Larry Owens got the phone call as his Tulsa 66ers were taking the bus down to Frisco, Tex., where they would face the Texas Legends in Game 1 of the first round of the NBA Developmental League playoffs. The Washington Wizards were interested in signing Owens for the rest of the season and he would have to take flight up to Indianapolis to meet the team for a game against the Pacers.
Playoffs or Pacers? For Owens, the decision wasn’t too difficult.
“You want to help your team, but obviously, you work so hard to be here, being here is more important,” Owens said. “You work so hard, and you somebody sees you working hard in the D-League and I’m just honored to be here.”
Owens was a D-League all-star this season after averaging 12.4 points and five rebounds. He joined a team in Washington desperate for some help, with the injury-ravaged roster down to just nine players for a win against the Detroit Pistons. The Wizards waived Cartier Martin to make room for Owens, who showed up the day of the game, had no familiarity with the offense or terminology, and responded by scoring a career-high nine points -- matching his NBA career total entering the game -- in 17 minutes.
After missing his first jumper, Owens dropped a 12-foot pull-up and wouldn’t miss again for the rest of the night. With the Wizards getting drubbed 136-112 by the playoff-bound Pacers, Owens got more time than Coach Flip Saunders probably would’ve intended. Owens played almost the entire fourth quarter, teaming with Mustafa Shakur and Othyus Jeffers -- players he played with and against in the D-League -- to make the game somewhat respectable, as they cut a huge lead down to 16. Owens also handed out two assists, which tied him for second-most behind John Wall.
“I thought Larry did good. Our NBDL all-star team was our best team. Passed the ball, made some plays. Did some things,” Saunders said. “I know that [Owens has] got the ability to knock down shots, plays hard, knock down corner threes. The main thing we wanted to do was bring in somebody who was high end that played hard. That’s kind of forte of what we’re going to.”
After going undrafted out of Oral Roberts in 2006, playing in France, Belgium and the D-League, the 28-year-old Owens finally made his NBA debut this season with the San Antonio Spurs. The Mesa, Ariz., native appeared in seven games for the Spurs, scoring in just two of them, during two 10-day stints.
When he returned to the 66ers in February, Owens didn’t know if he would get another call up, which is why there was no hesitation when the Wizards approached. It didn’t matter that the Wizards got beat down by 24 on a night when the 66ers defeated the Legends, 94-83.
“It’s always exciting,” Owens said. “The first time, it’s really exciting. Second time, it’s more exciting because you know you’re really doing something on the court, somebody’s seen you.”