Earl Barron arrived in Toronto expecting to get an opportunity to play with the Wizards short on healthy big men. Nene and Kevin Seraphin were out. Trevor Booker and Chris Singleton were back, but not at full strength.
Barron’s role quickly expanded against the Raptors when fellow training camp invitee Shavlik Randolph got popped in the mouth and was forced to leave the game after less than one minute on the floor.
Coach Randy Wittman decided against giving more minutes to Booker and Singleton, or riding veteran Emeka Okafor, and let Barron show what has to offer. The 7-foot Barron responded with his best game of the preseason, posting 10 points and eight rebounds during the Wizards’ 104-101 loss.
“It felt good to get comfortable, get a little sweat in, Going with the flow of the game,” Barron said. “I had a good flow going, coach left me out there. I tried to make the best of my minutes.”
A six-year veteran who won a championship in Miami as a rookie, Barron didn’t hurt himself as he attempts to make the 15-man roster. “Earl did a nice job,” Wittman said. “I thought Earl was giving us a nice contribution out there.” Barron, Randolph and Brian Cook all signed non-guaranteed training camp deals with the understanding that a roster spot was available but opportunities would be limited.
The chances of making the team also became tougher when John Wall went down with a stress injury in his left knee, forcing the Wizards to sign Jannero Pargo for depth at point guard.
Wittman had hoped to use the preseason to mix and match combinations of his intriguing and versatile front line. But that was until big men kept going down to injury and illness, leaving an opening for meaningful minutes — as opposed to being practice crash-test dummies — in Washington.
“You always just got to keep faith. Keep working hard, because you never know what’s going to happen,” Barron said. “Got to be ready when your name is called. I’ve seen the craziest things. It happens for a reason, so we’ll see what happens.”
Randolph and Cook both had solid outings in Cleveland, with Randolph grabbing a team-high nine rebounds and Cook, who finished last season on the roster, scoring a team-high 14 points and the go-ahead three-pointer.
“Competition has been crazy,” Barron said. “We’re just out here battling. We all know what’s on the line. We’re just trying to make each other better.”
With only three preseason games remaining, the trio won’t have much time to impress before the Wizards eventually have to make cuts. But Barron has already received a confidence boost from Wittman’s willingness to give guys on make-good deals a chance.
“That’s good,” said Barron, who is averaging 2.8 points, 3.8 rebounds in 15 minutes in five games. “That lets me know he has confidence in me and can throw me out there. The next couple of games, hopefully, when the regular season comes around and he needs me to give him, five, 10 hard minutes off the bench, I’ll be able to go in there, play hard, make shots, rebound, do whatever it takes.
“I’m loving it,” he said. “It’s a young team, but we’re trying to grow and get better and mature. Get rid of some bad habits and create some new ones. Hopefully, we can get off to a better start and continue where they finish off last year.”