RICHMOND -- Before answering questions from reporters today, Mike James pulled his shirt off in order to weigh himself. The job done, James continued over to the side to talk. The shirt, however, stayed off.
"He came in phenomenal shape," Flip Saunders says. "That's why you see him taking his shirt off."
James says he worked his butt off this summer, hoping to gain a spot in a rotation from which he was counted out. He spent all summer training with John Lucas in Houston and says he's lost "20-25 pounds" from his weight near the end of the season.
"[Lucas] told me two things," James says. "I could either come back this year as old ass Mike James, or I can come back this year as the Mike James of old. I chose the second."
On the court, James stood out both for his crispness in running the pick and roll and for his defense. He was able to routinely get into the lane in today's scrimmages, and he was also picking up the opposing point guard full court. It looked like he was back in Detroit in 2004 pressuring defenders for Larry Brown.
"There is a saying that you can teach old dogs new tricks," James says, butchering the proper use of the phrase. "I learned how to play dead, roll over [and] go fetch the bone to bring it back."
James says two things motivated him: being counted out and the guard-oriented nature of Saunders' offensive system. He admits that he probably wasn't being considered as part of the regular rotation, but that hasn't sapped his confidence.
"For the most part, I was counted out," he says. "Everyone already had the idea of what the team, the rotation and the roster was going to be, and I'm pretty sure my name wasn't involved in much of it. It was 'Just wait around, until someone gets hurt, then Mike will be involved.' But I know I can still play this game at a high level."
James also loves Saunders' offense, which he says gives the guards a lot of power. He says it makes his job easy ("just be ready to shoot"), but also likes how it enables the guard to make plays on his own.
"He has a set offense going into the big man, but when the ball swings around, the ball always comes back to you, and you always have an opportunity to play that two-man game."
James certainly has an uphill climb for minutes. Randy Foye has been playing a lot of point guard and has looked quite impressive himself, while Javaris Crittenton remains in the picture. But James certainly appears to have given himself a fighting chance, something he's not afraid to let the world know about, whether it's loudly declaring that Fabricio Oberto, and not him, is the oldest player on the team, or playfully ribbing Sam Cassell for being "the old guy on the team."
(Asked of James' declaration that Oberto was older than him, Oberto shrugged and said "Yeah, I think he told me.").
"I believe I have a few more years of not just okay basketball, but good basketball," James says.