After 11 seasons in the NBA, Samuel Dalembert still doesn’t know what he is.
A scorer? A defender? Strictly a rebounder, the way Brooklyn’s Reggie Evans is? He still doesn’t know. He has a clue, but isn’t certain.
When he wore a Sixers uniform, he recalls being asked to be a defender and shot blocker. He then arrived in Sacramento, and was asked to score. In Houston, well, he was just trade bait.
It appears that after early turmoil, Dalembert is finally fitting in with the Milwaukee Bucks. It’s a role that he’s familiar with, something he was asked to from the very beginning –- be a defender.
“I love defense,” Dalembert said before the Sixers beat the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night (see story). “Defense, that’s my thing. I always tell guys that. Some guys [are] like, ‘Yo, you had 35 points.’ But I’d rather have 35 rebounds because that’s the kind of guy I am. It’s not that I’m incapable of scoring, it’s just, I am doing what’s been asked of me.”
After recently starting three games with Ersan Ilyasova injured, the Bucks have asked Dalembert to play his old role and return to the bench. Dalembert doesn’t mind. In fact, he’s just happy to be back in the rotation.
He’s averaging 6.9 points and 6.0 rebounds this season, the latter being a career low. Dalembert hasn’t averaged fewer than five rebounds since he was drafted by the Sixers in 2001.
The Seton Hall product was on the outside looking in under ex-Bucks head coach Scott Skiles earlier in the season. There were rumblings that the two had a falling out, which led to Dalembert falling out of the rotation. Skiles was eventually relieved of his duties in January and replaced by assistant Jim Boylan.
“He was confusing,” Dalembert said of his former coach. “He was very confusing. You didn’t know if today you were going to play, how many games, when he was going to decide. Sometimes we would make fun and [wonder] what side of the bed he would wake up on in the morning to determine who was going to play. It was an experience for us.”
Told about Dalembert’s feelings, about his stats declining under Skiles, Boylan was asked what, if anything, he did differently to revive Dalembert.
“I’m playing him,” Boylan said. “That’s about it.”
Dalembert was averaging 6.1 points and 4.9 rebounds in 16 games (out of 33) under Skiles. Under Boylan, he’s averaging 7.3 points and 6.7 rebounds in 28 games.
Boylan said the team will need the center as the Bucks try to hold on to the eighth and final spot in Eastern Conference playoff race.
“Sam has been playing really well for us recently,” Boylan said. “Having him around the basket. ... We had a little bit of a problem this year with some of the bigger teams, so Sam’s presence makes a big difference for us.”
The 31-year-old admitted it's strange coming back to Philadelphia, the place where his NBA career began.
“It feels weird and good at the same time,” he said.
Dalembert also admitted he was still bummed about being traded to the Sacramento Kings in 2010, after asking out of Philadelphia because of declining playing time and a limited role. It was a deal that sent Andres Nocioni and Spencer Hawes to the Sixers.
“Yeah,” he said when asked if he had any hard feelings. “I felt like I had done what they asked me at that moment. They didn’t want me to score here, and I accepted that. I focused on what they wanted me to focus on – defense, rebound, block shots, I did that. But I felt like I was always judged. ... At that time it was a different organization -- I accepted it and I moved on.”
He complimented Jrue Holiday’s progress, and reflected on what could’ve been.
Dalembert said when Allen Iverson made his brief return to the Sixers in the 2009-10 season, the former MVP told Holiday what to expect from Dalembert. He said Iverson told Holiday, “When you have Sam on the team, just throw the ball anywhere around the basket and Sam’s going to go get it.”
Dalembert noticed Holiday taking Iverson’s advice, which made his departure a little more disappointing.
“We started to build up something,” Dalembert said of his chemistry with Holiday, “but at that point, they wanted to go in a different direction.”
The thing is, Dalembert will be an unrestricted free agent after this season. He still owns a home in the area, and was asked if he could see himself returning to the Sixers.
“We’ll see,” he said. “You never know what’s going to happen.”