Before his agent let him know that the Wizards were interested in signing him, Martell Webster said he never considered playing in Washington. But after Webster arrived last week for a workout, it didn’t take long for him and the Wizards to realize that they were the right fit for each other:
The Wizards needed another shooter. He needed a home.
“The atmosphere, right when I landed,” Webster said, “It was incredible.”
Webster studied the Wizards’ roster and realized that with John Wall breaking down defenses off the dribble, and Nene commanding attention inside, he should get more than his share of quality looks from beyond the three-point line next season. Almost a week after agreeing to terms on a deal, the sharpshooter signed on Wednesday with the hope that he could help solve a problematic area for the team.
After finishing 28th in three-point shooting last season, the Wizards have attempted to address that shortcoming by selecting Bradley Beal third overall in the draft, retaining Cartier Martin and signing Webster to a one-year deal worth $1.6 million, according to league sources familiar with the situation.
“We really wanted to improve our perimeter play and Martell is a proven player and he has started a lot of games in this league,” Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld said in a telephone interview. “I think he’s a good complement to some of the players we currently have on the roster.”
A career 37.4 percent shooter from long distance, Webster connected on 41.7 percent of his three-point attempts just two seasons ago but he doesn’t want his contributions limited to just one spot on the floor.
“I wouldn’t call myself a three-point specialist,” Webster said during a conference call. “I’m more of an all-around player, as far as that’s concerned.”
Webster turns 26 in December but has played seven seasons in the NBA, allowing the Wizards to add another veteran to the team without getting markedly older. Nene and Emeka Okafor both turn 30 next month but the other 12 players on the roster are 28 or younger.
The Wizards added Trevor Ariza in a pre-draft trade with New Orleans and Chris Singleton started 57 games at small forward last season, so Webster was uncertain about his definite role after averaging 6.9 points and 3.6 rebounds in 47 games – including 26 starts – last season in Minnesota.
“I really won’t be able to tell that until training camp, but going into it, I’m going in with my set of [skills] to really try to compete for that three position,” Webster said. “I think what I bring to the table, what we’re kind of lacking on the team is pure perimeter shooting and I think that I can contribute in a very positive way in that area. . . . Really, it doesn’t matter about starting.”
Webster, the sixth overall pick in 2005, has battled injuries since signing a four-year, $20 million extension with Portland in October of 2008. He missed all but one game with a foot injury in 2008-09, and has had three back procedures in the past two years. His last surgery was just before last season and forced him to miss the month, including Minnesota’s 93-72 victory over Washington at Verizon Center. But Webster said he is healthy and ready to help the Wizards end a four-season playoff drought.
“I feel fantastic. This is the best my body has felt in the past five years. I really feel like I have a wonderful opportunity to go out and showcase what I can really do,” said Webster, who has been training mostly in Tampa this summer. “The team has made moves to put this team possibly in that seventh or eight seed. For me, it’s all about getting to the playoffs and exceeding that, because I’ve only made it to the first round and I think we have a legitimate chance of making some noise.”
Webster didn’t expect to return to Minnesota, which bought him out in July for $600,000 of his $5.7 million salary so that it could pursue other free agents. He said that he didn’t want to “relish on” his two year with the Timberwolves but that he has “really great ties” with David Kahn, Minnesota’s president of basketball operations.
He has averaged 8.4 points and 3.1 rebounds in his seven-year career with Portland and Minnesota but never been on an NBA team with any players on the Wizards’ roster. He shares the same agent as Wall and Nene in Dan Fegan and played with Wall during Jamal Crawford’s charity basketball game in Spokane last June.
“John Wall is an amazing talent. We’ve all seen that,” he said. “It was amazing playing with him. What he can do, his eyes, his vision. It’s crazy. I’m excited to play with him and I think that I’ll be able to get him a lot of assists this season.”