In his short time in Washington, Price was well-liked by his teammates, assisted Jan Vesely with his confidence problems and even offered the occasional tip to John Wall. But Price had no idea that when he collected his belongings after his exit interviews last season that the Wizards wouldn’t make any effort to keep him.
“I left here thinking I was coming back,” Price, now a backup with the Minnesota Timberwolves, said on Tuesday before making his lone visit to Washington to face his former team.
Price said he never heard from the Wizards last summer after he posted career highs of 7.7 points and 3.6 assists, with 22 starts, “Which is kind of surprising.”
When the free agent recruiting period began, the Wizards quickly got a commitment from Eric Maynor on the first day, for a two-year deal worth the biannual exception of roughly $2 million per season. While waiting for a call, Price found out that he would have to look elsewhere.
“It just let me know that they wanted to go in a different direction. It wasn’t any hard feelings, any ill feelings, it just made it clear,” Price said. “This is a business. They didn’t owe me anything. They gave me the opportunity to come in and play, which is what I was grateful for, that’s all I could ask for. The fact that they went in a different direction was a decision that was made.
Price came to Washington on a veteran’s minimum deal to be Wall’s backup but was surprisingly thrust into the role as his replacement after Wall was forced missed the first three months of the season with a stress injury in his left knee.
The Wizards languished without Wall, and Price eventually had his own injury woes when he broke his hand and forced the team to experiment some more at point guard.
Price returned one game before Wall, helping the Wizards pull off an upset of Oklahoma City, then moved back into the role he signed to take as the team won half of its final 50 games. He had 18 double-digit scoring games, including a career-high 24 points in the season finale in Chicago, and had one double-double with 12 points and a career-high 14 assists against his other former team, Indiana.
With Price around pressuring the ball, the Wizards were also one of the league’s best defensive teams.
“I think I did a good job, personally. But like I said, it’s not my call,” Price said. “Whatever an organization or a GM does is his decision. I have no control over that. Anytime you spend a year with guys, you build a rapport, friendships and things like that, so it’s tough to walk away from.”
Wizards officials and members of the coaching staff felt Price clung to the ball too much and struggled to get players into sets. But Price found an even chillier response from the rest of the league in free agency.
Uncertain about where he would end, Price considered overseas offers before eventually landing in Minnesota in late September.
“In this new collective bargaining agreement, it’s difficult for certain-level guys to find a job to find a job. There’s still guys out there who don’t have a job,” Price said. “Surprised a little bit, but definitely grateful I did end up somewhere, in a great situation, here in Minnesota, on a good team. I’m happy about that.”
Price has only appeared in four of the Timberwolves’ 12 games this season and watched the Wizards’ 104-100 victory in his warmups. Afterward, Price gave Wall a hug. He is amazed that the Wizards have won just three of their first 10 games.
“I pay attention,” Price said when asked about the Wizards’ struggles. “Outside looking in, you always want to see how a former team is doing. Me, personally, I find it surprising that they’ve started off as poorly as they have so far.”
Though Price doesn’t play much in Minnesota, the Wizards are still waiting for the investment in Maynor to pay off. Maynor has struggled adjusting to his new team and was recently benched in favor of Garrett Temple. Price can’t concern himself with those problems.
“You made your bed, now sleep,” Price said. “They got to deal with what they’ve got to deal with. A.J. Price has to keep going forward with what he’s got to deal with. I’m still trying to find a way into the rotation. So the story never ends. Keep on working.”