sorry for him.
The former NBA point guard with career averages of 9.8 points, 6.6 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 1.59 steals in 436 games over eight seasons with Indiana and Memphisand a reputation for troubling off-court incidents - is once again a team leader, now with the Los Angeles D-Fenders of the NBA Development League.
The D-League is usually the firstand often the laststep for marginally-talented players with professional aspirations. For a player with Tinsley's pedigree to be in the league is nothing short of startling, even if he's trying to repair a reputation and resurrect a career. No matter the circumstances, it's a universe removed from the actual NBA.
Instead of playing his games in American basketball palaces and taking on the likes of Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant and Rajon Rondo - or even playing in Europe - Tinsley will play his home games at the Lakers' practice facility in El Segundo with the home opener scheduled for Monday night against Reno. Instead of taking on the Dallas Mavericks, Boston Celtics or San Antonio Spurs, the D-Fenders will face the Maine Red Claws and the Reno Bighorns.
And instead of making a seven-figure salary, he's probably earning less than 750 per week. A precipitous fall for a player who averaged double-figures three times in his NBA career.
There are a lot of reasons to feel sorry for Tinsley. He just doesn't want to hear them.
"Hey, a few months ago, I was playing at 24 Hour Fitness in Atlanta for nothing," he said after a recent practice. "I'm thankful to have this opportunity, to be a part of a team again, and to try and win a championship with the D-Fenders."
When you look into Tinsley's eyes, he seems sincere and his head coach, Eric Musselman, believes the point guard.
"We made sure to talk with Jamaal about what his goals were before we brought him in," said Musselman, who has coached Golden State and Sacramento in the NBA. "We wanted to make sure that if we used (a roster spot) for Jamaal, that he would be committed to us and not use this as a stepping stone to a better opportunity."
So far, Tinsley is as good as his word.
He's been "like another coach on the floor" Musselman reports. In the season-opening series last weekend in Dakota against the Wizards, Tinsley averaged 14.5 ppg, 4.5 assists and 2.5 steals as the D-Fenders split the two games.
He's got a long way to go to gain the trust of an NBA franchise; even with the kind of numbers he's capable of producing.
During a 14-month period in the mid-2000's, Tinsley was involved in two documented shooting incidents, one in which the Pacers' equipment manager sustained multiple wounds and another when former teammate Stephen Jackson randomly fired a gun in the air. He also was involved in a bar fight in which charges were filed. (He ultimately was sentenced to 32 hours of community service.) Talented or not, the Pacers were done with him, and after just 38 games as a reserve with Memphis in 2009-2010, he was released.
It looked like bad judgment and excesses killed off another NBA career. Until he was given one more shot at redemption.
When the D-Fenders used the No. 1 overall choice in this year's NBDL draft to take Tinsley, he vowed to take advantage of the opportunity. Undoubtedly, he'd like to make it back to the big leagues, but for right now he's focused on helping his younger teammates become a championship team.
"That's why they brought me here, and I'm fine with that. I know there are going to be doubters out there, saying this-and-that, but I can't pay attention. Like I said, I was playing pickup games in Atlanta a few months ago, so I know how lucky I am to be in this position."
Maybe even luckier than he knows.
With the NBA season potentially getting under way in less than a month, the Lakers might have a glaring need at point guard. Incumbent starter Derek Fisher is 37-years old and has spent the last 150 days leading the Players Association through bitter negotiations on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. His game also slipped noticeably last season. Steve Blake, Fisher's backupor replacementwas iffy at best in 2010-11, and is a huge question mark for this season.
If Mitch Kupchak decides that he needs another option at the point, it would make a lot of sense to hire someone already in the building.
And who's hungry to recapture former glory.