Nuggets pick Hamilton eager to begin image makeover in NBA

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There are a few universal reasons that NBA players would love to end this lockout that has lasted nearly two months now.

There's the love of the game, which isn't just a clause in their contracts but an actual phenomenon (hopefully) for most of the league's workforce. There's the money that comes from those contracts but doesn't come during a work stoppage. And so on.

But for Jordan Hamilton, the former Texas swingman who slid to the 26th spot in the June draft after being projected as a lottery pick and landed in Denver after being traded by Dallas, this delay to his pro career is a nuisance for another reason: It's putting his image makeover on hold.

Oh sure, he can do interviews like the one we did last month at a Drew League game in Los Angeles, where he made a convincing case that he is -- contrary to so many reports -- both coachable and capable enough to be a high-level talent in the league. But with all due respect to the Nuggets fans he hasn't actually met yet, it's not the public perception Hamilton is worried about.

He would love nothing more than to have these rules of lockout life be lifted so he could speak to his new bosses privately, to set the record straight with Denver coach George Karl and executive vice president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri. Or perhaps he would avoid the chatter altogether and focus on the challenge, proving himself day in and day out by grinding at the team's training facility and being, well, coachable and capable.

Both categories were in question by his own doing, as his two seasons with the Longhorns were riddled with reports that he struggled with poor shot-selection and bad body language. He lost even more ground in that public relations game on draft night, when he reportedly accused Texas coach Rick Barnes of telling NBA teams that he wasn't coachable when asked about the plummeting of his stock.

"When it came out on ESPN and things like that, that's not what I said," Hamilton said of his Barnes-related comments. "I said that word probably got out to other teams and other coaches that I probably wasn't coachable, and the writer put out that I said that Rick Barnes said I wasn't coachable and that he called NBA teams and something like that. It was something I wanted to clear up."

So does he think Barnes did that deed?

"No, not at all," he said. "He knows I wouldn't say anything like that because coach Barnes knows me as a person who wouldn't go and say something about the program."

Which is the point of it all, really.

For all of Hamilton's demonstrative ways on the court, he comes off as the sensitive and humbled sort off of it. There is a clean slate here that he wants to take advantage of, a chance to continue the sometimes-painful progress he has made as a player and a person in the last two years. The goal, in a roundabout way, would be accomplished if he can get through his rookie season without any more low-light mixtapes of himself being made.

Hamilton asked for the first one after his freshman season, when he earned a reputation for never seeing a shot he didn't like and eventually realized he needed help. So Barnes put the unflattering footage together, and Hamilton -- a 6-foot-8 scorer who had averaged 10 points in 19.9 minutes per game during his first season -- saw increases in his field-goal percentage (41 to 44) and from three-point range (36.5 to 38.5).

Year No. 2 would bring an even more embarrassing clip from the film room, as Barnes grew so tired of Hamilton's dramatic ways that he decided to force him to look in the mirror with a 10-minute video of his worst body language moments. Hamilton had shot just 15-of-58 in his No. 8-seeded team's three latest losses in late February, and the slump led to his sharing frustration with the viewing public even more than normal.

So after Hamilton's 5-of-18 outing in a loss to Kansas State on Feb. 28, Barnes sat him down for another critique of one of his glaring weaknesses.

"Sometimes I might not have thought about it when I was doing it, but on TV it looked so bad," said Hamilton, who averaged 18.6 points per game as a sophomore before Texas' season ended with a loss to No. 10 Kansas in the Big 12 Championship game. "I might make a hand gesture or put my hands in the air or make a face or something like that and people might look at it like it's me having a bad attitude. But for the most part, it's me getting on myself and I just want people to understand that too. I'm trying to change that [perception].

"It was an uncomfortable feeling [to watch]. It was just the two of us in a room. ...But at the end of the day, he wanted to teach me and he just wanted me to learn. I couldn't let it get to me, because that's something that has to change, especially coming into the NBA and being a rookie. There's going to be a short [leash] and I have to know that."

There's nothing shameful about his current regimen.

Hamilton has been working out in his native L.A. with the likes of Oklahoma City's James Harden, New Orleans' Trevor Ariza, Philadelphia's Andre Iguodala and a host of other pros. It's a comfortable setting, with most of his tight-knit family which includes his parents, four brothers and one sister still in town to provide comic relief and on-court advice (his brother, Gary, played forward at the University of Miami and plays overseas while younger brothers, Isaac and Daniel, are rising stars on the L.A. prep hoops scene).

The Nuggets made it clear before the lockout that they envision him backing up Arron Afflalo as a shooting guard as opposed to playing small forward, so he's on his way toward a goal of dropping 15 pounds (from 230 as a sophomore to 215; he's currently 224) and is utilizing yoga to loosen the hips that were tight for most of last season. No one is paying him to work out, though, so Hamilton has become the latest player to consider finding a day job to help with the bills.

"I have a neighbor who stays across the street from my parents house and he works at Big 5 [sporting goods store], so I was thinking about probably doing something like that and just going out and working every day," said Hamilton, who lives in a two-bedroom condo with Gary. "I haven't got paid and I'm not big on taking out loans, so I don't want to mess up my credit or have debt."

Of course, he would prefer to be making statements of a very different kind.

"I just want to change my image," Hamilton said. "It carried on with me from back in high school [at Compton Dominguez], and I just think it comes with growing up and maturing.

"Two years of college helped me grow a lot as a person. I think I've definitely been humbled by my freshman year, not playing much and just knowing that there probably are guys out there who are better than me. I'm just working hard every day, working on my attitude and my game and wanting to play."