From the moment that Garrett Temple joined the Washington Wizards roster on Christmas Day 2012, more than a year removed from his last NBA appearance and fresh off a two-month stint in the D-League, the journeyman guard has been asked to be someone else.
First, Temple filled in for the face of the franchise, holding down the point guard while John Wall worked through the final stages of a leg injury that sidelined for the first three months of the 2012-13 season. Then he was asked to step in for the sharpshooting Bradley Beal, who also sustained a leg injury that kept him out for the latter part of his rookie campaign.
When Temple signed his first guaranteed contract last summer, it appeared he had carved out his own niche on the Wizards as a versatile, lockdown defender off the bench. But from the streets of D.C. to a critical juncture of the team’s run to the Eastern Conference semifinals, the fourth-year guard was yet again frequently placed in someone else’s shoes.
“The game five against Indiana, the referee, Danny Crawford, came up to [me and Otto Porter] and said, ‘Man, I don’t care; ya’ll look like brothers. I just wanted to tell you that,’” Temple recently recalled.
Rather than be offended, Temple simply laughs off the notion of being mistaken for a Wizards teammate just a month removed from his rookie season. After bouncing among 11 pro and D-League teams during his NBA career, the 28-year-old Temple knows that in order for him to make a name for himself, he must be both a deferential and an opportunistic teammate. This served true during the past 2013-14 season, as Wall and Beal’s health cut down Temple’s minutes and the midseason acqusition of Andre Miller limited his chances as backup point guard.
“I knew my role would change,” said Temple, who went from 22.7 minutes per game in 2012-13 to 8.5 this past season. “Like I said at the beginning of the season, I’m here to do whatever Coach [Randy Wittman] wants me to do to help the team. And I think I did that. When I was playing backup rotation minutes at the point guard, I think I did pretty good. When [Miller] came, my minutes diminished obviously, but I wanted to be the biggest cheerleader on the bench (and) do whatever I could to help the team any way I could.”
Temple’s leadership in those moments proved vital in the season-long maturation of Wall and Beal, who have gleaned defensive mechanics from the LSU alum and in turn, made the Wizards a top-10 defensive team for the second straight year.
Wittman has said he has “great confidence” in Temple’s defensive ability, leading him to insert the veteran on the final possession of games in hopes of generating a stop. This confidence stretched beyond the fourth quarter during the first portion of the season, as Eric Maynor struggled to settle in as the Wizards backup point guard. But once Miller was acquired on February 20, Temple’s inferior ballhandling skills and experience pushed him out of the rotation, as he played just 43 total minutes in the last 39 games of the season.
Who the Wizards select with the 46th pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft could prove telling in whether they plan to re-sign Temple for next season. With Beal’s ballhandling skills improving, the Wizards could opt to draft a more well-rounded backup guard rather than bring back Temple. But in doing so, the Wizards stand to lose a valuable leader among a locker room that’s rediscovered the camaraderie that had been missing for the previous six years.
“It’s all a matter of what we talk about in terms of roles,” Temple said. “If I could have a role on another team greater than my role here, that could come into play. But the thing we built here was special. I was here when we were 4-28, so to go from that to 44-38 is pretty special. So I’d love to be back in a Wizards uniform.”