With Wizards, Dixon Finds Comfort Level

By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 25, 2008

Juan Dixon was a free agent shooting guard without an NBA team this summer. But he ultimately found a home in a familiar place -- with the Washington Wizards, the team that drafted him out of the University of Maryland in 2002.

Yesterday, Dixon repeatedly used the word "comfortable" when describing how he felt after signing a one-year partially guaranteed contract with the team late Tuesday afternoon.

"I'm very excited," Dixon said. "It's a good opportunity to come back close to home and continue my career with the Wizards. I'm very comfortable. I'm very familiar with the system. There are a couple of players on the team who were here when I was here, so I'm very comfortable."

Dixon won't wear the No. 3 he sported during his earlier, three-year stint with the Wizards -- that number is now the property of two-time all-star forward Caron Butler -- but even in choosing new digits, Dixon will be going back to his roots.

"Nah, I can't get that number back, but I'm going to go back to number 12, where it all started," Dixon said of the number he wore while starring at Baltimore's Calvert Hall High School. Dixon is hoping that another turn with the Wizards will revive a professional career that has included stops in Portland, Toronto and Detroit.

After appearing in 176 games with 23 starts as a Wizard, Dixon signed a three-year, $8 million free agent contract with Portland after the 2004-2005 season.

He started 42 games the next season and averaged a career-high 12.3 points on 43.5 percent shooting, but the team struggled and Dixon saw his minutes and production decline the following season.

The Trail Blazers traded Dixon to Toronto during the 2006-2007 season and he averaged 11.1 points on 42.5 percent shooting for the Raptors. He was shipped to Detroit last season, where he was quickly relegated to the bench behind rookies Arron Afflalo and Rodney Stuckey.

"I want to take advantage of it," Dixon said of returning to the Wizards. "I've learned so much over the last three years and didn't realize how good I had it here."

According to his agent, former Wizard Mitchell Butler, Dixon received interest from several teams over the summer, including New Jersey, Denver and New Orleans, plus a few European teams, but a big offer never materialized. As the free agent market dried up and roster spots diminished, the Wizards and Dixon agreed to a deal that made sense for both sides.

Though Dixon has to make the team and would earn the veteran minimum of $1.03 million for the season, a solid year could set him up to earn a bigger contract next summer.

The Wizards needed a fifth guard after Gilbert Arenas underwent arthroscopic knee surgery last week. In a recent entry on his blog at NBA.com, Arenas openly campaigned for the Wizards to sign Dixon.

Arenas expects to miss at least the first month of the regular season, and the Wizards also lost a valuable member of last season's team when Roger Mason Jr. signed a two-year, $7.3 million deal with San Antonio in July.

Dixon gives Coach Eddie Jordan a veteran option behind starting guards Antonio Daniels and DeShawn Stevenson. Second-year shooting guard Nick Young showed flashes of excellence last season but struggled during the Las Vegas summer league.

"He's an exciting scorer," Jordan said of Young. "We want him to be a better player. Defensively, that's understanding time and score. Work ethic, being a pro in the locker room and maturing. All of that is going to take place, but yes, we're very excited about his opportunity, and we do have other guys."

Dixon is now one of them. Always a streaky scorer capable of going for big numbers on a given night, Dixon could fill the role of Mason, who averaged a career-high 9.1 points on 44.3 percent shooting and often bailed out the Wizards with timely scoring last season.

Dixon is capable of manning either guard position, and Jordan will have the option of using several backcourt combinations.

"I talked with [Wizards President] Ernie Grunfeld about that a little bit," Dixon said. "There are times I can be out there with DeShawn or Nick and I won't have all of the ball-handling duties, but I am capable of initiating the offense, getting guys the ball in the right spot and taking it from there. . . . Coach just lets guys play."

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