MIAMI — When it came time to cut Jeff Adrien in the preseason, Charlotte Bobcats coach Mike Dunlap said something encouraging that went beyond courtesy.
“You’ll be back,” Dunlap told Adrien, a journeyman power forward on an unguaranteed contract.
Dunlap meant the NBA, not specifically this Bobcats team. But those words proved prophetic. Several weeks into the regular season the Bobcats brought Adrien back. He’s the least acclaimed and lowest-paid of four Charlotte power forwards. He’s also the starter, at least until the injured Byron Mullens gets back in shape following a month off with a sprained ankle.
Adrien beat out Tyrus Thomas and Hakim Warrick for minutes, despite those two costing the Bobcats a combined $12 million this season. Thomas and Warrick are more talented, but Adrien won over Dunlap by being more intense, consistent and rugged.
“Predictable, physical,” is how Dunlap describes Adrien, who played college ball at Connecticut. “He’ll get in a crowd and get a tough rebound. He gives you someone who will show up every day.”
Implicit to that comment is Thomas and Warrick haven’t done that. Thomas has been an expensive enigma most of this season, and it’s conceivable the Bobcats could waive him under the amnesty clause next summer.
Warrick, acquired in a trade with New Orleans, went from a starter to out of the rotation four games ago. He hasn’t played since logging four minutes against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Jan. 26.
So when the Bobcats play the Miami Heat on Monday, it appears Adrien will again be in the starting lineup. There’s a hunger about his approach born of recent experience.
Undrafted coming out of UConn, Adrien played portions of two seasons with the Detroit Pistons and Houston Rockets.
In between those stints he played in Spain and Russia and in the Development League in Erie, Pa.
The NBA lifestyle is pampered – five-star hotels, ball boys lugging around your bags, charter flights to each away game.
Adrien has seen the other side of making a living at basketball.
“He’s always had great humility,” Dunlap said. “The first thing he’d do is thank you for the opportunity – for his per diem or his uniform. Up here sometimes it’s rare to find that gratitude.”
While Adrien didn’t expect a return engagement with the Bobcats, he wasn’t surprised, either.
“I didn’t do anything wrong. At the time I wasn’t what they were looking for. And that’s fine, it’s a business,” he said. “I wanted to come back the minute that I left.”