Larry Hughes wants back in, whenever the NBA lets players back in. Hughes sat out all of last season after he failed to secure the deal that he wanted in free agency two summers ago. And now, Hughes is like every other locked out player waiting for the league and union to finally reach a settlement on a new collective bargaining agreement, so that he can pick up where he left his career.
“Obviously, I wanted to play,” Hughes said recently of the 2010-11 season. “At the same time I wanted to be stable. I didn’t want to go to a situation where it was a one-year deal, or partial guarantee deal where at any time you could be out of there moving on. I wanted certain things after moving around the past three years, to different teams, I wanted something solid. If I didn’t get that, I wasn’t coming back.”
But when he participated in the Impact Basketball Competitive Training Series last month in Las Vegas, the 32-year-old Hughes said that he wasn’t quite ready to retire. “I still got some game left. Having a role on a team, a contending team, is what I’m looking for. We’ll see how it goes.”
In the first 12 seasons of his NBA career, Hughes never was better than his final year in Washington, when he set career highs in nearly every statistical category and he teamed with Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison to help the Wizards advance to the second round for only the second time since 1979. He cashed in big-time on that campaign, signing a five-year, $70 million contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Hughes never became an appropriate running mate for LeBron James, done in by a faulty jump shot and frequent injuries, and spent the final three years of that deal with Chicago, New York and Charlotte. And, if he is able to get back into the NBA, Hughes would feel even less regret about leaving the Wizards when the franchise was moving on an upward swing.
The Wizards initially offered Hughes a six-year, $54-million contract, but Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld raised the bid to $70 million over the same number of years before Hughes decided to sign with Cleveland. Grunfeld would fill the void the by trading Kwame Brown to the Los Angeles Lakers for Caron Butler.
The way Hughes sees it, he managed to earn $70 million over six years, and has made the most of his time away from the game since.
“I had time to hang with my family, reconnect with my kids. It wasn’t a lost cause at all and I got healthy,” Hughes said. “I was really enjoying the time. When it’s time to get ready to go somewhere you can go. You don’t have to check with a team, look at the schedule, you can just go, living the free life.”
Hughes said he wasn’t worried about being out-of-sight, out-of-mind from NBA teams when they look to sign players whenever the lockout ends. “I think my name is out there. My peers and everybody, they know, especially contending teams, I’m somebody who knows how to play,” said Hughes, who has career averages of 14.2 points, 4.2 assists and 3.2 rebounds but has only played 70 or more games twice.
Hughes will have an opportunity to show off his skills as participant in former Georgetown star Allen Iverson’s Las Vegas Superstar Challenge on Nov. 12-13. Kevin Durant, Amare Stoudemire, Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson, Rudy Gay, Monta Ellis, James Harden and Tyreke Evans are expected to play. Hughes will be on the same team as Iverson, his former teammate in Philadelphia.
Hughes was drafted by the 76ers in 1998, the last time the NBA had a protracted lockout that resulted in a 50-game season. He wasn’t hurting as he waited for his rookie season to begin because he had already signed a shoe endorsement deal with And1.
“I got money up front, so I was definitely one of the lucky ones. And that really wasn’t an issue and we started playing in January,” he said. “This one is different. I don’t keep up with it like I did. When something is happening, I’ll pick up the workouts and get in better shape. But I don’t want to push myself so hard that when it is time to get out there and prove something, I don’t have anything left. So I’m not beating up my body. Being older, you know there is nothing you can do. You know that whatever the left hand is saying, the right hand is probably not hearing it.”
If the work stoppage results in a lost season, Hughes said that he did enough “business-wise” during his one-year hiatus to handle going without more NBA paychecks. He has earned nearly $84 million over his career and said he isn’t struggling financially. “The proof is I took a whole year off. I’m prepared. I knew going in I couldn’t do this thing forever. I took advantage of all the money I could take advantage of.”
Hughes has been doing individual workouts in his hometown of St. Louis and is still hoping for another opportunity to wear an NBA jersey again, but already has a taste of life without the game. “If things aren’t right, how I envision coming back, playing a few more years, I’ve got a head start,” he said. Sitting out a year “really just prepared me for what it will be like when I really am done. When I’m done, I know what to expect.”