Brian T. Smith: Jazz's Jamaal Tinsley reaches NBA crossroads
Jamaal Tinsley emerged from the Jazz's locker room alone.
There were no TV cameras, no photographers. Just a single reporter waiting to ask the 33-year-old point guard a few questions after a Saturday-morning practice at EnergySolutions Arena.
It'd been nearly 30 minutes since newly signed Utah forward Josh Howard met the Salt Lake City media for the first time. About 15 digital recorders, cameras and notepads documented everything he said. Reporters often asked the same question several times; the once-troubled player patiently repeated the same answers.
I'm reformed, Howard said. I've lived and learned. Life is brand new.
For Tinsley, it's been there, done that.
Howard has a one-year guaranteed contract with Utah. More than five teams pursued him during free agency, with Jazz General Manager Kevin O'Connor traveling to North Carolina to lure in an athlete still addressing what he broke years ago in Dallas.
Nothing's guaranteed for Tinsley. His training-camp run with Utah could end early next week when O'Connor and coach Tyrone Corbin make cuts. Or the tryout could be traded for a spot backing up Devin Harris and Earl Watson at point guard.
Whatever happens, Tinsley's ready for the consequences.
He's walked Howard's jagged path. He knows what it's like to live in the cross hairs and have every move reported, analyzed and criticized. But where Howard briefly set fire to his career in Dallas, Tinsley torched his in Indiana.
While playing for the Pacers, Tinsley was involved in multiple shootings and a bar fight. He was considered untradeable, forced to sit out the entire 2008-09 season, then sued by Indiana's equipment manager as a result of one of the shootings.
Tinsley said he took "a lot of [polygraph] tests to prove" his innocence, but his name was never fully cleansed.
"There are certain things you can't control in life," Tinsley said. "I went through a lot of things in Indiana. Some of them wasn't my fault. â¦ At the end of the day, once the media get ahold of it, they're still going to have a lot to say."
By 2010-11, Tinsley was out of a job. The No. 27 overall pick of the 2001 NBA Draft had been flushed from the league, his 15.4 average points and 6.4 assists during 2004-05 deemed worthless.
Offers from Europe followed. The money was good, but Tinsley's heart wasn't in it. Instead, he reconnected with his son, now 8, and focused on what he could control. Tinsley stayed out of late-night situations that led to "jams." He simplified everything.
"I've been to L.A. Fitness playing â¦ without a job. Waking up at 8 o'clock, taking care of my body, staying in shape," Tinsley said.
Now, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NBA Development League draft, who played eight games for the Los Angeles D-Fenders before getting his shot with Utah, hopes his devotion is rewarded.
Tinsley has kept a low profile since joining the Jazz. He's older, wiser and more mature. Many fans mocked his signing, but O'Connor and Corbin have praised the 33-year-old's game.
Howard's getting all the attention, but Tinsley's the better story. A true reclamation project.
Both have put their careers on the edge. Howard's is still in his hands. Tinsley is one cut away from either the D-League or redemption.
"I just want a piece of the pie and that's my foot in the door," Tinsley said. "Everything else will take care of itself."