Wizards’ Drew Gooden not seeking payback in Milwaukee return

Washington Wizards power forward Drew Gooden (90) scores past Utah Jazz point guard Alec Burks during the first half of an NBA basketball game on Wednesday, March 5, 2014, in Washington. The Wizards defeated the Jazz 104-91. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci) Here I come, Milwaukee. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

Drew Gooden certainly was upset about a forgettable season in which the Milwaukee Bucks buried him on the bench to initiate a youth movement and then waived him through amnesty provision. But instead of seeking revenge during his return to Milwaukee nearly seven months after they severed ties, Gooden said he plans to focus on the fans, who often serenaded him with chants of “We want Drew” while he watched others play.

“The people that had my back the most out there were my teammates and the fans. That’s who had my back and who had me going throughout that whole season,” Gooden said. That was a joy to see, that they really enjoyed me being there and they respected my work I put in there. That was the one thing that motivated me to come to work and still go hard in the morning.”

Gooden signed a five-year, $34 million with the Bucks as a free agent in 2010 but never was a good fit. The 6-foot-10 Gooden missed 41 games because of plantar fasciitis and made only 18 starts in his first season. He bounced back in his second season to start 46 games and average 13.6 points – his highest scoring clip in seven seasons – as an undersized center while Andrew Bogut dealt with a foot injury.

The Bucks, however, were ready to move on at the start of last season, going with a four-man frontcourt rotation of Larry Sanders, Ersan Ilyasova, John Henson and Ekpe Udoh. Gooden played in just 16 games, averaging 3.3 points and 1.9 rebounds, and did not play due to coach’s decision 53 times. He was on the inactive list 13 times.

“I knew from the first preseason game of last season, the situation that I was in for,” Gooden said. “It was a tough pill to swallow but I tried to do my best to accept that role. It was something new to me, not playing. Let along being a starter, not playing at all. It was a new role for me, having to accept, and then, having a coaching change and a lot of business moves, I think it was best for us, to basically part ways.”

Milwaukee sought salary cap flexibility over continuing to let Gooden rot and paid him roughly $13 million to go away.

The Wizards (32-29) picked up the 32-year-old Gooden on Feb. 27 after losing Nene and Kevin Seraphin to knee injuries. On Saturday, they will sign the 11-year veteran to a second 10-day contract and give him more time to get acclimated to his surroundings.

Gooden received a nameplate this week, which provided some added incentive. It also made Gooden more likely to commit to the Wizards if other teams come pursuing when his next deal expires on March 18.

“You hear a lot about it’s no loyalty, but the Wizards…gave me this opportunity, why wouldn’t I stay here?” Gooden said. “It’s some point of loyalty for me to redeem myself, rejuvenate myself as a player. I don’t forget things like that and if it ever came down the line where it’s another team out there that wants me, I believe the Wizards would be my first choice.”

After struggling in his first two games, Gooden finally came through with a 12-point effort to help Washington defeat the Utah Jazz, 104-91. “My third game in I don’t know how many months. I didn’t have any training camp, so this is my training camp right now,” Gooden said. “These games are like my preseason games but they’re actually real games, so I have to make the best of the opportunities. The good thing about the situation is we’re winning. As long as we’re winning it doesn’t really matter what I do.”

As for being back in Milwaukee, Gooden said he’s “just excited to see the fans. That’s my only emotional thing, going to see the fans. It’s going to motivate me to go out there. That’s it.”

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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Michael Lee · March 7, 2014