It's Wednesday night, and James Singleton can't stop smiling. While the rest of the players joke around in the background, Singleton stands by his locker in the corner, slowly getting changed. As reporters converge on him, the smile only widens.
It had been just one game, but already Singleton feels at home.
"I'm not the kind of guy who would get mad at the team that traded me, [because] everyone has to make their job better as far as organizations go," he said. "But I think [the Mavericks] did right by me to give me the opportunity to come here."
Singleton hasn't been able to say that much during an undistinguished career. Two NBA teams, the Clippers and Mavericks, have been intrigued enough to put him on their roster, but they never gave him a fair shake. In both cases, Singleton had a solid first season, only to find himself buried on the bench in his second campaign.
This season in Dallas was particularly tough. In 2008/09, Singleton had some chances and took advantage of them, posting a 16.4 PER and a 61.5% true shooting percentage in 15 minutes a game on a playoff team. But then the Mavericks traded for Shawn Marion, a bigger name, and Singleton's minutes evaporated.
It's a sentiment Singleton didn't forget. He didn't mention anyone by name, but he made it clear after last Wednesday's game that he was denied chances because he didn't have much of a reputation.
"I think you should play a better upon his -- how can I say it -- upon his, his effort," Singleton said. "Not because of his name, but because of what he puts into this job. Just because you have a big name doesn't mean you should play in the game 24/7 and all 48 minutes. There are guys that are trying to do the same thing [the big names] are doing, but because they don't have a big name, they don't get the opportunity."
Perhaps that's why Singleton was so eager to come to DC. Singleton is actually one of 21 players in the league with a no-trade clause, because he signed his second consecutive one-year contract this summer. These players can veto a trade because they forfeit their Larry Bird rights if they're traded, meaning their new team cannot go over the salary cap to re-sign them like they can with all their other own free agents. Singleton's former teammate Devean George famously exercised this right when he vetoed the initial framework of a Jason Kidd trade in 2008.
Singleton, though, didn't exercise that right, in part because he saw this situation as an opportunity for more exposure.
"[Vetoing the trade] would be selfish upon me to take a positive opportunity [away] from other players, [but] I was coming into a great situation myself [because] I wasn't playing much in Dallas," Singleton said. "I wasn't silent about it, but I understood that it is a business. I felt like, coming here, I got a perfect opportunity to go out and show that I finally belong here as a good player on a good team."
Since the trade, coach Flip Saunders has talked numerous times about the importance of changing the team's culture to one that emphasized defense and playing hard. You'd guess that Singleton would reiterate that when asked about what role he can fill on this team. But instead, Singleton smiled, paused, and made it clear that he didn't want to be pigeonholed.
"It doesn't matter [what my role is]," he said. "Anything coach wants me to do, I'll do. I can adjust to any role. I can go out and guard the 2, 3, 4 or 5. On offense, I can play the 3, 4 or 5. I'm very adjustable."
The message was loud and clear. Singleton may be an energy player, but he's wants to be known as that and more. Of all the players here to prove themselves, Singleton's the one with the most to prove. At 28, he's running out of time to stick in this league. This may be his last chance to become a name rather than be a forgotten man.
In other words, expect him to give everything he's got. Then, once he's done, he'll flash that wide smile that defines him.
"I wish the Mavericks the best and I wish the Wizards the best, [but] I'm having fun," he said.