Believing that he would have the opportunity to compete for a starting job and help spread the floor for all-star big man Amare Stoudemire, Roger Mason Jr. took about $300,000 less — not big money by NBA standards, but enough to affect a player of his stature — to sign with New York last season.
But his experience with the Knicks fell well short of his expectations and left him with “a bad taste in my mouth.”
Mason wound up stashed on the inactive list and getting limited minutes, miscast solely as a spot-up shooter. The Knicks showcased many of their younger players in an effort to deal them to Denver for Carmelo Anthony. Mason never found a comfortable role and had a more diffcult time connecting on his jumper, averaging just 2.9 points and shooting 33.8 percent.
“It definitely was tough for me, being that I’m in my prime and was looking to make a strong contribution,” Mason said of his season in New York. “We made the playoffs, which was a positive, because that organization hadn’t done so in about 10 years. For me personally, it was good that I was able to salvage somewhat of the season by playing in the playoffs and contributing and playing pretty well. That was good for me. Obviously didn’t work out the way I envisioned it.”
With his former team coming to town on Friday, Mason admitted that he used the disappointing campaign as fuel for his offseason workouts, as he mixed in training with train rides from Washington to New York for NBA labor negotiations.
“I had a fire,” Mason said. “I’m always a highly motivated guy, Throughout my career, I’ve always been told I’m not good enough. I can’t do it. So, it’s no different this year. I had a tough year last year and an injury-filled season my last season with the Spurs. I’ve got added motivation for sure.”
Back in his hometown for a second stint with the Wizards, Mason is still trying to find his way. He has gotten off to a slow start, as Coach Flip Saunders still tries to figure out a consistent rotation. He is shooting only slightly better than he did in New York (35.7 percent) but scoring a little less (2.8 points per game) in a guard rotation that includes Nick Young and Jordan Crawford.
His most memorable moment of the season was being ejected because the team failed to submit the proper roster before a game in Milwaukee. Mason has moved on from that incident, and relishing his role as a veteran leader on an inexperienced team. But he has been disappointed with the Wizards (0-6) off to the worst start in franchise history.
“Nobody wants to lose. I’ve been fortunate to be in the playoffs the last five years and playing for something. We still can do that here,” Mason said. “It’s been really good having an impact in the locker room. I’m fortunate to play with the Spurs and learn from a lot of the great players over there. I know that I can contribute on the floor here. As time goes, hopefully I’ll be able to do that. But also, in the locker room, being a guy that can help a young John Wall, a young Jordan Crawford. The list goes on, we got so many young guys.”
The Knicks (2-4) have high expectations for this season, with the signing of center Tyson Chandler and Stoudemire and Anthony having the benefit of a full training camp together. But they have sputtered to an uninspiring start, with Stoudemire dealing with a sprained ankle and top draft pick Iman Shumpert spraining his medial collateral ligament in the season opener.
New York has also lost its past two games at home to Toronto and Charlotte. “We’re thirsty for a win. I know they are going to be thirsty for a win,” Mason said. “Any time you’ve got two of the best players in the league, we’re going to have our work cut out for us. Hopefully, we can come out with energy and try to get that win.”