Wizards’ Eric Maynor set to play a familiar role in Washington


Eric Maynor, left, shown here in 2011 with the Thunder. (Alonzo Adams/Associated Press)

Eric Maynor has spent his career as the ideal backup to elite point guards — the steady, able hand assigned to guide the second unit and provide a change of pace to the frenetic speedsters who preceded him on the court.

In four seasons with three teams, Maynor has already assumed that role for all-star Deron Williams in Utah, all-star Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City and rookie of the year Damian Lillard in Portland. Last week, Maynor arrived as a free agent signee in Washington, where he has been tasked with the same assignment for John Wall, a former No. 1 pick who started to fully tap into his potential late last season.

Feeling the need to upgrade behind Wall, the Wizards targeted Maynor immediately after the free agent recruitment period began. And desiring to end the suspense about his future, Maynor reciprocated the interest and accepted a two-year deal worth about $4 million and includes a player option for the second season.

“I think this is the kind of team that’s going to be on the rise,” Maynor said. “I just wanted to get it out the way. I didn’t want to be waiting. I felt like this was a great situation for me. Young team. Up-and-coming. Nice deal for me. I’m excited about being here.”

When the NBA’s moratorium on free agent signings and trades was lifted Wednesday, Maynor didn’t waste any time signing his deal and get started with his new team. Garrett Temple also signed his one-year deal worth the veteran’s minimum of about $900,000.

“Eric is a solid player who has thrived playing behind some of the league’s best point guards,” Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld said in a statement. “He will bring stability and experience in that role and add leadership and character off the floor.”

Maynor already has a local following after playing four seasons at Virginia Commonwealth, where he famously led the Rams to an upset of Duke in the 2007 NCAA tournament and became the first player from the school to be drafted in the first round. Six years removed from burying that memorable foul line jumper to win the game, Maynor said he is reminded of the shot wherever he goes.

“Some people be mad, but people always talk about it,” said Maynor, a native of Raeford, N.C., who expects a slightly different reaction from fans in the area. “I’ll get a lot of high-fives.”

Maynor already has a relationship with Wall, who is also a North Carolina native. After spending time alongside Lillard and Westbrook in the back court, Maynor expects to share the floor with Wall without complications. “Absolutely. It was the same way when I was in Oklahoma with Russell,” Maynor said. Wall “and Russell might be, like, the same player. A lot of similarities to both of them. I’m excited to play with him and I’m looking forward to being a part of the Wizards.”

Maynor claims to be “110 percent” after spending most of last season navigating past a torn ACL that he suffered in January 2012. After struggling early and eventually losing his spot in Oklahoma City’s rotation, Maynor was traded to Portland, where he regained his rhythm and began to flourish alongside Lillard.

“It’s way over a year now, so I’m good,” Maynor said of his knee injury, which forced him to wear a brace until the all-star break. “About two weeks after I got out of that brace, I just started feeling back normal, feeling like myself again. More free and just playing. It was tough coming off that injury, but soon as I got out of that brace, my confidence got back high.”

Maynor was confident that he would return to Portland and said he was told that the team planned to bring him back. But the Trail Blazers selected combo guard C.J. McCollum with the 10th pick in last month’s NBA draft, then declined to pick up Maynor’s option, which allowed him to become an unrestricted free agent.

“You never know what’s going on,” Maynor said. “They had said they wanted to re-sign me back. This was before draft night or whatever. McCollum was there and they took, I guess, the best available player, and me and my agent, we went from there.”

Since deciding to join the Wizards, Maynor has already received congratulatory remarks on Twitter from Wall and former Thunder teammate and District native Kevin Durant. Having the chance to play only 90 minutes from where he starred in college and closer to his family in North Carolina played a huge role in his decision to join the Wizards.

“VCU right down the road. I’ve been on the West Coast or Midwest or whatever since I’ve been in the league. I’m happy to be back on the East Coast,” Maynor said. “It feels like I’m back home. My family from North Carolina can come up. It’s easier without taking a flight to Portland or Oklahoma City. Fans in Richmond, Virginia can come up and watch games.”

But Maynor was also encouraged by the direction of the Wizards, who experienced moderate success after Wall returned from injury and recorded wins against some of the league’s top teams. He expects to pass along what he has already learned and experienced to what he believes is an already focused crew.

“I’m going to come in and work hard. It’s going to show. You already got a bunch of guys over here that work hard, but we can all put it together and just go from there,” Maynor said. “I can bring a big leadership role to this team. True point guard. I’m going to get guys involved. Plays hard and is all about winning.”

Michael Lee has covered the Wizards and the NBA at the Washington Post since October 2004.
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Michael Lee | July 10, 2013