Did you remember that James Jones still played for the Heat?
Maybe you didn’t before the 8:28 he played in garbage time of Wednesday’s Bulls blowout, easily the most playing time he’s seen in this postseason, and more than he got than in all but six games this entire season. (So dire has Jones’ playing situation been that he needed to use valuable team karaoke time to passive-aggressively plead with his boss for more minutes.) And maybe you didn’t even notice that he was in there for those eight-and-a-half minutes, since he went 0-1 with two rebounds and a turnover. But oh yeah, he was out there, earning the $1.5 million he’ll be receiving from Miami this season. And if we see him again for nearly as long this postseason, we’ll know that things either went horribly wrong or horribly right for Miami.
He played for long enough to remind me how much I still hate James Jones. If I was to do a power rankings of the players I hate the most on the Heat, my most-hated professional sports team of my adult life, first would be LeBron (obviously), second would probably be Dwyane Wade, third would be PA announcer Michael Baiamonte, and fourth would probably be James Jones. I don’t think I’m alone in this, either — I feel like most other Heat haters I’ve talked to also reserve a particular rage for James Jones, disproportionate to his actual relevance as a player. My friend who I watched Wednesday’s game with was confused as to the degree of my ranting, but even he agreed that “generally, f— James Jones.” It’s not an uncommon sentiment.
Why the James Jones hate? Hard to say, except that he has a gigantic forehead, is perpetually sneering, and has/had a tendency to hit shots that made you say “Really? James f—ing Jones?” Maybe it’s his name — my 425th ranked of 425 NBA names – so ridiculously innocuous without even being memorably or tellingly so. Maybe it goes back to the second game of the Big Three era — their first win — when he hit six of nine threes in Philadelphia to help drub my Sixers in their season opener, scoring more points than LeBron or Bosh. Maybe it was that time he nearly got into a fight with Evan Turner during the playoffs that year, shoving him during an out-of-bounds play stoppage. I have no shortage of bulls— reasons to hate on James Jones.
But of course, the real reason was probably just this: He was better than any player not named Bosh, Wade or James (well, last-name-named) should have been for that first post-Decision Miami Heat team. Not to say he was all that great — they won’t be retiring his number next to Dan Marino and Michael Jordan at the Triple A anytime soon — but he had a very respectable season for the Heat that year. making 123 of 287 threes (42 percent), even winning the three-point shootout that All-Star Weekend, and leading the league in lowest turnover rate (for the second time in his career, hilariously — guess it’s easy to not turn the ball over when the only reason it ever leaves your hands is to go up as a three). The one comfort I kept for myself amidst the SuperFriends’ assemblage was that they at least wouldn’t have many (or any) half-decent teammates, but James Jones seemed to be evidence that just about any player could reach maximum efficacy, and acceptable role player status, playing next to those three guys.
Now, James Jones is just an example of how far the Heat have come since then. It’s not that Jones got that much worse which is the explanation behind his shredded playing time — his numbers this year are horrible, sure, but that’s almost entirely in garbage time anyway, and the decision that Jones would play zero minutes of consequence this year came long before. It’s because even if James Jones can still hit in an open three, that’s all he can do, and there’s like a dozen players on this Heat team that can do an even better job of that, and potentially some other stuff too. Ray Allen. Shane Battier. Mike Miller.
Remember how Rashard Lewis, No. 8 in all-time three-point makes, is on this team, too? People think he was a bust this year, but that’s not totally true — at the time he fell out of the rotation in late December, he was shooting 49 percent from the field and 47 percent from three. Didn’t matter. On the Heat, just about anyone can do that. Can you defend wing scorers, too? Can you get to the free throw line? Can you lob to LeBron on the break? If not, take a seat, boyo. On the other side of the East Semis, the Bulls are forced to play Marquis Teague and Daequan Cook spot minutes because their ranks are so disheveled, and Rashard Lewis — who’d probably play 15-20 minutes a game for Chicago at this point — only gets PT when the team’s up 30. When did this happen?
These days, you look back at that first Heatles team — on which Jones was maybe the fifth or sixth most important player (and had the fourth most total points for the season) — and you realize that just getting to the Finals might have been a far bigger accomplishment than it felt like at the time. That team had Mike Bibby and Zydrunas Ilgauskas starting, Joel Anthony as the most reliable big man, and James Jones as their go-to bench scorer. You compare that to some of the guys they have this year, and holy crap is it not even close. I chortled the other day listening to the BS Report with famed gambler Haralobos Voulgaris where he suggested that now that the Heat had Chris “Birdman” Andersen — who hadn’t even played in the league since March of 2012 — on their roster, they were totally unbeatable. But he might have been right. Everyone in the Heat’s rotation now legitimately deserves to be there. There are no James Joneses left.
Even as much as it still got my blood boiling to see James Jones and his big-ass forehead make their appearance in Wednesday’s game, I couldn’t help feel the tiniest bit nostalgic as well. I wouldn’t believe it at the time, but those were truly the days, back when the Heat had players whose sporadic success actually made you smack your head in disbelief. Now, there’s barely a player on the Heat’s roster who can hoist a three without it seeming like a foregone conclusion that it’s going down. I never realized how good we had it with you, James Jones.